Female Islamic Saints


Ratu Pakubuwana (d. 1732), also known by her familial name Ratu Mas Blitar, was a queen of the Javanese Mataram Sultanate and a patron and composer of mystical literature. When she married the prince Pangeran Pugĕr, the Dutch East India Company (or VOC) helped her husband overthrow his nephew Amangkurat III in 1704, and the couple were crowned Pakubuwana I and Ratu Pakubuwana. Almost immediately the Ratu acquired immense importance at court. She was charged with overseeing the royal pusaka, ancestral relics or heirlooms to be protected and respected for their spiritual properties (like the barakah of a saint or relic), a role of great ritual authority, and it was her, in fact, who fruitlessly searched the court for the pusaka after her husband’s party had occupied it. The queen also reportedly influenced her spouse in old age.

When Pakubuwana I died in 1719, his son, crowned Amangkurat IV, succeeded him. Amangkurat had a cold relationship with his mother, and his succession drew the ire of his younger brothers, Pangeran Blitar and Pangeran Purbaya, who rebelled against him. They couldn’t resist Amangkurat’s VOC-backed forces, however, and the war’s end saw Blitar die from illness and Purbaya in exile. This reportedly drove Ratu Pakubuwana to despair and consider suicide, as she had favored them and may have been working to help them. However, Amangkurat would fall ill in 1726, suspecting poison, and, towards the end of his life, came to rely on his mother, only accepting medicine from her. As with Pakubuwana I, the VOC installed Amangkurat’s sixteen year old son, crowned Pakubuwana II, over the anti-VOC heir apparent, Arya Mangkunagara, who was exiled to Sri Lanka.

Ratu Pakubuwana, then blind and elderly, was the matron over a court in an uncertain position. Ever since the earlier Amangkurat I had thousands of Islamic scholars publicly massacred for some scholars’ aid in a failed coup, the court had had a strained relationship with Javanese Muslims. Intending to amend this relationship and provide an Islamic ideal to temper her young grandson’s rule, she began the year-long production of three Sufi texts in late 1729. She had commissioned a composition of Sĕrat Menak, “Tale of Menak,” mythical accounts of Muḥammad’s uncle Ḥamzah, earlier in 1715, and while she did not author the books herself, she determined the details of their composition. Lacking pusaka after the first war of succession, she had produced the texts for them to become pusaka themselves, and so Ratu Pakubuwana acting as ingkang ayasa, or “commissioner,” received praise in her texts along with her scribes. The centennial of the Islamizing Mataram monarch Sultan Agung’s pilgrimage to the even senior Islamizing Javenese Sunan Bayat’s shrine in 1633 was approaching, inspiring recensions of texts largely originally composed by Sultan Agung on his pilgrimage.

Of the texts commissioned, Carita Iskandar, “Tale of Alexander the Great,” reprises the Qur’anic story of Dhū al-Qarnayn as a homily on kingship, Sĕrat Yusuf ,“Tale of Joseph,” gives the story of the prophet Joseph in Egypt, and Kitab Usulbiya, “Book of the Origin of Prophets,” is a story of God giving his commandments to Muḥammad, who descended to meet Jesus as Mecca’s king, akin to narratives of Muḥammad’s ascension to heaven. Additionally, manuscripts of the Usulbiya contain multiple other shorter works after the main narrative including Gita Sifat Nabi, “Song of the Prophet’s Attributes,” Sĕrat Seh Samsu Tabred, “Tale of Shaykh Shams Tabrīzī” (which portrays the saint as a wise child in discourse with Rūmī in Mecca), Sĕrat Caritaning Nabi Ibrahim, “Tale of the Prophet Abraham,” and Sĕrat Caritaning Nabi Ĕnuh, “Tale of the Prophet Noah.”. Notably, Ratu Pakubuwana’s recensions further synthesize Islamic and Javanese mystic piety and culture, shifting the narratives’ settings to Java. Ratu Pakubuwana’s patronage helped to preserve the works of Sultan Agung, whose original manuscripts are fragmentary, and passages from Yusuf are still ceremonially recited in rural Java. When she died, she was buried in a plain grave, with no cungkub or funerary chapel, and rather than among the royal tombs, she was buried near her fallen son Pangeran Blitar.

Not necessarily considered a saint.


Fathurahman, Oman. “Female Indonesian Sufis: Shattariya Murids in the 18th and 19th Centuries in Java.” Kyoto Bulletin of Islamic Area Studies, no. 11, Mar. 2018, pp. 40–67.

Ricklefs, Merle C. “Islam and the Reign of Pakubuwana II, 1726–49.” Islam: Essays on Scripture, Thought, and Society: a Festschrift in Honour of Anthony H. Johns, BRILL, 1997, pp. 237–240.

Ricklefs, Merle C. “Islamising Java: The Long Shadow of Sultan Agung.” Archipel vol. 56 no. 1, 1998, pp. 469–482.

Ricklefs, Merle C. Soul Catcher: Java’s Fiery Prince Mangkunagara I, 1726–95. NUS Press, Jul 31, 2018, pp. 10, 16–21.

Ricklefs, Merle C. The Seen and Unseen Worlds in Java, 1726-1749: History, Literature, and Islam in the Court of Pakubuwana II. University of Hawaii Press, 1998, pp. 237–240.

Kanjeng Ratu Pakubuwono

Southeast AsiaSufiComposerQueen ConsortMystic.