Abdul Samad of Palembang, Malay guide to the writings of al-Ghazālī

(6 February 2017) Abdul Samad (ca. 1704-1789) from Palembang in south Sumatra (‘Abd al-Ṣamad al-Falimbānī) was  the most prominent and influential Malay religious scholar of the 18th century, who spent most of his life studying, teaching and writing in the Arabian peninsula. From references in his own works we know he was living in Mecca and Taif between 1764 and 1789, and in 1787 he taught in Zabid, in present-day Yemen, and probably died in the Hijaz without ever returning to Sumatra. Abdul Samad wrote in Malay and Arabic on the Sammaniyya Sufi brotherhood and on jihād or holy war, but his most important contribution is undoubtedly his Malay translations of the great 12th-century theologian, Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (ca. 1058-1111), from Tus in Khorasan, Iran. Al-Ghazālī earned from his contemporaries the sobriquet Hujjat al-Islam, ‘Proof of Islam’, and is credited for reconciling in his writings both legal and mystical aspects of Islam.

In 1778 Abdul Samad completed Hidāyat al-sālikīn fī sulūk maslak al-muttaqīn, ‘A guide for travellers on the path of those who fear God’, a Malay adaptation of al-Ghazālī’s Bidāyat al-hidāya, ‘Beginning of guidance’, which deals with a number of subjects pertaining to dogmatics, sharī‘a and other matters in a somewhat mystical way. According to the colophon the work was completed in Mecca on  5 Muharram 1192  (3 February 1778).  This work was extremely popular throughout the Malay world: over 82 manuscripts have been documented from published catalogues alone, held in Leiden, Paris, Jakarta, Palembang, Aceh and Malaysia, including 50 in the National Library of Malaysia. Hidāyat al-sālikīn was one of the first Malay works to be published in the 19th century in Cairo, Mecca, Bombay and Singapore, and it is still in print in Malaysia and Indonesia today.

The British Library holds one manuscript of Hidāyat al-sālikīn from Aceh which appears to be the earliest dated copy known (Or. 16604).

Read the full, beautifully illustrated story on the BL’s Asian and African Studies Blog.