In Central Java, an Islamic boarding school is breaking with tradition.
Locals have called the place the ‘Islamic Boarding School for repentant metal heads.’
Most Indonesian Islamic schools are filled with students and teachers in white gowns and caps.
But in this school yard you’re more likely to see long haired, tattooed musicians.
The school accepts everyone regardless of background, wealth or life experience, and gives them free education.
The place has become a refuge for those recovering from drug addictions and mental illness.
From Cilacap, Central Java, KBR journalist Muhamad Ridlo has more.
Students are reciting the Koran, and learning Arabic.
And while that’s normal for an Islamic boarding school, almost everything else here is exceptional.
Most Islamic boarding schools ban music and art, but at this one, it’s encouraged.
18 of the students have a band, called Solawat Metal, which has a unique style, combining rock n roll, reggae, metal, and religious music.
“Normally we play rock and roll. But in this group, it’s not all music,” said Rudiarto, the band’s leader.
“We do puppetry, preaching and art, all in the one group, Solawat Metal. Every month we do about 10 performances, at weddings, and community events.”
Rudiarto plays keyboard and violin. He’s calm and polite, dressed in t-shirt and jeans, his body is covered in tattoos, and his hair long.
“Basically I am a reggae lover, I had dreadlocks, and I used to play music in towns and cafes,” he told me.
“But eventually I got bored and fed up. My world was just drinking and girls. That’s in the past, I’m older now and I’m ashamed of all that.”
Rudiarto first came to the school in 2014, experiencing mental health problems and drug addiction.
When he arrived, he says he didn’t know what to do with himself. Music was his only comfort.
“Before I came here, I was a junkie,” he confessed.
“When I arrived here, they told me to take my time and to feel at home. It took maybe a year or two, but eventually I started to feel like this was home.”
Rudiarto is now recovering. And he’s not the only one.
Eight students are currently in rehabilitation. Six are recovering from drug abuse, and 2 from mental illness.
Drug and alcohol abuse, and mental illness are strongly stigmatized in Indonesia. There are few options for recovery and treatment.
The school here relies on a simple, traditional method of rehabilitation: Prayer and Daud fasting, a technique that involves fasting every second day, for three years straight.
46 year old Abah Soleh says that when he established the school in 2000, he wanted to make a home for people who weren’t welcome anywhere else.
But he says it hasn’t been easy - he’s faced a lot of resistance from the local community.
The school started on charity land. But that didn’t last long.
“The students were junkies, so the land owner didn’t feel comfortable with them. So they took the land back. We’re considered drinkers, and we were forced to leave. All my students were drinkers, so many people don’t accept us.”
After being forced off the land they started on, Abah Soleh was determined the school would have its own land. He just had to find the money for it.
No one would employ the rag tag group of students. So they went to the streets.
“We put a drum in the middle of the road [creating a block]. We wore sleeveless shirts, so everyone could see the tattoos, and we demanded money from every passing car,” Soleh recalled.
“Every passing car had to donate money. We did this for a year.”
With the money they collected, they bought land and built a school.
What the locals saw was heavy metal stereotypes: drugs, alcohol, thugs and violence. They dubbed the place ‘The Islamic Boarding School for Repentant Metalheads.’ And the name stuck.
“Originally the locals gave it that name,” said Soleh.
“Back then, most students here were drug addicts. A lot of villagers said ‘This a bunch of repentant metalheads.’ But we have survived, and we’re still running now.”
With time, the school has won the support of locals. At first there were just 17 students. Now there are more than 450 living in the dormitories, and dozens more that travel to the school from surrounding villages every day.
Abah Soleh says his intention is simply to give the students, women and men alike, another chance.
“I see the potential of the students and I educate them. My principle is not to turn them into something or other. No. I just see their potential,” he explained.
“If they have potential as musician, I support them to become a musician. If I see a boy is good, tall, and is interested in the military, then I send him to military school. Or if someone has talent as a preacher, I push them to do that. Why? So students will make the most of their talents.”
After 17 years, hundreds of students have graduated.
Thirteen have gone on to start their own Islamic boarding schools. Abah Soleh reminds them to welcome people from all walks of life, without asking questions about their background.