Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Sacred Invitation - Malay Pilgrims to Mecca

Malay Pilgrims to Mecca

Malay Archipelago

15th – 20th century AD / 9th – 15th century AH

Early Pilgrims from the Malay Archipelago

Hajj pilgrimages have been recorded in Malay history since the 15th century. During the period of the Malacca Sultanate, the Portuguese apothecary Tome Pires recorded two Malaccan rulers who intended to perform Hajj in Mecca. The first, as stated by Pires, was Sultan Mansur Shah, who reigned from 1456-1477 AD / 860-881 AH.

Another part of Pires’ Suma Oriental referred to Sultan Mansur Shah’s successor, Sultan Alauddin Riayat, who reigned from 1477-1488 AD / 881-893 AH.

Tome Pires’ account should not be viewed as a record of the earliest Malay pilgrimages to Mecca. Since Hajj is an obligation, this pillar of Islam must have been practised by those who were able to perform it, since Islam first came to the Malay Archipelago. This was centuries before the period of the Malacca Sultanate.

As Mecca has long been a centre of learning, it has attracted visitors with a thirst for knowledge. The Holy City has been a magnet for ulama’ from every part of the Islamic world. This situation continues to provide opportunities for pilgrims to discuss and exchange views about their mazahib (sects), besides accomplishing their annual or minor pilgrimage (umrah). As an example, Muhammad Yusuf Ahmad or Tok Kenali, a Muslim scholar from Kelantan, furthered his religious studies in Mecca at the age of 18 in the late 19th century. After six months of sailing to Mecca, he decided to stay there to gather as much as knowledge as possible from notable Muslim scholars in that city in addition to performing his Hajj pilgrimage.

By the age of 40, Tok Kenali returned to his home town in Kelantan and established a
learning centre, known as Pondok Kenali, in order to disseminate religious knowledge to others. There have been many other Muslims scholars from the Malay Archipelago who have taken advantage of Mecca’s intellectual tradition. Among the most prominent are Hamzah Fansuri, who undertook his pilgrimage at the end of the 16th century, and Abdul Rauf Singkel, who went for Hajj in 1643 AD / 1052 AH.

By the 19th and 20th centuries there was more abundant evidence of hajj activities among Malays. Manuscripts, printed material and photographs offer first-hand sources about Malay pilgrimages to Mecca. Munshi Abdullah, an educated man from the Archipelago, recorded the details of his pilgrimage in 1854 AD / 1270 AH in his famous travel account Hikayat Pelayaran Abdullah.

Malay Travelogues

The more learned and literate Malays have tended to preserve their experiences in writing so that they might share their knowledge. Some manuscripts that have been discovered in the Malay Archipelago, written in Jawi script, touch on many aspects of Hajj, including personal accounts as well as the religious elements of the pilgrimage.

With the development of printing technology, the hand-written manuscript was replaced by printable materials. For example, the Malay scholar Harun Aminurashid wrote of his travels to Mecca in 1960 AD / 1379 AH in a book entitled Chatetan ke-Tanah Suchi. This work, which is based on his journey to Mecca on board a ship named Anshun, is supported by photographs of himself. In one part of his writing, he brings readers inside a pilgrim ship.

Harun Aminurashid was not alone in sharing his excitement at performing Hajj and preparing a visual trail to Mecca for his readers. Accounts of this kind were also made by Jaafar bin Jusoh Al-Haj in a work entitled Periahal Pemergian ke Mekah dan Madinah that appeared in 1937 AD / 1355 AH. Another example is the account of Haji Ismail bin Haji Ishak with his Ke Mekah Mengikut Jalan Darat in 1975 AD / 1394 AH. Their approaches differ, but an element of hardship is always present.

Extracted from the book: En Route to Mecca – Pilgrims’ Voices Throughout the Centuries

Publisher: Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia

(This book is published in conjunction with the En Route to Mecca: Pilgrims’ Voices Throughout the Centuries exhibition, launched in October 2009.)

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