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Jawah Women between Southeast Asia and Mecca: Networks of Knowledge in the 19th and 20th Century

Tika Ramadhini

Many Muslim women from Southeast Asia, namely the former Dutch East Indies and British Malaya, came to Mecca for the hajj in the late 19th and early 20th century.  They were called the Jawah women in the colonial records, which refers to women who came not only from Java but also other places in the Malay-Indonesian archipelago. Besides coming for the pilgrimage, many Jawah women stayed in Mecca for other reasons, including study purposes. Private education for women was available during the time, which accommodated the needs of women who wanted to gain more religious knowledge. ¬†Two of them are Nur Chadijah and Khoiriyah who stayed in Mecca for two years (1915-1917) and nineteen years (1938-1957), respectively. Both of them organized classes for female pupils in their pesantrens (Islamic boarding schools) in Java upon their return. More classes for women in pesantren were initiated around the 1930s and 1940s along with the rising number of Jawah women who travelled to Mecca. This research aims to explore how the cross-border networks of religious knowledge were formed and functioned among women from Southeast Asia. To what extent were they influential among women in their home countries? In addition, the study attempts to analyze how these connections and circulation of knowledge are gendered by examining the lives of cosmopolitan women like Chadijah and Khoiriyah. This research aims to contribute a new perspective to the study of Muslim women, as well as the historiography of the connection between Mecca and Southeast Asia which has long been dominated by the stories of the male counterparts.