Sunday, 14 October 2012

Indian Muslim Scholar: Nuruddin Al-Raniri

Assalaamu'alaikum wa rahmatullah


This is a little bit history especially in the South East Asia because my father has a copy of his book and manuscript known as Bustan al-Salatin apart of his rivals poems and works in form of parchments. He is known as Nuruddin Muhammad Jailani bin 'Ali bin Hassan Ji bin Muhammad Hamid al-Qurashi. He is from the al-Rifa'i circle while his school of jurisprudence is of the Shafi'ie. He was born in Ranir port, Gujarat of a Yemeni-Hadrami father while his mother is a native Acheen lady. 


He was believed to begin his early education in Ranir port in Gujarat. In 1030 H (1621), he went for Mecca and Medina to further his studies. In Mecca, he met teachers such as Sheikh Abu Hafs Umar Abdallah Bashayban al-Tarimi al-Hadrami who was also known as Sayyid Umar al-Aydrus. He studied under the supervision of this teacher and hold his loyalty with the Rifa'ie order. Other than that, he also had practiced the practices of the Qadiri order and learned other orders' such as Shadzili, Suhrwardi and Aydrusi. Though he learned many practices of the orders but he was only appointed with the leadership of the Rifa'ie by his teacher, Bashayban.  


It is not known on how many teachers he has. He only mentions about his order teacher known as Sheikh Abu Hafs 'Umar who passed away in Gujarat around 1066 H (1656). His also had studied under the supervision of his uncle who had also once lived in Acheh before the arrival of Sheikh Muhammad Jailani bin Hassan bin Hamid who had passed him the usage of the title sheikh. Other than that, he also mentions that he studied under the guidance of Sheikh Muhammad Yamin of Mecca who were the adherents of orthodox teachings of Ahl al-Sunna. He taught the doctrine of wahdat al-shuhud which is the anti-thesis of wahdat al-wujud.   

Arrival in Acheh Sultanate

He arrived in the Acheh Sultanate of northern Sumatera in nowadays Indonesian territory in 6th Muharram 1047 H (31 May 1637) after a year of the reign of Sultan Iskandar Tani. He finished his studies in the holy Mecca and before sailing for the Sultanate of Acheh, he first went to Pahang which is now in the central of Malaysian Peninsula. Pahang at that time was a vassal state of Acheh Dar al-Salam. There were many scholars residing in Acheh such as Shamsuddin the Sumateranese, Abdul Ra'of al-Fansuri of Singkil and Hamza al-Fansur. They were prominent Muslim scholars in Acheh before the arrival of al-Raniri. Besides of academicians, Acheh of 17th century was also a popular center for trade, politics, Muslim culture and Islamic studies. 

Debates with Ismai'li Shi'a Teachers

Those scholars of Islam before the arrival of al-Raniri were the teachers of Ismai'li order of Shi'a Muslim lineage. They propagated the teachings of wahdat al-wujud but the teaching is not suitable and dangerous for mere lay men creed since it is confusing and controversial. The arrival of al-Raniri to Acheh with new opinions and ideas was not easy to be accepted by locals because they were long being taught with the belief which was more to philosophical rather than orthodox standard ones. Since al-Raniri was of a salaf jurisprudence school and a practitioner of the Abdul Qadir Jailani lineage teachings, he feels responsible to reject the doctrine taught by those existed teachers. The Sultan of Acheh agreed to organize an open debate in the court for al-Raniri to contest the teachers who taught the wahdat al-wujud teachings. Those teacher were not so concrete when they face al-Raniri thus they lost the words.

The result of their lost is quite extreme, many of those Isma'ili order teachers were sentenced to death as according to medieval period court rulings and he received the court patronage to propagate teachings. Many of the works by Hamza Fansuri and other teachers were also burn to ashes and it was also recorded in the literature of Nuruddin al-Raniri himself known as Fath al-Mubin.


While in Pahang, he has many students from South East Asian islands but not all of them are known to people around since the system of education at that time has no complete record or proper classes. They just studied and propagated their lessons. One who was widely known, Yusuf Taj al-Khalwati (1629-1699) came from Makassar in Sulawesi island. Some people mentioned that Yusuf studied under al-Raniri in Acheh while other mentioned that he went to India for the teacher.    

The other is the royal member of Acheh court which was the queen herself, Taj al-'Alam Safiat al-Din who assumed the throne after the death of her husband. She assumed the throne from 1641-1679. She studied under al-Raniri supervision since she was seven years old. She is the one who uphold the dignity and the position of women in her kingdom. She urged and ordered her women citizen to acquire knowledge in order for them to succeed in their life and living with dignity. Many women were appointed by her to serve the kingdom in administration, government councils and also involved in military.     

His Return to India and Death

After seven years serving the Acheh court, writing academic literature and propagating the Ahl Sunna wal Jama'a doctrine, he suddenly tried to leave Acheh in 1644 and stayed in India for a while. He wrote two books while in Ranir. In some record, it was mentioned that al-Raniri encountered another Ismaili Shi'a teacher from southwest of Sumatera known as Sayf al-Rijal who had just returned from his studies in India. It was believed that it has something to do with patronage of the court and the Queen sided more to the teachings of previous teachers and the arguments of Sayf al-Rijal. So, Sayf al-Rijal was granted permission to propagate mission according to his lineage. Most of researchers agreed that al-Raniri died in 22nd of Zulhijja 1069 (21 Sept 1658) but many disagreements about where was the location of his death among historians. Some believed that he was kidnapped and murdered in the capital of Acheh which is Banda. Some believed that he passed away in India.      


Many of his works were written in Malay language in Arabic script since it was like English today in the region of South East Asian islands. I found that most of classical literature and books in Malay usually have Arabic title. The reason these people use Malay was for da'awa purpose as it would easily reaching the educated natives who could also understand Malay. He also has references for his books. Some of his books:

1. هداية الحبيب في الترغيب or ترحيب الفوائد البهية في الحديث النبوية about hadiths which consists of 810 hadiths and this is the first hadith book in Malay and in South East Asia.

2. بستان السلاطين which is a book that we keep in our closet about the history of local sultanate in Acheh kingdom and some points of the history of Malayan Peninsula especially the Pahang state and its sultanate lineage. It has seven chapters and each chapter has few topics.  

3. تبيان في المعرفات الأديان which means the Explanation on the Knowledge of Religions. This book is a comparative religion themed book written in Malay. It is the first book written in Malay about comparative religion in South East Asia. It has two chapters. The first talks about the religion of the world since Adam a.s down to Jesus a.s. The second talks about developments of groups and movements in Islam. Generally this book discussed the conflicts or debates between the doctrine which is embraced by al-Raniri and those of Isma'ili Shi'a who propagated the philosophical wahdat al-wujud ideology during the reign of Iskandar II.

4. Jurisprudence

i. السراط المستقيم written in Malay about worship such as salat services, fasting, tithe, pilgrimage, rulings on sacrificial ritual, hunting and rulings for legal and illegal foods and beverages. It was written beginning 1044 H (1634) and finished in 1054 H (1644). This classical work could be found printed at the side of the book known as سبيل المهتدين written by Muhammad Arshad of Banjar.

ii. كيفية الصلاة on the method of performing salat. This book discussed in how to perform the salat according to the manhaj of sunna according to imam al-Shafi'ie with the conditions of complete acts of salat. This book was actually quoted from the السراط المستقيم highlighting the salat rituals.    

iii. تنبيه العوام في تحقيق الكلام والنوافل talks about the optional salats for public and recitations in the services. 

5. Tawheed Creed and Tasawwuf

i. درة الفرائد بشرح العقائد which means Precious Jewel in Expounding the Creed. It was adapted from Arabic book شرح العقائد النسفية known as written by Imam Sa'duddin al-Taftanzani written around 1045 H (1635)

ii. نبضة في الدعوات الظل مع صاحبه or Short Explanations on The Claimants of Shadow and Its Possessor. This book is written in Arabic in form of question and answers about the errors of the wahdat al-wujud teachings propagated by his rivals according to orthodox standards.  

iii. أسرار ألأنسان في معرفة الروح والرحمان or Secrets of Human in Understanding the Soul and the God. This is translated from Arabic into Malay by al-Raniri. It talks about human especially on the characteristics and the knowledge of the soul. It has two chapters. First chapter is divided into six portions and second is with five portions.

iv. لطائف الأسرار or Discreetness of Secrets.

v. أخبار الأخرة في أحوال القيمة News of the Hereafter about the Situations during the Resurrection.

vi. حل الظل Explaining the Term Shadow.

vii. ماء الحية لأهل الممات which means the Water of Life for the Death.

xiii. جواهر العلوم في كشف المعلوم or the Jewels of Sciences in Exposing Its Targets.

ix. اين العالم قبل أن يخلق Where was the Universe before It was Created.

x. شفاء القلوب Medicine for the Heart.

xi. حجة الصديق لدفع الزنديق Arguments of the Righteous Rejecting the Creed of the Atheists

xii. فتح المبين على الملحدين Clear Victory on the Atheists.

xiii. اللمعان في تكفيرمن قال بخلق القرآن Shining Light on Excommunicating People who Claimed that the Quran is a Creature.

xiv. صوارم الصديق لقطع الزنديق Blade for the Righteous to Cut the Atheists.

xv. رحيق محمدية في طريق الصفية The Drinks for Nations of Muhammad in the Way of the Sufis.

xvi. هداية الأيمان في فضل المنان Guidance of the Faith Granted by the God.

xvii. علقة الله بالعالم The Relationship of the God with the Universe.

xviii. عقائد الصفية الموحدين The Creed of Monotheist Sufis.

xix. اين الوجود في بيان وحدة الوجود Where is the Existence in Explanations of Panentheism.

xx. بدء خلق السماوات والأرض Beginning of Creation of Heavens and Earth.

xxi. فتح الودود في بيان وحدة الوجود Victory of Conveying the Virtue in Explanation of the Panentheism.

Almost all of these books were written in Classical Malay of 16th century. If brothers and sisters are reading them perhaps it would be like reading some kind of Indian lingo style of Malay because this ulama is an Indian national. He is ethnically an Arab but he lived in India and later in South East Asia. I refer him as Indian because he was born in India. Regarding the doctrine or the understanding of al-Raniri about the particular philosophy, there are many discussions, criticisms and thesis about this by scholars for example by Syed Naguib al-Attas and I am not going to put it here. What I could say, al-Raniri, Fansuri or Sumatrani are just human-being no matter how knowledgeable they are. They are not angels.


This is just an introduction about a Muslim scholar of Classical South East Asian period. Internet is not the "real" source of knowledge. Bring the kitabs in front of teachers and learn from them step by step from the basis. The reason why I hate kids in Tekun musalla talked about tasawwuf with me because I could smell that they thought it has something to do with magic flying on the wind, exorcism halau setan or mysticism bercakap dengan jin like Tamar Jalis novels. What is the need to talk about those things if they were not educated with basic kitabs? As far as I know they were students of science streams and not of shari'a streams. I don't receive revelation but I am quite sensitive with language style, tone and the way people write things (because writing comes from the head). I am a translation and interpretation student and apart of that I had started doing contemplation since I can't remember so I could basically detect the mood of people around which is retaliated with their "heart and intention". I prefer not to talk so much especially if it is related to religion but I just practice on what I had learned. Kita sembang tinggi-tinggi mawlana sana sini pun tiada guna jika kita tidak ikhlas untuk Allah sesungguh hatinya. Cuma nya mahu tunjuk kita tinggi daripada orang lain sahaja katanya kita merangkumi dunia mau pun akhirat walaupun kita tiada asas untuk yang satu itu

I am sorry if people are afraid of me because their feeling might be flawed and I actually never look down on others. I just would never keep my silence if I see or listen things which sounds wrong to what I believe. Most of all, I actually feel low-self esteem to Science stream students because of that Ibnu Sina kind of stuffs, lol. Just start study from the basic and everyone could afford that. No need to be in circles' lineage but being an ordinary guy is much better than we feel that Allah loves us until we forgot that we're falling into the trap of "satan". That feel means what? Perasaan or perasan?        

There are many kind of Shi'a Muslims too. It is not only those that we see in Iran or Syria who were known as the factions of Twelver Imami and Nusayri Alawites groups. Many of the Mu'tazilite groups could be founded in Shi'a Muslim lineage for example Ibnu Sina who is an Ismai'li-Nizari Shi'a Muslim. They were free thinkers among Muslims and their lineage has no established chain of creed like the Ahl Sunna wal Jama'a who accepted the narration of traditions from all righteous prophet companions. That is among the reasons why they relied on philosophies to explain their creed.   

Sealed with prayers of mercy, peace and love, amin!      

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