Cartography Exhibition Illustrates the Expansion of Islam in Indonesia
Abdul Qowi Bastian
“And Allah has already made you victorious at Badr, when you were a weak little force. So fear Allah much [abstain from all kinds of sins and evil deeds which He has forbidden, and love Allah much, perform all kinds of good deeds which He has ordained] that you may be grateful.” Al Imran 3:123
The Battle of Badr in 624 AD was key in the early days of Islam, and a turning point in Prophet Muhammad’s struggle against his opponents among the Quraish in Mecca, and the first large-scale engagement between the two forces. The Battle of Badr is one of the few skirmishes explicitly discussed in the Koran.
Italian cartographer Giovanni De Agostini Jr., who hails from an esteemed family of cartographers, has sought to explicate the Battle of Badr — as well as The Battle of Uhud (625 AD), the Battle of The Trench (627 AD) and the Battle of Khaybar (629 AD) — in his first exhibition in Indonesia which is showing until June 30.
In the late 1800s, Germany was still the global leader in cartographic production. So after graduating from university in Turin, Giovanni De Agostini Sr. decided to move to Germany to learn the German cartographic techniques from the masters.
After five years of studying the trade, De Agostini Sr. returned to Italy, where he founded the first private geographic institute, Istituto Geografico De Agostini in Rome, which produced maps and atlases.
Throughout the years, generations of De Agostini men learned and mastered the family trade, until De Agostini Jr., the fourth generation following the lead from De Agostini Sr., joined Istituto Geografico in 1964.
But De Agostini Jr.’s mission shifted from producing maps and atlases of Italian regions to the art of ancient cartography, focusing on Arab countries, and the spread of Islam.
“I’m looking for the importance of Islamic expansion throughout the world. The development of Islam started from the time when Prophet Muhammad gained the first revelation of Allah, which continued to the Rashiddun and Ummayads. This is the main focus of this exhibition,” said De Agostini Jr. at the exhibition’s opening night at the National Museum in Jakarta last Monday.
The Prophet Muhammad is undoubtedly the prominent and charismatic leader who built the first community of Islam in the world. But the actual spreading of Islam, argues De Agostini, began at the period of four caliphs.
The expression used to indicate this matter is “khalifat rasul Allah” (vicar, or successor of the Envoy of God). The four caliphs reigned from Medina after the death of Muhammad in 632 AD. The first four caliphs were Abu Bakr, Umar bin al-Khattab, Uthman bin Affan and Ali bin Abi Thalib. Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law is considered the first head of Shiite, and started the separation with the Sunnite muslim.
Not only does the exhibition attempt to feature the beginning of the development of Islam, it also presents historical facts from the Saudi State, the era of Genghis Khan, a series of Empires, the Crusades, the Ottomans and rounds off with Indonesian history.
Islam is the most widely practiced religion in Indonesia, but few know how it arrived here. De Agostini, under the patronage of the Italian Institute of Culture Jakarta, attempts to illustrate Islam’s migration to the archipelago.
The interest of commerce in Indonesian started in the 7th century when the Sriwijaya Kingdom traded with merchants from China and India. Islam was introduced by Arab merchants from Gujarat, India, and then became the predominant religion as it was adopted by many local sultans.
In a statement released by the Italian Institute of Culture in Jakarta, Federico Failla, the Ambassador of Italy to Indonesia said: “Intercultural and interfaith dialogue is one of the priorities of the Italian foreign policy, due to the fact that the geographical position of Italy lies in the middle of one of the greatest cradles of civilization.
“Italy believes that the interfaith dialogue can be an engine of progress for the whole international community, and for this reason, is deeply committed to a common action in this field with Indonesia,” Failla said.
De Agostini Jr. added, “I am a Christian. But we are here on earth to uncover knowledge. Thanks to history, [Arab culture has] opened up new developments in mathematics, pharmaceuticals and medicine — among others. These were invented by the Arabs.” For instance, as far back as 2750 BC, the Egyptians invented the surgical scalpel, he added.
The exhibition, De Agostini hopes, can be a reminder for mankind that the greatest discoveries and inventions are borne in a milieu of shared knowledge among different cultural currents, especially the Arabs.
This wish transcends to exhibition visitors, among them Edi, a banker.
“As a muslim, I wanted to learn more about the early development of Islam, and this cartography exhibition really helps me further understand the expansion. I have traveled to many countries depicted in these maps: Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran. I projected myself within each respective city to grasp more understanding about the history of Islam itself.”
History of Islam
Until June 30
Jl. Medan Merdeka Barat No. 12, Central Jakarta
Tel. 021 3927531