In batik, calligraphy is written in a style called Tuluth and these calligraphies are mainly sacred words which derive from “The Great Allah”, “The Koran”, and other legends. Before Islam was introduced to Indonesia, symbols of animism and other beliefs of Javanese Hinduism were used as various motifs in traditional textiles and other decorations. Hinduism and Budhism were believed mainly among the people in Java even long before Islam was introduced and Javanese Hindu motifs were adored as symbol of felicity, prosperity, fertility, and talisman. In other Indonesian islands such as Sumatra, Hindu and Buddhist influence were not as strong as was the case in Java. Hence, caste and differentiation of birth had been less conceived by people and when Islam was introduced, it soon attracted fervent belief. In Sumatra, Jambi is the region where batik became common from the early time. Textiles of Jambi has strong influence of Islamic culture; Islamic calligraphy, geographic designs of Middle East, and arabesque. Textiles of Jambi are preferred in other regions such as western Sumatra (Minangkabau), Riau, Bengkulu, and Palembang, and they are used as textiles for ritual use in these region. Textiles with Islamic calligraphy are called “Kain Basurek” (“kain” means textile, and “basurek” means letters) and these are only used as head cloth to form a turban for men, and to drape around the head for women which is called Selendang (shawl) in latter case. Since the motifs of Kain Basurek derive from sacred words praising Allah in the Koran and other canons, they are only permitted to be used to cover the upper part of body. Kain Basurek has many similarities with the traditional motifs of Middle East and Persia and very few examples with sacred word of Allah and the Koran written in Islamic calligraphy exist today.
We can find many kind of calligraphies written on Jambi batik clothes, such as “Great Allah”, “Glory to God”, “One who seeks will be given” and “Mohammad”. There is also the word “The best blessing from God” written. A unique calligraphy which is called “Tugra” that is probably refers to a name of a person. There is also a word with escudo drawn which indicates the possession by Sayyidina Ali who was one of the Mohammad’s friends and known as an erudite person. This sword with escudo design also has an inscription of “Zulfikar” which a traditional weapon of Middle East. There are word such as “Great God Allah” and wards meaning angels created by Allah protecting the human who confront agony and difficulties written all over the textile.
Wherever their origins, all the animal motifs such as the swans in Jambi are based on symbols and legends of each region. There is a head cloth with two swans which is a legend from the Jambi region that on the bank of Batanghari river, two swans appeared and thus defined the place for the pilgrims to pray. This legend derives from the belief that swans only live in a place where water is pure. The motif of two swans based on this legend is drawn with the word “The Greatest and the Most Beloved God Allah” and “Glory God” with hexagonal star shape geographic design.
In any case, in Indonesia batik, various beliefs and legends of each region and people are expressed lively with calligraphy and with other methods.
There is also kain panjang with a symbol of a “wild rooster of Gunung Jati” which was passed on from the early period of the introduction of Islam to Cirebon; the western Javanese province. Motif of characteristic mosque and tower which reflects the rocky geography of Cirebon is similar to that of Gunung Jati and this is the most important motif of the Islam belief of the Western Java. Batik clothes from Kudus (Central Java) have lunar and star motif. Kudus is a region where Islam were introduced and spread by Sunan Kudus, and become a centre of Islam belief in Central Java. In this textile, rice motif which is a symbol of prosperity by the influence of Javanese Hinduism and lunar motif with bouquet is also drawn which indicates the European influence. Batik clothes which has an inscription of Islamic calligraphy is always indicating human being to proceed a path which is spiritually, morally, and ethically correct through the words of “the One and Only God Allah” which appear in the Koran and other canons. Therefore, for its sanctity, they can only be worn on the upper part of the body limited to head cloth for men and shawls for women. Lastly, the author would like to add that all of these Indonesian textiles with Islamic calligraphy are prohibited to be used as “talisman” or “charm”. Islamic calligraphy always need to be written aesthetically with sacred religious spirit and should not be treated with unrespectable attitude.