Related by Zaleha Mohamad, Abuya Ashaari Muhammad’s half-sister (with a different mother), that on 30th October 1937, Abuya Ashaari Muhammad’s birthday, his father dreamt while sleeping, during his night shift, on his chair in the customs office, Lubok Cina. Feeling that the dream had a subtle meaning to it, upon leaving his office at 1 a.m., he did not cycle straight home but instead stopped at the prayer house of his spiritual mentor, Kiyai Syahid, to wait for fajr prayers and ask him about the dream.
After fajr prayers, he met Kiyai Syahid and related his dream to this caliph of Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi’s congregation: “I saw in my dream, an infant – my own son, involved in a swimming race against me in a wide ocean. My son swam swiftly past the sea; I could not catch after him.”
Kiyai Syahid responded: “Actually your wife Maimunah has given birth to a baby boy when you were at office last night. Name him Ashaari bin Muhammad.”
Kiyai Syahid was an ulama of Indonesian origin. He studied under a devout teacher whose finger glowed with light when he was writing. Upon emigrating to Malaysia (then Malaya), he met Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi, and became his student and servant for 20 years.
For a man with such wide knowledge, Kiyai Syahid was paradoxically sent for religious duty by Syeikh Suhaimi to the interior village of Kampung Pilin in Rembau, Negeri Sembilan. Together with his brother-in-law Lebai Ibrahim (Kiyai Syahid married his younger sister), he moved to Pilin. The Muhammadiah congregation was thus established in the middle of the jungles, most of whose residents were Malays whose lives were no different from those of primitive aborigines. They neglected prayers and were poor.
In accordance with Kiyai Syahid’s master plan, Muhammad and Maimunah were married off in Pilin. Originally from Segambut, Muhammad had transferred his place of occupation to Lubok Cina. He chose Kiyai Syahid as his spiritual mentor and settled down in Pilin. Lebai Ibrahim had a younger sister, Maimunah, who had just been widowed by her husband’s death. She had 2 children and stayed in Malacca. They were Syeikh Suhaimi’s cousins. In her younger days, Maimunah shared the same household in Klang with Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi, who frequently prayed that she would beget someone who would continue his struggle. Sayidi had once told his followers, there would appear from the lineage of his family somebody to carry on his struggle. Lebai Ibrahim had summoned Maimunah to Pilin upon Kiyai Syahid’s agreement that she be wedded to Muhammad.
When Kiyai Syahid proposed to Muhammad that he marry Maimunah, the widow with 2 children, Muhammad was taken by surprise, remembering his father’s (also a student of Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi) advice since his adolescence, “Mad, later when you want to get married, find someone from Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi’s lineage.”
Muhammad fulfilled Kiyai Syahid’s hope in memory of his father’s advice. As a customs officer at that time, it was not difficult for Muhammad to propose marriage to any maiden. After the wedding, Muhammad was again surprised by the sight of his wife, whom he had previously seen in a dream.
As Abuya Ashaari Muhammad’s father related further to Zaleha, the impending birth of someone by the name of Ashaari bin Muhammad had for some time been the talk among members of the Muhammadiah congregation in Pilin. Kiyai Syahid had himself heard from Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi (Kiyai Agung), before the latter’s occultation, that his struggle would persist at the hands of one ‘Ashaari bin Muhammad’. Upon hearing the news of Maimunah’s pregnancy, the birth of Muhammad’s children became an awaited event.
This history becomes more interesting considering that, pregnant also at the same time was the wife of another Muhammad, Maimunah’s own brother who resided in Lubok Cina. Which child from which Muhammad would emerge as the ‘Ashaari bin Muhammad’ – Maimunah’s or her brother’s? This issue became the subject of intense speculation.
Maimunah’s husband’s dream eventually became the decisive factor. Kiyai Syahid decided that Maimunah’s son would be the sought-after ‘Ashaari’. When Muhammad’s son – child of Maimunah’s brother, was born, Kiyai Syahid named him ‘Abdul Wahab’. Abdul Wahab was Abuya Ashaari Muhammad’s cousin who eventually became his brother-in –law by marrying Abuya Ashaari Muhammad’s younger sister.
Abdul Wahab has related, from his father, that Kiyai Syahid originally named him ‘Haris’, in the hope that he would become Haris Harras – the figure mentioned in hadiths as “the man behind the river”, who will become an assistant of the Prince of Bani Tamim. His house had, co-incidentally, a river behind it. But because he was not to be Haris Harras, he was constantly struck by illness and had his name changed to ‘Abdul Wahab’.
This history had been the subject of conversation among contemporaries of the afore-mentioned characters. Pilin was like an institution or a planning centre which created and moulded the early phases of an Islamic struggle mentioned in the hadiths. These anecdotes ought to have disappeared with the demise of their characters. Ironically, the narratives were passed on from generation to generation and remain relevant to this day.
The above history was concealed from Abuya by whoever was entrusted with his guardianship. One day, when he had reached 47 tears old, Abuya was accosted by Embah Mahmud, not known to him before, at Lembah Pantai Mosque, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. After Isya’ prayers, amidst a gathering of people who were preparing themselves to listen to Abuya’s lecture, an elderly man buried his face into Abuya’s lap for 10 minutes while crying profusely. Embarrassed by the public outburst of emotion, Abuya asked Embah to wait until after the lecture programme.
Immediately after the lecture, Embah related in a face-to-face conversation with Abuya, “I have been searching for you for 60 years. When you were in PAS, I saw that you were pursuing the struggle via politics, not via a tariqah congregation. I queried about this to Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi from behind the scenes. He replied, “Wait further.”
So I waited and continued my search until I reached 80 years old. A waiting period which lasted 60 years. Today is historic for me, for my 60-year quest has ended. Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi’s disclosure 60 years ago that his struggle would be continued by Ashaari Muhammad has been verified.”
Abuya asked about the origins of the story, so the Embah explained: “60 years ago in Johore, I was in Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi’s function together with 9 others. Everyone around was old, I was the youngest at 20 years old. One person asked Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi, “Is it true that you are the Imam al-Mahdi?” Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi meditated for 15 minutes, then raised his head and answered, “Yes, I am the Imam al-Mahdi.”
At that time, Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi had aroused suspicion of the colonial authorities due to his influence and strength in Malaya, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei. The gathering thought how to save Sayidi from being killed by the British. Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi responded, “By the will of Allah, I will be made to disappear by Allah. If I vanish without trace, problems would arise since I am well-known. So Allah will allow me to be seen as if I had died, although in actual fact, I shall be in state of occultation.”
Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi continued, “My congregation would become like chicks in loss of their mother hen, but it will be revived by a person by the name of Ashaari Muhammad.” While disclosing the name, Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi tapped Embah Mahmud’s shoulder, saying, “You will meet him, Mud.”
So significant was the meeting and Sayidi’s words that Embah Mahmud noted them down and endeavoured to prove its veracity. On that very day, in the 1980s, they became reality.
Abuya and Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi have never met physically. Strangely, the struggle pursued by one exactly resembles the other. Nobody had taught Abuya about the methods of struggle to be chosen. The truth of the whole story becomes clear.
As Embah Mahmud relates, what Abuya does is a carbon copy of what Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi did, that is, to uphold Islam via the concept of a congregation. He did not pursue Islam in the mould of a madrasah, pondok, pesantren, political parties or Islamic organizations. And not in the manner of a mosque congregation or the Jamaat Tabligh.
His congregation is markedly different from the others. I dare to say that he has successfully emulated the methods of the Messenger of Allah (PBUH), starting from his individual entity, then gathering slowly membership of his congregation. He emerges as a teacher and leader without relying on approval from a general assembly or other people’s invitation, for people flock to him not merely to join in any social organization but instead to improve themselves. Such is the knowledge about his ability.
He persuades the entire family of the individual concerned to improve themselves until they become a family which practises the Islamic way of life. When several families are gathered together, an Islamic congregation is formed. The members gather and implement Islamic activities not only in schools, pondoks, or offices, but also in residential complexes and in mundane routine affairs. All are implemented on the basis of the Quran and Sunnah. A comprehensive form of Islam is striven for in one’s family, community and daily life.
As a result of lessons which they uindergo, they improve themselves and concomitantly begin practical steps towards implementing Islam in all aspects of their personal and family lives. This is the congregation in which Sayidi teaches Abuya from behind the scenes (without physical encounters) in order to bequeath his struggle.
The narrative above is encapsulated in the signs that Allah SWT had destined through Abuya’s father’s dream, on Abuya’s birthday. He was a baby who commanded the sea whereas his father had failed to do so. Humans are helpless to conquer the sea if they rely on purely physical strength. They need spiritual strength. As vast as the ocean, the repository of knowledge can only be gathered with God’s backing via spiritual nourishment. If the ocean is comparable to wealth, those in possession of all the treasures beneath the seabed must be those with taqwa, such as the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) and the Rightly Guided Caliphs, with Divine Help. Comparing the ocean with a fighting arena, it is impossible for ordinary Muslims to control and win events, unless they are Muslims sustained by Allah and His Messenger (PBUH).
Such was how God introduced Abuya Ashaari Muhammad to the world on his day of birth.