The Origins of Islamic Reformism in Southeast Asia: Networks of Malay-Indonesian and Middle Eastern 'Ulama' in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

By Azyumardi Azra | Go to book overview

3
Seventeenth Century Malay-Indonesian
Networks I: Nur al-Dīn al-Ranm

Two of the three major chains of networks in the Malay-Indonesian world, those stemming from al-Ranm and al-Sinklll, flourished in the Sultanate of Aceh, while the originator of the other, al-Maqassarl, was born in Sulawesi (Celebes) and established his career in Banten, West Java. In this chapter we will deal with al-Ranm (d. 1068/1658), discussing particularly his role in transmitting the reformism of the networks to this part of the Muslim world.

The importance of Aceh or North Sumatra as a whole in the early history of Islam in the region is unquestionable. However, in order to understand the proper socio-historical context of al-Rānīrī's reforms specifically, it is appropriate to give a brief account of the dominant Muslim intellectual discourse in Aceh prior to al-Rānīrī's time. This in turn leads us to two major scholars, Hamzah al-Fansuri and Shams al-Dīn al-Samatram, who played a crucial role in shaping the religious thought and practice of the Malay-Indonesian Muslims in the first half of the seventeenth century.

Despite their prominence, many things about the life of Hamzah and Shams al-Dīn are still obscure. There is still disagreement on the birthplace of Hamzah al-Fansuri as well as his life span, as his dates of birth and death are unknown. However, there is evidence that he lived and flourished in the period preceding and during the reign of Sultan ‘Ala’ al-Dīn Ri'Ri Shah (r. 997–1011/1589–1602); it has been suggested that he died before 1016/1607. 1 Apart from this it is clear that Hamzah was a Malay of Fansur, an old centre of Islamic learning in southwest Aceh. 2

Hamzah was obviously a great scholar. He is reported to have travelled to the Middle East, visiting some important centres of Islamic learning, including Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem and Baghdad, where he was initiated into the Qadiriyyah tarīqāh. He also travelled to Pahang, Kedah and Java, 3 where he preached his teachings. Hamzah mastered Arabic, Persian and possibly also Urdu. He was a prolific writer, producing not only religious

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