Most Indonesians (as well as orientalists) only know Walisongo as the nine Sufi saints (Wali = Sufi saint, songo = nine) who spread Islam in Java. These Sufi masters were known as:
This classic formation of Walisongo is taught to school children in Indonesia, and also stated in many books and references. But Walisongo is actually a COUNCIL of Sufi masters which always consist of nine members. If one member died or moved abroad, he would be replaced with a new one, elected by the remaining members. So Sufi masters who became members of Walisongo were more than nine.
The council of Walisongo was first formed by Sunan Ampel (Raden Rahmat) around 1474. While Syekh Maulana Malik Ibrahim died in 1419, so he couldn't possibly be a member of the council. But Indonesian Moslems regard him as a member of Walisongo because he was a great Wali of his time and built the first pesantren (Islamic school) in Java. He was also Sunan Ampel's cousin.
In fact there were many other Sufi Masters from various countries who came to Java around that time. Some of them are:
Sunan Ampel - Founder of Walisongo
Around 1445 AD Sunan Ampel was given authority over Ampel region by his uncle, Sri Kertawijaya, king of Majapahit. At that time Ampel region has about 30,000 inhabitants. Ampel was located next to the main port of the kingdom, Jenggala Manik, which made it a strategic place to spread Islam with aid from the Moslem merchants in Java. These merchants had already made smalll communities along the northern coast of Java since the 11th century. Sunan Ampel must had great influence over them and received donations to finance the Islamic da'wah (propagation of the faith). Slowly but sure, the mission gained more and more new converts from the nobles, local people and foreign merchants. The donations also financed Sunan Ampel's pesantren, where Moslem children studied Islam to become future missionaries for the archipelago. In a short time, Ampel grew to be a centre for studying Islam in the island and hosted religious scholars from various countries. Sufism was the base of Sunan Ampel's teachings, which prevented confrontation among scholars from various mazhab (sects) in Islam, and attracted new converts by its non-agressiveness.
Sunan Ampel's aunt, Darawati, died in 1448. But before that, she had succeeded in persuading her husband, Sri Kertawijaya, to embrace Islam. The conversion of the king had ignited discontent among the Hindu nobles and priests who later revolted against him. The king was finally murdered in 1451, and the throne was taken by Sri Rajasawardhana. The coup gave a threat to further preaching of Islam, which was protected under the rule of Sri Kertawijaya. Aware of this danger, Sunan Ampel planned to send missionaries to all provinces of Majapahit in Java. The missionaries' goal was to build Islamic centres in all provinces to strengthen the da'wah over the island and also to anticipate the possiblity of the destruction of Islamic community in Ampel by Majapahit's army. The group of the missionaries was called Bayangkare Ishlah by Sunan Ampel.
Bayangkare Ishlah - Embryo of Walisongo
The Majapahit kingdom in the mid of 15th century was divided into nine provinces: Trowulan (the capital), Daha, Blambangan, Matahun, Tumapel, Kahuripan, Lasem, Wengker, and Pajang. Sunan Ampel appointed a missionary to every strategic regions in the provinces:
These eight missionaries were called Bayangkare Ishlah by Sunan Ampel. They were all Sufi masters and made Sufism their basic concept in spreading Islam. Their charisma and intellect helped won sympathy from local rulers and many were married with girls from noble families. Sunan Ampel married Nyi Ageng Manila (or Dewi Condrowati), daughter of a high ranking officer in Majapahit kingdom. Syekh Maulana Ishak married daughter of Prabu Menak Sembuyu (Sadmuddha), king of Blambangan. Kalifah Husayn and Ali Murtadho married daughters of Arya Baribin, ruler of Madura. Maulana Abdullah married Endang Senjanila from Tirang. By having family ties with the local ruler they could preach Islam effectively.
The second wave of missionaries was sent a few years later by Sunan Ampel to reinforce the first one:
Sunan Ampel and his coleagues used persuasive approach to attract the Javanese people to Islam. They exploited Hindu myths and beliefs to spread Islamic teachings. They made new stories related to the myths and include Islamic beliefs in them. The stories gradually became popular among the Hindu people and made them familiar with Islam.
These confrontation forced Sunan Ampel to reconstruct his strategy in spreading Islam in Java. He needed to form a group of charismatic Islamic preacher backed by a strong political power which led to the birth of Walisongo, a council which approach of Sufism finally succeeded in converting almost all of Java to Islam.
Birth of Walisongo
The reason of Sunan Ampel's decission to form a council of Islamic missionaries was to build a flexible type of Islamic missionary. The council can be viewed as religious as well as a political movement, because Sunan Ampel also started to build military power in Demak, Giri (Gresik) and Tuban. Some previous Sufi masters were not included in the council for various reasons. Syekh Suta Maharaja had died after the attack from Pengging kingdom. Raden Husen has been assigned as Tandha (a government position in Majapahit kingdom) in Terung. While Ali Murtadho, brother of Sunan Ampel, was assigned to maintain Moslem military unit in Gresik and Tuban with Raden Burereh.
Finally in 1474, Sunan Ampel formed the first council of Walisongo which consisted of:
At that time the council's center was still at Ampel, which was close to Majapahit's capital, Trowulan. Sunan Ampel thought that it was necessary to move the center to a new place far from Trowulan so that they could have more freedom to manage their movement. Walisongo had two strong bases at that time, Demak and Giri, which had many followers and strong military units. Demak was managed by Raden Fatah (Raden Hasan), while Giri was managed by Raden Ainul Yaqin (Raden Paku). These bases were the alternatives of the council's new center, but Giri was still close to Trowulan, so the best option was to move the center to Demak. Soon afterward the council started to construct a large mosque at Demak which would be used not only as a center for the council to spread Islam but also as a center for Islamic and Sufism studies. The Demak Mosque was completed around 1477 AD. Then to prevent rivalry among Raden Fatah and Raden Paku, Sunan Ampel wisely adopt them as his son-in-laws. Raden Fatah was married to Dewi Murthosiyah, while Raden Paku was married to Dewi Murthosimah. Both are Sunan Ampel's daughters from his marriage with his second wive, Nyai Karimah.
The two bases of Walisongo (Demak and Giri) which grew stronger and stronger everyday were always under the watchful eyes of the Majapahit kingdom. The new ruler of Majapahit, Bhre Kertabumi, the third successor of Sri Rajasawardhana, was suspicious of the leader of these two bases. It was because Raden Fatah was son of Sri Kertawijaya, previous king of Majapahit who was toppled and replaced by Sri Rajasawardhana. While Raden Paku's mother was the granddaughter of Bhre Wirabumi of Blambangan, an old enemy of Majapahit whom they defeated long before that.
Revolt in Majapahit
Majapahit kingdom was at its decline at that time. Many vassal states and provinces had tried to break free from them. Two of them was the kingdom of Daha and the kingdom of Blambangan in the easternmost part of Java. Blambangan was less powerful than Daha, so Majapahit reacted by sending a large army to this region which they considered easier to deal with. King of Blambangan, Prabu Menak Sembuyu (Sadmuddha) which was also called in local folklore as Prabu Menak Jingga, led his army to the battle against Majapahit. Prabu Menak Sembuyu was killed in the war, but many of his followers fled to Giri and seek protection from Sunan Giri, who was the grandson of their king.
The army of Majapahit then planned a second attack, but this time to Giri, to eliminate the remnants of the Blambangan army who fled there. Before they could reach Giri, Sunan Giri defeated them in a war by using mystical power as was described in "Babad Tanah Jawi" manuscript. The Majapahit army retreated to Trowulan, chased by Sunan Giri's followers. The table was turned, this time it was Majapahit which was under siege. Before the war became more violent, Sunan Ampel ordered Sunan Giri to hold his army and made a truce with Majapahit. Sunan Ampel didn't want Majapahit to be destroyed because they had been very tolerant with the growth of Islam in Java. Furthermore, there were many nobles and officers in Majapahit who already embraced Islam.
Sunan Bonang was helped by his disciple, Raden Sahid, in maintaining the Bonang region. Raden Sahid was the son of ruler of Tuban and later he got the title
Sunan Kalijaga. Usman Haji was also helped by his son, Ja'far Shadiq, which was later titled Sunan Kudus. But both of them hasn't been included in the Walisongo council yet.