Category Archives: History

The Malays

It’s really quite astounding how much literature we have on the Malays. The Malays were both glorified and vilified as a people in history. Here are some snippets of those recordings.

Compare this:

“The intellect of the Malay race seems rather deficient. They are incapable of anything beyond the simplest combinations of ideas, and have little taste or energy for the acquirement of knowledge. Their civilization, such as it is, does not seem to be indigenous, as it is entirely confined to those nations who have been converted to the Mahometan or Brahminical religions.” – Alfred Russel Wallace. (1869). The Malay Archipelago.

“Frank Swettenham, in his book British Malaya described the Malays as a ‘shy and reserved race’ who were ‘inherently lazy’, with ‘no stomach for really hard and continuous work..’. The typical Malay was ‘hospitable, generous, extravagant, a gambler, a coxcomb…’. He was ‘Nature’s Gentleman’, blessed with singular dignity and good manners but fickle, indolent and, to borrow a phrase from Kipling’s poem ‘Recessional’, ‘a lesser breed without the Law’. – Christopher Hale. (2013). Massacre in Malaya.

To this:

“Only a few months ago there died in Perak a man who cannot be replaced. He was the Raja Muda, the cousin and natural successor of the Sultan. He cannot be replaced because he was in the prime of life, of fine character, experienced in all the affairs of State, able, energetic, just and high-principled, honoured and loved by his countrymen, and deeply respected by all Europeans who were fortunate enough to know him. It will be necessary to go to another generation to find a Raja Muda; the choice is not large, and men of the type of the late Raja Musa are rare. His loss will be keenly felt by the Sultan of Perak, who himself stands for all that is best in the Malay ruling class. Sultan Idris has all the qualities possessed by his cousin with a higher intelligence, a wider experience, and while Raja Musa was shy and retiring, the Sultan has great charm of manner and is a fluent speaker. The Sultan is a very earnest Muhammadan, without a trace of bigotry, and he is recognized as a high authority on questions of Muhammadan law and religion. In all the Malay States there is no one who, by his authority, influence, and direct assistance has done so much to promote the success of the new system of administration as Sultan Idris, on whom the Prince of Wales conferred the Grand Cross of St. Michael and St. George, when His Royal Highness visited Singapore on the memorable colonial tour of 1901.” – Frank Swettenham. (1906). British Malaya.

“The Malays, like many other peoples in history, were not idlers. Their activities in farming, industry, trade, commerce, war, and government are recorded in history. Only after the arrival of the Portuguese did the Malay merchant class decline. The Indians and Chinese immigrants were ensnared in the colonial capitalist system of production; the bulk of them remained coolies. Only a handful of them like Yap Ah Loi became successful capitalists. The immigrant coolies were left in their illiterate, backward state. They were used merely as a tool, “a mule among the nations”. The Malay refusal at the time to be exploited as “a mule among the nations”, was a rational and sound response. They attended to their own work in their own areas of interest. The accusation of indolence was merely a veiled resentment against Malay unwillingness to become a tool for enriching colonial planters.” – Syed Hussein Alatas. (1977). The Myth of the Lazy Native.

Proximity Can Be A Veil

I just found out that in terms of genealogical proximity regarding the ‘Alawiyun of the Hadhramaut, the Al-Haddads are superior to that of Al-Attas’ to the Prophet’s bloodline. This was related to me by my uncle, who is an Irshadi of the Hadhramaut (my paternal side, hence so am I). I’m currently reading ‘The Hadrami Awakening‘ by Natalie Mobini-Kesheh, which I find quite fascinating.

Famous Hadhramis in the Nusantara include Syed Mashhur bin Muhammad Al-Shahab more famously known as Syarif Masahor (a past warrior who commanded the loyalty of the Kanowit people in the resistance against the Brookes) and the contemporaries Tan Sri Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas (a profoundly influential philosopher with a large global following) and Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary (a wealthy merchant with diverse businesses in and around the Malay archipelago).

I would really like to get my hands on the book ‘Graves of Tarim‘ by Engseng Ho.

“Proximity can be a veil. How many Meccans have not performed Hajj because it’s just there?” – Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

The Earliest Qur’an Manuscript


The earliest surviving Qur’an manuscript known to man (written circa 650-670 CE) is now downloadable to your laptop or smartphone in just under 40MB. I’m not sure how this makes me feel. From what we know of our tradition, this monumental piece of scripture must have been put together painstakingly by the companions of The Prophet (SAW) soon after his death. It’s also possible that this is one of the standard canonical Qur’ans assembled by the codex committee headed by Sayyidina Zayd ibn Thabit (RA) and commissioned under the orders of the Caliph Sayyidina Uthman ibn Affan (RA). MasyaAllah!

To view and/or download, click here.

A Qur’an written over the Qur’an – why making the effort?

The manuscript of the Qur’an presented here is a very special case. It is a palimpsest, a page whose script has been completely washed off and has again been written upon. After some time the first layer reappeared and can be discerned, somewhat faded, beneath the second layer. It was probably produced not more than a few decades after the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632 and is considered one of the earliest textual witnesses of the Qur’an. At first glance the fact that both layers contain parts of the Qur’an, that is, parts of one and the same text, is highly astonishing. The question is: for what reason did someone wash off a text, only to overwrite it with the same text, using more or less the same style of script?


A palimpsest Qur’an

The palimpsest, of which roughly three dozen fragments have survived, was discovered in 1972 during restoration works on the western wall of the Great Mosque of Sanaa. The chamber in which it had been deposited together with 40,000 other manuscript fragments of the Qur’an seems to have functioned as a kind of storeroom, because one did not dare to throw away religious texts – a practice which can also be found in Judaism.

Among the other fragments of the trove, which are of great importance for Qur’anic studies, the palimpsest takes an exceptional position. That both layers contain parts of the same text is remarkable, and equally interesting is the fact that they are written in the same type of script. This last point indicates that both layers must have originated within a relatively short time interval. This phenomenon can be explained by taking into account the historical context. The rapid expansion of the Islamic Empire after the death of the Prophet Muhammad led to disputes about the exact wording of the Qur’an, because the experts who were scattered over vast areas remembered things differently. Faced with this situation of growing divergences, Caliph Uthman (r. 644-656) – as much is reported by Islamic sources – eventually selected a group of men who where entrusted with the task of reconstructing the authentic wording of the revelation, using all oral and written testimonies that had survived as a basis for this work. The result was an official standard text, the so-called canonical version, and all other prevalent deviating versions were ordered to be destroyed – an order that was not in every place complied with immediately or without resistance.


Original version and graphical reconstruction of the lower layer (detail of fol. 23r). The strong curvature of the lines of the washed-off script that can be particularly observed in the lower part of the page could be a result of the remanufacturing process of the parchment in preparation for the new writing.

But how is the “Qur’an written over the Qur’an” concerned by this? A closer look at the lower layer reveals significant deviations from the uthmanic standard version (which, however, do not change much of the meaning of the text). Hence it is very likely that we have here a precanonical version of the Qur’an that in consequence of the event of the uthmanic redaction had become undesirable and was therefore extinguished. Producing such a manuscript containing a non-official version after the standardization under Uthman is highly improbable. The more so, as already the material value shows that it must have been an expensive specimen. To produce a complete copy of the Qur’an of this size, the skin of more than 200 animals, presumably sheep or goats, would have been needed! This also seems to be one reason why the “old” manuscript had not simply been thrown away: by preparing the pages and rewriting them in the now official version the expensive parchment could be preserved. This makes the palimpsest Qur’an from Sanaa a witness of a significant event in the history of Islam: the final redaction of the Qur’an text.

But not only as such the palimpsest is of great importance. Given the early origin of both layers and given the fact, that the physical conditions reveal their relative chronological order beyond doubt, this manuscript allows valuable insights into the development of the Arabic script and orthography, the dating of manuscripts by comparing the features of different scripts and the production and ornamentation of Qur’an manuscripts in the 7th century.

The rarity and significance of this manuscript are also reflected by its monetary value. Four pages somehow made their way to western auction houses and the last of them – sold in 2008 at Christie’s – broke the world auction record for any Islamic manuscript by fetching the amazing sum of £2,484,500! This even earned it a mention in the British magazine Country Life, that is dedicated to the auctioning and sale of English country houses and, this is noteworthy, some of them are cheaper to buy than the palimpsest page.

Text by Hadiya Gurtmann
© for all pictures: DATI / Ch. Robin & H. Gurtmann / BBAW Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften
Source: Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC)

Huruf dan Abjad

Sebelum kemunculan pengangkaan Arab (Arabic numerals) pada sekitar kurun kelapan, sistem pernomboran abjad (alphabetic numbering) merupakan sistem yang biasa digunakan untuk tujuan pernomboran. Sistem ini wujud bagi kebanyakan bahasa pada ketika itu, terutamanya untuk bahasa-bahasa samawi (semitic), termasuklah bahasa Arab. Sistem dibawah ini boleh diibaratkan sebagai Roman numerals versi Arab dimana I, V, X dan L melambangkan 1, 5, 10 dan 50 dan seterusnya. Sama seperti itu, alif, ha, ya dan nun masing-masing melambangkan 1, 5, 10 dan 50 dan seterusnya.

ا – 1
ب – 2
ج – 3
د – 4
ه – 5
و – 6
ز – 7
ح – 8
ط – 9
ي – 10
ك – 20
ل – 30
م – 40
ن – 50
س – 60
ع – 70
ف – 80
ص – 90
ق – 100
ر – 200
ش – 300
ت – 400
ث – 500
خ – 600
ذ – 700
ض – 800
ظ – 900
غ – 1000

Penghafalan sistem yang sukar ini dimudahkan dengan mengelompokkan nombor-nombor yang berturutan bagi membentuk perkataan yang boleh dilagukan.

ابجد – abjad: 1–2–3–4
هوز – hawwaz: 5–6–7
حطي – hutthi: 8–9–10
كلمن – kalaman: 20–30–40–50
سعفص – sa’fash: 60–70–80–90
قرشت – qarasyat: 100–200–300–400
ثخذ – thakhidz: 500–600–700
ضظغ – dhazhagh: 800–900–1000

Perkembangan ilmu matematika pada kurun kedua dan ketiga hijrah amat pesat hinggakan tertubuhnya pelbagai pusat ilmuwan di serata dunia Islam. Ternyata, sistem pernomboran abjad tidak mampu menampung perkembangan ilmu bagi tujuan perhitungan yang kompleks, kerana penulisannya menjadi terlalu rumit. Penggunaan sistem ini menyorot dengan mendadak setelah sistem pengangkaan Hindu-Arab diperkenalkan. Sistem ini digunapakai secara meluas, hingga ke hari ini.

٠ 0 sifr صفر
١ 1 wahid واحد
٢ 2 ithnan إثنان
٣ 3 thalatha ثلاثة
٤ 4 arba’a أربعة
٥ 5 khamsa خمسة
٦ 6 sitta ستة
٧ 7 sab’a سبعة
٨ 8 thamaniya ثمانية
٩ 9 tis’a تسعة

Perkataan ‘abjad’ dalam bahasa Melayu mengambil nama dari empat nombor yang pertama dalam sistem Arabic alphabetic numbering, dan perkataan ‘huruf’ juga diambil dari perkataan Arab ‘haraf’ yang bermaksud single letter word.

Mengembara di Bumi Konstantiniyyah

It took my brother and I close to 2 whole days to locate this site. With alot of asking, hiking, more asking, more hiking and broken Turkish/English in between, alhamdulillah we found it. Thank you ofcourse to Ammar’s mother for guiding us there. We have the GPS coordinates saved now, for whoever would like to pay him a visit, the coordinates are below.


Pusara Ahmad Ammar di perkarangan Eyüp Sultan Camii.

Ammar merupakan satu-satunya anak Malaysia yang diberi keistimewaan ditanamkan di tanah perkuburan Masjid Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari.

Part of my conversation with Pn Nur Azlina, Ammar’s wonderful mother. The coordinates can be copied from above.

Sujud Merdeka

Allah telah mengutuskan kami untuk mengeluarkan siapa saja yang Dia kehendaki dari perhambaan terhadap sesama manusia kepada perhambaan kepada Allah, dari kesempitan dunia kepada keluasannya, dari kezaliman agama-agama kepada keadilan Islam. – Rib’ie ibn Amir kepada Rustam, Pemimpin Parsi.

Benarlah, hanya jiwa yang merdeka mampu memerdekakan jiwa-jiwa lain. – Muhammad Ahmad Ar-Rasyid, Sajdatul Hurriyah, Al-Muntalaq.

Setiap sujud pengabdian kamu kepada Allah, adalah sujud kebebasan kamu daripada manusia. Inilah sujud yang merdeka.

Protector or Predator?

Real men are protectors of women, not predators of women! While scouring the web, I came across this news. The article shows a clip of an Israeli soldier belly dancing around a female prisoner, blindfolded and bound against the wall, illustrative of the occupiers’ sick mentality.

When I read the story by Al Jazeera I was infuriated. By God, I wanted to rip the soldier’s heart out. In the video, I saw a coward and a courageous person. I will leave you to decide on who is who. Islam is in dire need of real men. We are in need of ar-Rijal.

I would like to remind everyone of the story of the Caliph named al-Mu’tasim, ruler of the Abassid empire from 833-842, successor to al-Ma’mun and Harun ar-Rashid, an excellent example of ar-Rijal.

Once a Muslim woman was being teased by Jews in the Jewish quarter of what was then Byzantium bordering the Muslim empire. The Jews pulled at her hijab and mocked her in a most ignoble manner.

She cried and wrote to the Caliph addressing him in her letter, “Ya Mu’tasimah!” (an emotional plea) and told him of what had happened. When the Caliph heard of this news, he was so outraged he dropped the cup of water he was drinking.

Immediately, Caliph Mu’tasim wrote back to the Roman Emperor of Byzantium, saying:

“Ya kalb ar-Rum! (Oh you Roman dog!) I have an army of men that stretch from where I stand (Baghdad) to where you stand (Constantinople), who love to fight and die as much as your men love to live.”

This was the honor that Muslims once had, which I pray we will have once again. One of our sisters was mocked in the market and the Muslim ruler was willing to protect her dignity with his entire army.

By today’s standards, a simple teasing may seem trivial. Women are assaulted on the streets every day, and you would not see the President waging war against the enemy. But the magnanimous Caliph was not going to let this slip.

Such was the value of Muslim women in that day. Precious and venerated. May Allah give us leaders with that kind of valor and chivalry. Because real men are protectors of women, not predators of women.

Letter to The Leader

The following is a letter that was written by Hasan al-Basri to the Caliph ‘Umar ibn Abdul Azeez.

“When ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-’Aziz assumed the caliphate, he wrote to al-Hasan ibn Abi al-Hasan al-Basri asking him to write to him and describe the just ruler. Al-Hasan, may God have mercy on him, wrote:

“Be it known to you, O Commander of the Faithful, that God instituted the just ruler to be the redress of every wrong-doer, the discipline of every unfair person, the correction of every corrupt man, the strength of every weak one, the justice of every wronged being, and the refuge of every fightened individual.

The just ruler, O Commander of the Faithful, is like a shepherd who is tender towards his camels and kind to them; he takes them to the best pastures, prevents them from going to dangerous places, defends them against wild beasts, and protects them from the harms of the heat and the cold.

The just ruler, O Commander of the Faithful, is like a father who feels compassion for his children, works hard for them when young and teaches them as they grow older, earns for them during his lifetimes, and saves for them after his death.

The just ruler, O Commander of the Faithful, is like a tender mother who is dutiful and kind to her baby, who bears him and gives him birth unwillingly, who brings him up as a child, staying up at night when he does, and being quiet when he is at rest; she suckles him for a time and then weans him, she rejoices when he is healthy and is saddened when he is in pain.

The just ruler, O Commander of the Faithful, is the guardian of orphans and treasurer of the poor, educating the young among them and providing for the older ones.

The just ruler, O Commander of the Faithful, is like the heart among the other body organs: they are healthy if the heart is healthy, and sick when the heart is sick.

The just ruler, O Commander of the Faithful, is the one who stands between God and his servants; he listens to what God says and conveys it to them, he looks to God and makes them look too; he is led by God and he leads them. Therefore, O Commander of the Faithful, in relation to the realm given to you by God, may He be exalted and magnified, do not be like a servant whose master entrusted him with his wealth and dependents, but who wasted the wealth and drove away the dependents like tramps, thus impoverishing his master’s family and frittering away his wealth.

Be it known to you, O Commander of the Faithful, that God has prescribed punishments to act as deterrents to wicked deeds and vile acts. So if these deeds and acts are committed by those responsible for implementing the punishments, what will happen? God has prescribed punishment as a means to better living for His servants. So if the one who should be doing justice to them kills them, what will happen? And remember death and what follows it, O Commander of the Faithful, when you will have no adherents and no supporters to help you against it; so provide for it and for the great terror that follows it.

Be it known to you, O Commander of the Faithful, that you have a home other than the one you are in now. In it you will abide for a long time. Your loved ones will abandon you and leave you in it all alone. Provide for it that which will remain with you. “On the day when a man flees his brother, and from his mother and father, and from his wife and his sons.” (Q. 80:34-36)

Remember, O Commander of the Faithful, “…when what is in the tombs is resurrected, and what is in the breasts is gathered” (Q. 100:9-10), secrets will become manifest, and the Book “…leaving out nothing small or great but has recorded it” (Q. 18-49).

Now, O Commander of the Faithful, while you still have time and before the arrival of the appointed hour of death and loss of hope: do not rule God’s servants as the ignorant do, and do not behave with them as oppressors do, the way domineering arrogant ones conduct themselves with those they deem to be weak, for they observe no covenant or compact of protection. Otherwise, you will end up bearing your burdens and other burdens too, and you will carry your loads and other loads too. Do not be deceived by those who enjoy what causes you misery and those who eat good things in this world of theirs, for you will then lose your good things in the Hereafter. Do not look at your power today but look rather at your power tomorrow, when you are captive in the snares of death, standing before God, may He be exalted, and in the presence of the angels, the prophets, and the apostles, when “All faces shall be humbled before the Living, Self-Subsisting One” (Q. 20:111).

O Commander of the Faithful, although I have not achieved in my sermon what earlier men of intellect have, I have not withheld advice and sympathy from you. Consider this letter of mine to you as would a healer who gives his beloved to drink bitter medicine because he hopes for the cure and good health it will bring about. Peace be upon you, O Commander of the Faithful, God’s mercy, and His blessings.”

By Abu Sa’id al-Hasan ibn Abi-l-Hasan Yasar al-Basri, 642 – 728

(p 25-26 of “The Unique Necklace: Volume 1” by Ibn ‘Abd Rabbih)