In pursuit of majesty

The author

Note: the original version of this article is in Bahasa Indonesia under the title of ‘Membeli Gaya Hidup’. Click the link for more information:


Every society has their own social strata. This strata, or class, has its own various references. There are classes which are based on dynasty or nobility. Those who are born inheriting the nobility will be automatically positioned on top of the social strata. In Javanese society, there are families who preserve this strata by enlisting the ‘raden’ title or any other higher epithets, as a proof that they are the descendants of the kingdom.

Meanwhile, in the neighborhood of Hindu society, strata is entirely based on both understanding and faith in castes. For example, Brahma caste, which is preserved hereditarily.  Another epitome of social strata is shown from the surroundings of Islamic boarding schools, known in Indonesian as pesantren, in which a kyai’s son is often called Gus, indicating that he has the inheritance of a nobleman, who must be loved and respected by both the realms of students and societies.

As education has progressed, social strata which was built upon primordial references, pre-eminences determined by birth and hereditary lines, were gradually displaced by standards of academic achievements which were then immortalized through boffin titles. Whenever people attempted to show off with Raden title abbreviated as ‘Rd’, thus they are now unrivaled by campus titles, such as ‘Dr.’

Among the military circumstances, this strata is strictly maintained and any efforts to be promoted to higher positions might take a heavy scramble as a pre-requisite, as is the struggle to attain the designation of ‘Doctor’ and ‘Professor’. The same thing applies in bureaucracy. The social strata it has plays a pivotal role as it determines the effects of power and economy. Nevertheless, the validity period does not stick permanently, as it is restricted on its official legality.

All these samples are taken to emphasize that communities engender the creation of pyramidal formats, with references and levels of rationality varying from one society to another. People are free to stand up on the notion of ‘classless society’, equality before the law and God, but social strata and hierarchy do always exist all the time.

In a light conversation a middle-class woman spinned a yarn, telling how multitudes of middle-class heifers nowadays would like so much to elevate their social status, or say the least, be considered part of the upper-class communities. But, then, what do they do? Their answer would be to purchase ‘staircases’ which may be used as the foothold to the top, in forms of branded products, often at exorbitant costs. By engaging themselves in world-class accessories, someone thinks they have had the likes of the parvenu, being the inseparable moiety of the elite. Thus, everything they wear on, ranging from bags, clothes, shoes, watches, cars, and other kinds of bijouterie, must be of ‘cool’ brands and classy.

Ironically, the money needed to purchase these items is not always obtained in appropriate manner. Sometimes, it is harvested by snatching other people’s dues, for example, corruption. When someone feels he or she has been on the top which necessitates sumptuous costs, their position is comparable to someone who visits a megamall. But reaching the place might require extra patience as the entire route is congested, overcrowded with vehicles. But once the person has got up to the mall, they find out that the stores available offer products varying from tens of millions to hundred million rupiah. In no time, they turn out ‘impecunious’.

No matter how affluent they themselves are, people in general will never reach any point of satisfaction to shop on items that are not included in the category of rudimentary needs; instead they are purchasing for the sake of lifestyle. Those who are trapped in this domain do not realize that utilizing such goods as if caused their personal quality to elevate as well. Whereas, it is the items that are valued, not the personal quality. This kind of people must be reminded and must be pitied. They have been exposed to self-confidence and personality crisis.

Let us observe what is actually taking place on the societies, as uncovered by mass media. Multitudes of corruption scandals and myriad cases of broken-home families, they do all root when someone is entrapped to purchase lifestyle so that they be considered as part of the top social strata. Whereas, it has been long taught in villages, schools and universities, one’s self-esteem is determined by their knowledge, personality, and contribution to the societies, not by their lifestyle whose material wealth and social status mask their faces and jack up their social status.

It turns out that the elevation of someone’s dignity in terms of power and wealth is not always accompanied by their being more mature in interpreting, undergoing, and appreciating life.

Komaruddin Hidayat

Chancellor, State Islamic University of Syarif Hidayatullah (Universitas Islam Negeri Syarif Hidayatullah), Jakarta