Raffles: Invasion of Java

Raffles and the British Invasion of Java

Raffles & the British Invasion of Java

by Tim Hannigan

The book covers a fascinating, obscure moment in colonial history: the launching of Stamford Raffles’ career with the five-year invasion of Java. Those five years are rich with material that Hannigan presents with a fresh eye, sensitive to the Javanese side of the story. The author sometimes seems to be nursing a grudge against his subject – the treatment of Olivia Raffles is downright mean – but the cloud of myth around Raffles is apparently pretty thick, and the author cuts through it with some sharp observations. The moments of contact between the British and royal courts are particularly entertaining. According to the Raffles’ legend, an armed standoff in the court was defused by his skill in the Malay language. Instead, Hannigan convincingly shows, “For Raffles to start griping in Malay over the seating arrangements would have been equivalent to him berating George III in the idiom of a fishwife”.  There are many episodes that get similarly perceptive treatments. The 5-year occupation marks the transition to high colonialism, and Raffles appears to have won his reputation not for being a liberal reformer but for being the imperialist’s imperialist just as the Empire was getting into full swing.

It is great material and great analysis, but the writing sometimes was distracting. There is a lot of overdescription and the alliteration jumped out all over the place: “… a few feverish friars, fast forgetting their catechism …” Once you notice it you can’t stop noticing it: “… begun plotting to place a pliant puppet…” You wish an editor had said something along the way.

All in all, I enjoyed the material and the author’s analysis a great deal. Recommended to anyone interested in the archipelago.

Tim Hannigan’s Footnotes and Sidelights from the Story, including Malaysia’s famous Munshi Abdullah writing about Englishmen riding the green horse:

their mothers would say, “Be quiet, the drunken Englishman is coming,” and the children would be scared and keep quiet.

R&TBIOJ Goodreads page.

A Short History of Malaysia

ShortHistoryMalaysia by Virginia Matheson Hooker.
Straightforward introduction to Malaysian history; key individuals, important dates, broadest themes. It feels comparable in depth to what I remember of high school US History class. A good preparation for further reading, I hope.

 Goodreads Link

Haul of Imam Abdullah al-Haddad

Every year, all over the world, muslims in the spiritual lineage of the great saint Imam Abdullah al-Haddad gather together to celebrate his life and remember his great wisdom. He is most fondly remembered in the parts of the world that have benefited from the dawah of the scholars and saints of Hadhramaut: Yemen, the Swahili Coast, the muslim parts of the Indian coast and the Malay Archipelago, the Nusantara. IMG_0667_azriIn the Nusantara, as elsewhere, the hadhrami da’is did not only preach, but stayed, intermarried and naturalized. All the major population centers of the archipelago have people who can trace their lineage back to Hadhramaut. Some have retained family titles like al-Haddad and al-Sagoff, while elsewhere, like in Kuching, the descendants carry an honorific as part of their given name, such as Wan.

Pak AliAnd where their descendants have not reached, their knowledge and piety has. Blessed practices such as recitation of Mawlid Barzanji were propagated and encouraged by such people until it has saturated the religious experience of the region. Cikgu AzriAn undeniable testimony to their influence is that the entirety of the Malay people follow shafi’i fiqh even though hanafi madhab was also represented in the region through Indian and maybe even Chinese sources during the Islamization of the region. [I have a pet theory that shafii fiqh had a major advantage spreading here due to shafii lenience on shellfish, an indispensable part of the local diet. But that is another story.]

october07 041This evening we gathered in the home of Tuan Haji Saleh at maghrib time. His living room had been cleared out and spread with carpets to accommodate us all, and a smoldering incense censer wafted perfumed smoke through the room. october07 040Following maghrib prayers, we recited Ya Sin, gifting its reward to the soul of Imam al-Haddad. The Ratib al-Haddad followed, a litany of supplications culled by the late Imam from the Quran and Hadith that is read daily by people across the region. After Isha’ prayers, Cikgu Asry read a Malay translation of a sermon given by the late Imam. Our ustaz then began to sing “Ya Tawwab”, a beautiful poem I had heard many times before. Little did I know it was originally composed by Imam Abdullah al-Haddad. Habib Sayyid Mustafa al-HaddadOur guest of honor, Habib Sayyid Mustafa al-Haddad, a direct descendant of the Imam, then recited the Arabic couplets again and translated and explained them to our congregation in Malay. Finally, we concluded the evening by reciting from the Mawlid Barzanji and reciting salawat on Our Master the Seal of Messengers Muhammad, peace be upon him.

IMG_0667No gathering would be complete without a meal, particularly in Malaysia. We had worked up a good appetite by then and handily disposed of the lamb that had been slaughtered and cooked up that afternoon by a few of the brothers.

[I’ve sprinkled photos in here from previous gatherings this year – 12 Rabiul Awwal and 1 Shawwal. View all these photos and more of the Ba’alawi congregation in Kuching.]

I took a few short clips of the event:

Ya Tawwab, Tub Alayna

[A full audio version of the poem is available courtesy of Naqshbandi.org. ]

Sallallahu ala Muhammad

Mawlid Barzanji

Mawlid Barzanji

12 Rabi’ul Awwal has come and gone again. In the past, I’ve written about a famous book of poetry about the birth of Prophet Muhammad (s) called Mawlid Daiba’i. Actually the Mawlid poetry more widely read in Malaysia is Mawlid Barzanji, named after its composer, Imam Zayn al-`Abidin Ja`far ibn Hasan al-Barzanji (d. 1177) (r). Imam Barzanji was an Iraqi Kurd, a people with a rather surprising connection to Islam in the Nusantara. It is worth remembering that the author was no mere poet or singer, but rather the Mufti of Medinah al-Munawwarah, a position that could not possibly be held by other than an accomplished scholar and pure soul. Malaysians can read a biography of the Imam in Bahasa Malaysia at Bahru Shofa.

It is unfortunate that in our present day and age, our knowledge of and respect for our own ulama is so little that a contemporary young mufti of a much more modest part of the world can cast aspersions on such a luminary. Regardless, Mawlid Barzanji is widespread throughout the country, with copies to be found in just about every masjid or surau. It is so ubiquitous that it is common to hear people say they will do zikr, when they mean they will recite from Mawlid Barzanji. It is read not just on 12 Rabi’ul Awwal but on other occassions as well, most commonly after the aqiqah for a new child, after a boy’s circumcision or at wedding receptions. Members of our neighborhood gather at the surau to read excerpts between maghrib and isha prayers once a week.

I’ve recently been informed that an English translation of the Mawlid Barzanji exists. It is attributed only as a work of the Zawiyyah Qadariyyah, 1426 AH, but presumably they are connected to the hosting website, AbunaShaykh, an order connected to the African Shaykh Muhammad Ahmed al-Mahi. I’m not qualified to pass comment on the translation, but it reads very well in English and the production quality is quite nice. May God bless them abundantly for their work. If anyone is unable to download it from their site, contact me and I will email it to you. They also have the Mawlid of Imam Uthman al-Mirghani available for download, which I had not previously heard of.

UPDATE: The AbunaShaykh website is gone from the internet.  As the translation appeared to be a public work for the sake of Allah, I’m hosting it here.  Click here to get the English translation of the Mawlid Barzanji by the AbunaShaykh order of Shaykh Muhammad Ahmed al-Mahi.

Also, a lovely Islamic magazine was just released in the UK: Illumination Magazine. The topic of the first issue is Mawlid celebrations around the world. I am beside myself with pride that an article of mine was included alongside the many distinguished writers such as Sidi Aftab Malik and the charming and mysterious Tuan Awang Goneng. A few copies are still available – see the website for details.

Finally, rounding out a rather belated Mawlid posting is my first offering on YouTube, a brief clip of Nashid recitation from a mawlid gathering here in Kuching last month. I’ve just started fooling around with video recording so apologies for the quality.

Turban tip to Yursil for helping get YouTube working.

Mawlid ar-Rasul: Surau Darul Rahman

Darul Rahman

Prophet Muhammad’s birth was commemorated last wednesday night throughout the muslim world. The tiny corner of it that I inhabit was no exception. Surau Darul Rahman held an evening of learning and celebration. I feel extremely fortunate to live two blocks from our neighborhood surau.

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A surau is a prayer hall just like a masjid except that it does not hold the Friday congregational prayer. Our surau could probably hold about 200 people maximum. It is a fairly new building, about 10 years old, built around the same time that my subdivision was developed. Prior to that, the area only had a few clusters of kampung-style homes sprinkled through the woods at fairly low density. Like most suraus and masjids throughout the country, ours was built in part by government funds and its activities are nominally overseen by the religious department. Often, large planned unit developments will include a surau as part of the basic infrastructure, just like pocket parks.

You may wonder why there is no dome. Well, the traditional masajid of Malaysia were built of timber and had no dome but rather a set of square tiered roofs. The grand masjids with huge domes that have been built in recent times are often gorgeous but are not really classically malay in form. I’m not saying our humble surau was built with a hipped roof as some kind of architectural statement: it’s a fairly homely building really. It’s just that the dome is not a necessary part of mosque-building around here. But I digress.

For this special night, a guest was invited to come and speak after maghrib prayers. Our guest was an ustaz from Indonesia who has been teaching Arabic and Religion at a religious school in Kuching for the last ten years. He came to us from the pesantren of East Java, an area reknowned throughout the nusantara for the high level of scholarship they maintain and the da’is they have produced. He gave a wonderful talk, touching briefly on the the fatwa of Sayyid Muhammad Alawi Al-Maliki concerning mawlid from which he read for us excerpts in Arabic and translated on the fly into Malay. There is great good in gathering together, beautifying the masjid, remembering the Prophet and praising him to the best of our ability, though we can hardly praise him as he deserves to be praised. Our only transgression, as the ustaz reminded us, is that we don’t do it everyday.

Following the cerama, the congregation broke for a meal, to be followed by zikr and nasheed. Some of us ran off with the ustaz instead to another gathering, where we recited the Ratib al-Haddad and the Mawlid Diba’i late into the evening until our throats were raw. I can’t find translations of the Mawlid Diba’i anywhere online, but you can listen to it here.

“Falaw anna sa’ayna kulla heenin/
‘Alal ahdaqi la fawqan naja’ib/
Wa law anna ‘amilna kulla yawmin/
Li Ahmada mawlidan qad kana wajib”

“And verily though we rushed to do it at every moment/
We could see around us nothing more noble/
And verily, even if we did it every day/
For Ahmad celebrating his birth is nigh unto obligatory”

[Forgive my poor Arabic. It’s just me and Hans Wehr working alone. Corrections welcome.]

[My coverage of Mawlid Nabi, Kuching 2003 is here]

Sultans of the South China Sea

Anak_Alam has been busy, quietly posting some excellent articles to his site. He has a summary history of the spread of Islam through the Malay Archipelago that is a fascinating read. He also casually dropped an essay and a half on the Sultanates of the region in my comments section, which really ought to be highlighted. And he left a link to some more information on the Muslim history of the Phillipines, which is a tragic story all around. Manilla=Amanullah? Who knew…
Jazakallah Khayran, Anak_Alam!