Abstract

This paper examines the roles and position of female religious leaders in Madura Island, known as Nyai. Nyais are female religious leaders and are highly respected by the rural communities for not only being someone who is master in Islamic teachings, and her dakwah (outreach), but also being influential amongst the communities. Yet, the role and position of nyai in a patriarchal society of Madura are crucial in the sense that their dakwah and teachings have gradually become doctrine for female communities in the male-dominated environment. Particular nyais have demonstrated their determination in identity contestation and playing their agency role for their communities. Their popularity and growing followers have become a serious concern and criticism of some male religious leaders (known as kyai) in the Island. An ethnography study applied to observe the daily life of two female nyais in two regional districts of Madura, they are Nyai Sitti of Sampang and Nyai Dausy of Sumenep, and found that in the context of nyai’s hierarchy in Madura, these two nyais have built what have created authority and represented their leadership positions on their social class. They are the central figures, where their popularity are shaped by their charisma, genealogy, and people’s power. Indeed, they have reached the position of ‘nyai rajheh’ (great leader), which is a leading influential figure, especially for women in contemporary Madura Island.