Kuching in History

Malay Kampongs of Kuching

I picked up a great little book, a 50-year-old report done by two peninsular Malays as an undergraduate honors project. The reprinting, produced by UNIMAS, is titled “Life in the Malay Kampongs of Kuching, Fifty Years Ago”. It’s a real gem. The students were geographers, and so payed special attention to the landscape of the Malay north bank. They did dabble in some social observation as well:

Children and a few adults were noted, however, who although calling themselves ‘Malay’ were clearly wholly or partly Chinese physically. The adoption by Malay families of Chinese children, particularly girls, is a common practice, even among Malays with children of their own. The adopted child receives no invidious treatment, is accepted without qualification, and is invariably Muslim. Exactly why such adoption is so common it is difficult to decide satisfactorily on the basis of our short period of work in these kampongs. The only widely expressed and openly accepted reason is the desire of those possessing no children at all to own them or of those families in which the children are all boys to possess a girl. This certainly fits in well with the practice of disposing of the girls rather than the boys by Chinese who feel that their economic position does not warrant the keeping of an extra girl. There is also the fear by Malay families in which all the children are boys, that when the sons follow the practice among the Malays of living with their in-laws after marriage, the parents will be deprived of their sons who are income earners and capable of looking after them when they are old or sick. A daughter means a potential son-in-law in one’s house.

However, Chinese baby girls are taken by some Malay families even though they already possess several children, including girls. The reasons for this kind of adoption are certainly partly explicable in term of differences between Chinese and Malay economic philosophies. Some reasons, never expressed however by the Malay himself, may be unpopular if openly admitted although generally and tacitly held. The light colouring and more delicate features of the Chinese girls are, we think, factors of some importance in many cases, making the child probably more marriageable in a community with more females than males, and thereby incidentally attracting a son-in-law into the house. In one house in a downstream Kampong a large number of people were found to be visiting the household to see a small baby Chinese girl who had just been purchased for $50 by the Malays. The villagers certainly appeared to be most interested in whether the colouring and general features of the child made it a good bargain.

My in-laws from west Malaysia have adopted Chinese girls in our family tree as well, so this was not limited just to Kuching, though it seems to have been more common here. Has this resulted in closer relations between the Chinese donor families and the adopting families? I’d be curious to know. In our own family, the Chinese relatives still show up for weddings and other major gatherings. At the same time, I’ve been told our late grandmother was rather resentful for having been given away as an infant. Anyway, perhaps due to the general rise in prosperity, I don’t think this practice is happening more today.

Libraries Are Changing

I won’t embarass myself by saying how long it’s been since I went to a municipal library, but I’m in one today. My, how they’ve changed. Here I am updating my blog and catching up on correspondence on a blazing fast internet connection and a sleek flat-panel monitor in the Ford Centennial Library. Thank you, City of Dearborn. Only one complaint, which is that www.bingregory.com is site blocked! What gives? I’ve been good, honest. Not even a naughty word since I started my blog, I think. I guess this makes me against internet censorship.

White Warriors with Paradise Sabres

Sons of Imam Shamil

Following up on the Chechnya post, here are a few more resources that I googled up:

On the Web!

More on Wahhabi penetration in the Caucasus:

In 1999, RFE/RL correspondent Oleg Kusov interviewed young people in Gudermes, the second-largest town in Chechnya. They told him they would follow the Wahhabi principles because the Wahhabis gave them $100 a month — a large amount of money the traditional Sufi orders are unlikely to be able to pay.

In Print!
Lesley Blanch wrote on an account of the Murid Wars of the mid-1800’s, focusing on the Imam Shamyl, the Lion of the Caucasus, called Sabres of Paradise. An Amazon reviewer sums it up:

The reviews I’ve read so far fail to emphasize that this book, while it certainly covers much of the history of the Caucuses in the latter half of the 19th century, is in no small part a biography of Imam Shamyl, “The Lion of Dhagestan”, and his role as the leader of what was referred to as “The Mureed Wars”. Shamyl was a legendary, charismatic leader who, through the power of his Islamic faith, and with the added dimension of being son-in-law of one of the great Shaykhs of the Naqshbandi Sufi order (Jamaluddin Ghumuqi), united the various tribes and peoples of this region to fight off the great Russian Bear for nearly 25 years. It is an epic tale of heroism and tragedy on a personal and cultural level, and will grip the reader as they follow the exploits and the battles that are still to this day legendary in the Caucuses.

On Film!
Steve Reeves is The White Warrior. Alright, I’m not recommending this one. It’s a pretty schlocky Hollywood “epic” from the 50’s focusing on Hajji Murad, a contemporary of Imam Shamyl (“King Shamyl” in the film). They should remake it with Keanu Reeves!

Also, Cinderella Bloggerfeller [and people say my handle is odd] noticed my Chechnya comments and added a whole lot more, including some interesting info on religious tolerance of Muslims and Jews in Poland. What kind of Pole does that make me that I didn’t know that? As for my famous ancestor, I’m sure half the Poles in Hamtramck can claim the same, but I’ll stick to my story anyway. Cindy [apologies in advance] also writes about the struggle for influence over in the next gorge, the Pankisi Gorge.

Islamic Books Online

Hizmet Books has lots of islamic books available for free, some in simple html and some in PDF. The english collection is not great, only about a dozen texts, but they are based in Turkey and have books translated into Bosnian, Albanian, Russian, Uzbek, even Polish! What looked like the best book there in English is a translation of THE SAHÂBA by Ahmad Fârûqî. That is, HADRAT IMÂM RABBÂNÎ AHMAD FÂRÛQÎ SERHENDÎ ‘quddisa sirruh’, the Reviver of the Second Millennium. Here is an excerpt:

One day Abû Bakr as-Siddîq ‘radiy-Allâhu ’anh’ came to Rasûlullah’s ‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sallam’ place. He was about to enter, when Alî bin Abî Tâlib ‘radiy-Allâhu ’anh’ arrived, too. Abû Bakr stepped backwards and said, “After you, Yâ Alî.” The latter replied and the following long dialogue took place between them:

Alî – Yâ Abâ Bakr, you go in first for you are ahead of us all in all goodnesses and acts of charity.

Abû Bakr – You go in first, Yâ Alî, for you are closer to the Messenger of Allah ‘sall-Allâhu ta’âlâ ’alaihi wa sallam’.

Alî – How could I go ahead of you? I heard the Messenger of Allah ‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sallam’ say, “The sun has not risen on any one of my Ummat higher than Abû Bakr.”

Abû Bakr – How could I go ahead of you? On the day when Rasûlullah ‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sallam’ gave his daughter Fâtima-t-uz-zahrâ ‘radiy-Allâhu ta’âlâ ’anhâ’ in marriage to you, he stated, “I have given the best of women to the best of men.”

Alî – I cannot go ahead of you, for Rasûlullah ‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sallam’ stated, “Let him who wants to see Ibrâhîm (Abraham) ‘alaihis-salâm’ look at Abû Bakr’s face.”

Abû Bakr – I can not go ahead of you, for Rasûlullah ‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sallam’ stated, “Let him who wants to see Âdam’s ‘alaihis-salâm’ tenderness and Yûsuf’s ‘alaihis-salâm’ beautiful moral qualities look at Alî!”

Alî – I can not enter before you. For, the Messenger of Allah ‘alaihis-salâm’ asked, “Yâ Rabbî! Who loves me most, and who is the best of my Sahâba?” Jenâb-i-Haqq answered, “Yâ Muhammad ‘alaihis-salâm’! He is Abû Bakr as-Siddîq.”

Abû Bakr – I can not go ahead of you. For, the Messenger ‘alaihis-salâm’ stated, “So (good) is the person whom I give knowledge that Allâhu ta’âlâ loves him, and so do I; I love him very much.” You have been the gate to the town of knowledge.

Alî – I can not go before you, for the Messenger ‘alaihis-salâm’ stated, “There is a sign that says, ‘Abû Bakr, the Habîbullah (the Darling of Allah),’ on the gates of Paradise.”

Abû Bakr – I cannot go before you. For, during the Holy War of Hayber the Messenger of Allah ‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sallam’ handed the flag to you and stated, “This flag is a gift from the Melîk-i-ghâlib to Alî bin Abî Tâlib.”

Alî – How can I go before you? The Messenger ‘alaihis-salâm’ said to you, “Yâ Abâ Bakr! You stand for my sight, which sees, and for my heart, which knows.”

Abû Bakr – I can not go ahead of you. For, the Messenger ‘alaihis-salâm’ stated, “On the Rising Day Alî will come (to the place of assembly) on the back of an animal of Paradise. Jenâb-i-Haqq will say, ‘Yâ Muhammad ‘alaihis-salâm’! How beautiful a father your father Ibrâhîm Halîl is; and how beautiful a brother your brother Alî bin Abî Tâlib is.’ ”

Alî – I can not go before you. For, the Messenger ‘alaihis-salâm’ stated, “On the Rising Day the angel named Ridwân, who is the chief of the angels of Paradise, will enter Paradise, coming back with the keys of Paradise. He will give them to me. Then Jebrâîl ‘alaihis-salâm’ will come and say, ‘Yâ Muhammad, give the keys of Paradise and those of Hell to Abû Bakr. Let Abû Bakr send anyone he chooses to Paradise and others to Hell.’ ”

Abû Bakr – I can not go ahead of you, for the Messenger ‘alaihis-salâm’ stated, “Alî will be by my side on the Rising Day. He will be with me near the Hawz and Kawthar. He will be with me on the Sirât. He will be with me in Paradise. And he will be with me (at the happiest moment) as I see Allâhu ta’âlâ.’ ”

Alî – I can not enter before you do, for the Messenger of Allah ‘alaihis-salâm’ stated, “If the îmân held by Abû Bakr were weighed against the total sum of the îmân held by all the other Believers, his îmân would weigh heavier.”

Abû Bakr – How can I go before you? For, the Rasûl ‘alaihis-salâm’ stated, “I am the city of knowledge. And Alî is the gate?”

Alî – How can I ever walk ahead of you? For, the Rasûl ‘alaihis-salâm’ stated, “I am the city of faithfulness. And Abû Bakr is its gate.”

Abû Bakr – I can not go before you, for the Rasûl ‘alaihis-salâm’ stated, “On the Rising Day Alî will be made to mount a beautiful horse. Those who see him will wonder: What prophet is that person? Allâhu ta’âlâ will say: This is Alî bin Abî Tâlib.”

Alî – I can not go ahead of you, for the Rasûl ‘alaihis-salâm’ stated, “I and Abû Bakr are from the same soil. We shall be one again.”

Abû Bakr – I can not go before you, for the Rasûl ‘alaihis-salâm’ stated, “Allâhu ta’âlâ will say: O you, Paradise! I shall adorn your four corners with four people. One of them is Muhammad ‘alaihis-salâm’, the highest of prophets. Another one is Alî, the highest of those who fear Allâhu ta’âlâ. The third one is Fâtima-t-uz-zahrâ, the highest of women. And the fourth corner will be occupied by Hasan and Husayn, the highest of pure people.”

Alî – How can I go ahead of you? The Rasûl ‘alaihis-salâm’ stated, “A voice from the eight Gardens of Paradise calls as follows: O Abâ Bakr, come with those whom you love; and you all, enter Paradise!”

Abû Bakr – I cannot go before you, for the Rasûl ‘alaihis-salâm’ stated, “I am like a tree. Fâtima is the trunk. Alî is the branches. Hasan and Husayn are the fruits.”

Alî – I can not go before you, for the Rasûl ‘alaihis-salâm’ stated, “May Allâhu ta’âlâ forgive all the faults of Abû Bakr. For, he gave his daughter Âisha to me; he helped me during the Hijrat (Hegira, Migration to Medina); he bought Bilâl-i-Habashî, (who was a slave formerly,) and emancipated him for me.” … .

As the two darlings of the Messenger of Allah ‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sallam’ were talking like this before the door, the Best of Mankind was inside, listening. He interrupted Alî as he was talking and stated from inside:

“O my brothers Abû Bakr and Alî ‘radiy-Allâhu ’anhumâ’! Please do come in! Jebrâîl ‘alaihis-salâm’ has been here; he says that the angels on the earth and in the seven skies have been listening to you and that you could not describe your value in the view of Allâhu ta’âlâ were you to praise each other till the end of the world.” The two beloved companions gave an affectionate hug to each other, and together they entered the presence of the Messenger of Allah ‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sallam’.

Dalail Khayrat

Now available from Kazi Publications, translated by Hassan Rosowsky with Arabic text alongside, for ten bucks only. Search for “Dalail” from Kazi’s front page and you should find it. Thank you, Hani N!