Tuesday, December 18, 2012

‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abd al-Qadir

‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abd al-Qadir (b. 1796/1797, Malacca, Malaya - d. October 1854, Jiddah (Jeddah), Turkish Arabia [now in Saudi Arabia]), also known as 'Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir or Munshi 'Abdullah was an innovative Malay author whose principal work is his Memoirs (Hikayat Abdullah -- "Story of Abdullah"), in which he emphasized the advantages of a European administration over an Indian one, even though he sharply criticized the administrative measures of the English and the Dutch.  'Abd Allah was the first Malay writer to depart from the traditional Malay literary style by writing in the colloquial language.  Unlike courtly writing, 'Abd Allah's writing was realistic and lively, incorporating many Malay idioms and proverbs.  His Hikayat Abdullah was written between 1840 and 1843 and was published in 1849.  It is an important source of the early history of Singapore soon after it was founded by Raffles.  His other major work, Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah -- "The Tale of Abdullah's Voyage", describes 'Abd Allah's experiences on a trip from Singapore to Kelantan in 1838.  Munshi ("teacher" or "educator") 'Abd Allah was the first local Malay to have his works published.  For his early literary contributions, he is regarded as "Father of Modern Malay Literature."

'Abd Allah set out for a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1854.  However, he died in October of that year, apparently of plague.

'Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, also called Munshi 'Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, was a Malayan-born writer who, through his autobiographical and other works, played an important role as a progenitor of modern Malay literature.

Of mixed Arab (Yemeni) and Tamil descent, and Malayo-Muslim culture, Abdullah was born and grew up in a Malacca newly British, and he spent most of his life interpreting Malay society to Westerners and vice versa. Styled munshi (teacher or educator) from an early age, in recognition of his teaching Malay to Indian soldiers of the Malacca garrison (and later to a whole generation of British and American missionaries, officials, and businessmen), he rapidly became an indispensable functionary in the fledgling Straits Settlements. He was copyist and Malay scribe for Stamford Raffles; was translator of the Gospels and other texts into Malay for the London Missionary Society in Malacca from 1815; and 20 years later, served as printer to the press of the American Board of Missions in Singapore.

An American missionary, Alfred North, appears to have encouraged 'Abdullah in 1837, on the strength of a lively account published in that year of North’s experiences on a voyage up the east coast of Malaya, to embark on the story of his life. Completed in 1843, under the title Hikayat Abdullah (“Abdullah’s Story”), it was first published in 1849. Its chief distinction—beyond the vivid picture it gives of his life and times—was the radical departure it marked in Malay literary style. In contrast to the largely court literature of the past, the Hikayat Abdullah provided a lively and colloquial descriptive account of events and people with a freshness and immediacy hitherto unknown. 'Abdullah’s criticisms of his own society, and his eagerness to embrace standards set by the West (though he remained a staunch Muslim), have caused him to be treated with some caution by a more recent generation of nationalists, but he continues to be widely acknowledged as the father of modern Malay literature.

'Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, also known as Munshi Abdullah, was a Malayan writer of Indian origin. He was a famous Malacca-born Indian munshi of Singapore and died in Jeddah, then part of the Ottoman Empire (it is now in Saudi Arabia).

Munshi 'Abdullah is regarded as the most cultured Malay who ever wrote, one of the greatest innovators in Malay letters and the father of modern Malay literature.

The term Munshi means "teacher" or "educator". Munshi 'Abdullah was a great-grandson of a Hadhrami Arab trader, and also had Tamil and to a smaller extent, Malay ancestry. Owing to his ethnic and religious background, the Malays would refer to him as a Jawi Peranakan or Jawi Pekan.
Munshi 'Abdullah followed his father's career path as a translator and teacher of colonial officials in the Malay Archipelago, mainly the British and the Dutch.

Munshi 'Abdullah was born in Kampung Pali in Malacca. He was the youngest of five sons. All of his brothers died in infancy. He was sick most of the time and his mother took great care of him. Following the customs of Malays of the period, 'Abdullah was sent to many other caretakers to avoid him getting sick- as the belief was that a child should be taken care by other parents if the child always fell sick. This belief was criticised by Munshi 'Abdullah himself in his work Hikayat Abdullah as being 'stupid'.

'Abdullah's most important works are the Hikayat Abdullah (an autobiography), Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Kelantan (an account of his trip for the government to Kelantan), and Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Mekah (a narrative of his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1854). 'Abdullah's work was an inspiration to future generations of writers and marks an early stage in the transition from the classical Malay literature to modern Malay literature.

Hikayat Abdullah was the major literary work of Munshi 'Abdullah. It was completed in 1845 and first published in 1849, making it one of the first Malay literary texts to be published commercially. 'Abdullah’s authorship was prominently displayed in this text and the contents were conveyed in simple, contemporary Malay. Unlike typical classical Malay literary works that contain fantasies and legendary stories, 'Abdullah’s work was realistic. The book remains a reliable and accurate reference on early Malay history to this day.

'Abdullah was known as an ardent critic of the Malay political system of Kerajaan ("kingdom"). His work, Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Kelantan contained his advice to Malay rulers and comparisons he made between the British system of governing and that of Malay rulers.

'Abdullah argued that the system of Kerajaan was detrimental to the Malay individual, as it was an impediment to the social improvement of the Malays. The Malay Sultan was deemed to be someone who was selfish, with no concern toward his subjects, to the extent they were treated like animals rather than humans.

The idea of modernity and striving for excellence within the Malay community stemmed from his ideas and stinging criticisms of the ancient Malay polity of the Kerajaan. Under the Kerajaan, the Malays were deprived of education and hence they were easily oppressed. Without education, they did not have the ability to question the injustice meted out to them and could not take the initiative to institute changes in order to improve their lives.

Although the condemnation may be exaggerated, Munshi 'Abdullah's allegations were not without basis. He is regarded by many to be the first Malayan journalist, taking Malay literature out of its preoccupation with folk-stories and legends into accurate historical descriptions.

'Abdullah died in Jeddah in October 1854, before he reached Mecca.

Alternative names include:

'Abd Allah ibn 'Abd al-Qadir
'Abdullah bin 'Abdul Kadir
'Abdullah bin 'Abdul Kadir, Munshi
'Abdullah, Munshi
Bin 'Abdul Kadir
Bin 'Abdul Kadir, 'Abdullah
Bin 'Abdul Kadir, Munshi 'Abdullah
Father of Modern Malay Literature
Ibn 'Abd al-Qadir
Ibn 'Abd al-Qadir, 'Abd Allah
Munshi 'Abdullah
Munshi 'Abdullah bin 'Abdul Kadir

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