By Abu Muhammad

English Translation and Photography by Bin Gregory Productions

Datuk Hakim Keramat, or the Miraculous Judge, was the title given to a religous scholar of Sarawak well known for his miracles and mystic knowledge. His real name was Abang Haji Abdul Rahman bin Abang Haji Brahim. He was born in Kuching, Sarawak and returned unto the Mercy of the Lord on the 9th of Ramadan 1309 AH (1890 CE). He was buried in the cemetery on the grounds of the Kuching District Mosque.

River ViewDatuk Hakim Keramat began his formal religious studies under a preacher from the holy city of Makkah al-Mukarramah, one Shaykh Ahmad al-Makkawi (alternatively, al-Makki). According to some, Shaykh Makkawi passed away in Kuching and was buried in a village on the banks of the Sarawak River. Other versions claim he returned to Makkah and passed away there. In either case, Datuk Hakim Keramat continued his religious education by traveling to Makkah al-Mukarramah in the 1840’s. After years in Makkah, he returned to Sarawak after receiving news from a pilgrim performing his Hajj. It was Datuk Patinggi Ghafur, a Sarawak nobleman, who related that his homeland of Sarawak had fallen under the control of the heathen White Rajah. Thus sometime in the 1850s, fearing that the White colonizers may try to change the faith and beliefs of the Malays of Sarawak, Datuk Hakim Keramat returned to his native land on the Island of Borneo. His return was to spread devotion and to safeguard the faith and his people.

Faced with the rule of the White Rajah, Datuk Hakim Keramat took a diplomatic approach because he knew armed resistance would not yield any positive result for his people. He knew that declaring a jihad before the religiously established rules and conditions for it had been met would cause it to be unacceptable to God as an act of worship, thus only bringing disaster to their cause over the long term. Therefore, he instead focused his attention on preserving the foundations of Islamic faith and belief to prevent it from damage or destruction by the White Rajah. Thus, Datuk Hakim Keramat pursued a resistance strategy based on religious knowledge, strengthening and solidifying the faith and commitment of his people to Islam. Datuk Hakim Keramat tirelessly spread knowledge, calling people to the faith ceaselessly and selflessly. He built a musallah or surau in the village of Bandarsah as a center for Islamic outreach and as an Islamic courthouse.

In an effort to win the the support of Datuk Hakim Keramat, who was well-respected as a religous leader in the community, James Brooke appointed him as a Judge for the affairs of the Muslims in Sarawak. To care for the religious needs of his people and to safeguard the religion, Datuk Hakim Keramat took the position, although his spirit of anti-colonialism and resistance to the Brooke regime did not change. He taught his people their religion through the teachings of Sunni Islam, following the Shafii School of jurisprudence. He sent many of his students to further their religious studies in Makkah al-Mukarrramah. Among those sent by him were his own children, Datuk Hakim Haji Muhammad Azhari, Datuk Hakim Haji Muhammad Ash`ari, Datuk Imam Haji Suhaili, Shaykh Shibli, Datuk Hakim Haji Muasli, as well as his adopted son nursed by his own wife, the brilliant scholar Shaykh Uthman as-Sarawaki.

Datuk Hakim Keramat was famous for his piety. It is related that when he would teach a class of women, he would sit beneath a mosquito net so that he could not see them clearly. In those days, when they wished to leave the house, Malay women of Sarawak would always cover their aurat. Moreover, they would margok themselves, meaning that they would use a sarong to cover their head and face, such that only their eyes and a small portion of their face was visible. Unfortunately, this tradition of using the margok is no longer practiced today.

Datuk Hakim Keramat can be considered a leading scholar who preserved and strengthened Islam in Sarawak, and educated a generation of religious scholars in Sarawak. He was an innovator who started a new chapter in the building of a learned and intellectual culture among the greater Sarawak Malay society. Directly or indirectly, he prepared a strong foundation for Islamic knowledge and the propagation of Islam in Sarawak.

hill vistaAlthough he was appointed to a high position in the state, his passion in opposing the colonists could not be extinguished. His appointment was used to the best possible degree as a means to raise the position of Islam and the Malay people. He and the scholars he educated struggled mightily to preserve the sanctity of Islam from the meddling of the colonists. Under the leadership of these scholars, the Muslim peoples of Sarawak succeeded in minimizing the effect of colonial interference in religious affairs. When the colonists began to proselytize in Sarawak, it was the diplomatic intervention of these scholars that convinced the colonists to desist from missionary work amongst the Malays. Their efforts and their sacrifices will always be remembered by the Malays of Sarawak as long as there are people who value their own culture and respect the efforts of their religious scholars.

Maqam of Datuk Hakim KeramatIn truth, it was Datuk Hakim Keramat, known for his miracles and his spiritual knowledge, and his students among the religious scholars of Sarawak, who preserved and safeguarded the faith of Sunni Islam under Shafii jurisprudence that has been the faith of the Sarawak Malays, and who never abandoned their homeland during its subjugation to the heathen White Rajah. The blessed outcome of their sincerity and their efforts was that the White Rajahs were forced to respect the sanctity of Islam as the religion of the Malays of Sarawak. Perhaps this was his greatest miracle of all.

May God shower them all with His Good Pleasure and Mercy, and let us lift up to them a recitation of the Fatihah.

[Datuk Hakim Keramat: Original Malay Text]

[Annotated Slideshow of Kuching District Mosque and Grounds]

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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  1. Salaam,

    Since my childhood days living in Kuching, I’ve heard stories about Datuk Hakim Keramat and his deeds but not thoroughly researched like this (by AM). I appreciate the details. His descendents (I believe) includes Datuk Hakim Abg Hj Mohideen and son, the ex-Chairman of Dewan Negara, Tan Sri Abg Ahmad Urai. Another famous descendant is ex-Chairman of Tabung Haji, Datuk Abg Abu Bakar (also a Federal minister). They are local Sarawak nobility known as Bangsawan Perambangan with the hereditary title “Abang” and very influential during the Brooke era. The District mosque is also known as Masjid Negeri Sarawak (I think). Please continue with your articles on Sarawak. I’m still in the learning process.

    BTW, I found your website only a few months ago. Have been visiting on/off but this article caught my eye. I also enjoyed the durian and dabei posts. Oh! and the misnomer “bananas of treachery”. Not many people know that. I’m sure there is a story behind it. I’m surprised that nobody commented so far except me.

  2. A beautiful story of a saintly man. It is always a source of wonder to me that Allah brings forth such men in all places and times to keep faith strong by example and teaching. And though many in the West have never heard of many of them in Southeast Asia, I thank you for enlightening us about one of them.

    Ya Haqq!

  3. It is so lovely to learn about these figures whose deeds and lives would remain unheard of to the “west” without people like you and A.M. making their histories known.

    Your comments still are not showing up on my blog; I just read them at co coments. Hmmm.

  4. Salaam again,

    I’m quite behind in the current events. Thanks for the update. It was called Masjid Negeri when I was in my early teens (80’s). And the new masjid is also called Masjid Jamek (Petra Jaya). Can you confirm that? Thanks.

    I guess I need to read your blog more.

  5. Arif – yes, that’s right.
    Umm Farouq – Maybe it’s my Firefox browser. Umar Lee’s site was acting very strange with firefox – worked fine when I surfed it in IE. I’ll have to look into that.

  6. Assalamu alaikum,

    The graves within the compound of the said masjid are not all facing the kiblah. I always find this puzzling as to how the misalingment could have occurred.

  7. I hadn’t noticed that. Perhaps because the area is so crowded and the terrain is a bit steep? There is plenty of soil erosion in the graveyard. I noticed a few grave markers that had slid due to slope failure. wa Allahu ‘alam.

  8. I am 33, live in Kuching & a Sarawakian and only recently read some books about Sarawak history. Very interesting history and looking for people who share the same interest to know more stories. Thanx.

  9. Salam Brother,
    I would like to meet you and talk to you about Abg. Haji Ghafoor. Can I have your cantact no please. My no. is [Redacted. I\’ll call you tomorrow. – Ed.]. Jazakumullah.

  10. salam….
    recently just read your articles…
    hopefully can meet you personally to get some information…

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