Abuya Ashaari Muhammad started enrolling at the Malay primary school a bit later than the normal schooling age. In 1947, he was already 10 years old; 2 years after Japanese invaders had left. Although formal schooling had existed before that, Lebai Ibrahim was reluctant to send Abuya to school. Perhaps he was waiting to enroll Abuya into an Arabic school.
Abuya’s Quranic classes began in 1945 without waiting for Lebai Ibrahim. Eager to seek knowledge, he went himself to learn the Quran at the house of Kak Tupin (the Quran teacher in Kampung Pilin) without Lebai Ibrahim’s knowledge.
Lebai Ibrahim, who was also the village imam, was quite offended when the nephew he brought up had transgressed the ethical code of conduct. He uttered, “Not only can I teach you, even your father, I can teach!” Abuya finished reading the whole Quran at nine years of age. Due to his competence and interest, he also taught slow learners among his peers.
Learning the Quran at night time in Kak Tupin’s house in Kampung Pilin was among Abuya’s sweet memories. In Pilin, Kak Tupin treated her pupils like her own children. Possibly she had none of her own. She would feed them and put them to sleep. She would even scold them if they erred. Abuya always showed a hungry face so that he could eat. Once during Maghrib time, in heavy rain, Abuya and his friends ran into the jungles, following adults to shoot boars. Kak Tupin ran after them with a big stick and finally brought them back. Such was the feeling of responsibility of a village teacher.
Suitable to his wide Islamic ambitions, Abuya had a great interest in knowledge. He was impatient to enter school even before he reached the required age. He always went to the school gates to peep the on-going classes. Later, he so enjoyed school that he refused to take any leave. “Why are there holidays? Why not just continue schooling?” his heart would ask. Thus even during holidays, Abuya would play at school. Abuya disagreed to schools’ taking holidays. He had hoped for a 7-day week of schooling. Holidays, for him, were unnecessary.
That is why at Maahad Hishamuddin, Abuya was continuously at school from the morning till evening time. His tuition lasted from midnight till 1.00 am. Only he is capable of such an attitude. Why? According to Embah Mahmud (the devotee who became the line of communication and transmitter of news between Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi’s era and Abuya), “Abuya had the strength of mind similar to the strength of 10 brains.” In other words, if a normal person had 1 brain, Abuya had 10 equivalent brains. His mind was 10 times the minds of normal people. His other siblings had relatively weak minds. As Embah Mahmud related, Abuya was intelligent because he imbibed everything from his father.
His spirit was likewise extraordinarily strong. His capacity in enduring tests was 10 times greater than that of a normal person.
The mental and spiritual nourishment that had to be prepared for such a person was 10 times greater than the quantity required by ordinary humans. Hence, different from others, he became intoxicated with learning and striving for truth. Already a brilliant student, Abuya’s academic record was outstanding. Hence he became teachers’ favourite student. He befriended his primary school teachers in Pilin until they reached old age and passed away. Abuya greatly respected, loved and fondly remembered his teachers.
When Abuya Ashaari Muhammad was leader of Darul Arqam, at least once a year he would bring his family to visit Cikgu Abdullah, his primary school teacher. He treated Kak Tupin, his former teacher of the Quran, like his own mother. He sponsored Kak Tupin’s pilgrimage to Mecca. Abuya greatly remembered the good deeds of his teachers’ His heart stooped towards them. Another school teacher whom he befriended until adulthood was one Cikgu Bujang.
Before independence, many schools taught practical education. Abuya tells how the school gates were constructed by the students themselves. They would search for wood in the forests to build posts, and pull wire around the school compound. They also made scoops and brooms. They farmed vegetables until they were ripe enough to be brought home and cooked. Their other activities were making pottery from clay. The products were fit to be sold at school.
Villagers in Pilin at that time invented their own guns to shoot monkeys which ate their fruits. But all such Malay creativity was killed off by the colonialists who created a special educational system for Malayan residents. Indigenous Malays were trained to be consumers and salaried employees.
With the new system, the noble culture and religious way of life came to an end. In his early days after moving to Kuala Lumpur, Abuya was startled at the sight of freshwater fish such as catfish and snakehead being openly traded. In the village, the community was used to mutually giving out and receiving provisions from God, especially fruits such as durian, rambutan, mangosteen and others which are treated as being of common ownership. Whosoever could eat them at any time, for free. Villagers could wait together for durians to fall from the trees, and simply take them away. That mangosteen was sold in town, surprised Abuya.
Brotherhood and humanity prevailed in the religious system of life. Humans are tied by togetherness, love and care. Worldly goods, by being treated as commonly owned, do not deceive the people.
Raised in such a system, Abuya’s soul was full of love for it. So he gave life to the system in his congregation. Houses, cars, food and other goods could be shared. Sadness and happiness were also shared.
In Pilin, Abuya’s primary education was until standard five (1947-1952). In order to continue his education, he was moved to Segambut, Kuala Lumpur. So Abuya left Pilin with its sweet memories. Gone was the river where he frequented to forget his problems. Thrice Abuya nearly drowned in it. Gone was the bull cart which ‘dragged’ Abuya to Lubok Cina. Gone was the historic prayer house. Gone was the soil which had always mixed with shoeless feet. Gone were the insects, centipedes, hornets, snakes, monkeys, scorpions and tigers which resided nearby. All had bitten Abuya (except the snakes and tigers), leaving behind scars which would be transferred to Kuala Lumpur. Gone were the trees and shrubs which were brutalized during the ‘war’ launched by Abuya. Left behind were the school in Pilin, and the historic institution of Pilin itself, where Abuya Ashaari Muhammad was born and brought up to fall in love with Imam al-Mahdi – the idolized hero who would reclaim the glorious victory for the world of Islam.
Abuya Ashaari Muhammad is a Pilin (Pilin means to go around) who would revolve around Kuala Lumpur, the place of origin of the Islamic resurgence, to transform the world of ignorance to the worlds of truth and peace.
So in 1952, Abuya moved and began schooling in town. He emigrated to Segambut, living with his step-grandparents in conditions of poverty and destitution.
He enrolled in Segambut Primary School until standard six. In the evening, he attended religious school. Abuya still remembers the name of his teacher at Segambut Primary School: Cikgu Sani. His religious teachers at Segambut Religious School were Ustaz Mohd Amin Osman and Ustaz Mokhtar Abdul Manaf. Both were natives of Segambut and graduates of Pesantren Imam Bonjol, Padang, Sumatra, Indonesia.
Another religious teacher, also a Segambut local and Padang graduate, was Ustaz Haji Arsyad Khadiman. He taught Abuya in 1952 in Pilin. 6 months before Abuya moved to Segambut, Ustaz Haji Arsyad Khadiman migrated to Pilin. He founded a religious school, which realized Abuya’s intention of pursuing Islamic education in Pilin, albeit for only 6 months.
After moving, Abuya continued his Arabic education with Ustaz Mohd Amin Osman and Ustaz Mokhtar Abdul Manaf. Abuya related how he felt loved by the two teachers, both of whom tried to convince him towards Kaum Muda (modernist) teachings imported from Padang. But Abuya’s heart rejected such teachings.
The present author was astounded when Abuya chronicled details about his primary school religious teacher, Ustaz Haji Arsyad Khadiman. Details of 60 years ago were meticulously remembered; I myself have forgotten information about my primary school days even though it was not such a long time ago. According to Abuya, Ustaz Haji Arsyad Khadiman was a peculiar man. Before establishing his own religious school, he worked as an Utusan Melayu journalist. When his school had achieved progress, he gave it to others and established another one. When this new one had advanced, he founded another, and so on. Such was his character.
Even more amazingly, wherever this religious teacher of Abuya went, he would do business. When the business had developed, he would give it to others. He would then establish a new business, also giving it to others when it had progressed. Lastly, before his death, he became a film star. His further attitude was, when he had money, he was generous, but when he was penniless, he would ask from others. Haji Arsyad was a friend of Abuya’s father, so Abuya knew his character.
Abuya’s education was seemingly more informal than formal. His whole education was encapsulated in his 24-hour daily life. What he met during daily events would be investigated, remembered, analyzed, and benefited in terms of its outcome and lessons. In short, Abuya was capable of and learned a lot from nature.
Pilin was fully in his memory: its rivers, human attitudes, animals, jungles, trees, fishes, natural habitats, and others. If Abuya dined with his children, he would ask about the type of fish that was served. He said, “If we take no notice of worldly matters – the food we consume and see everyday, it surprises nobody that we disregard matters of the Hereafter.” This is a small example, how concerned and interested Abuya was in knowledge.
Abuya’s mind is sharp and forward-looking. When asked by Dr Mahathir Mohamad when he was Prime Minister, “You claim to struggle for faith, but if Malays are poor, even if they possess faith, what will they eat?”
Abuya answered, “Brunei, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are all prosperous, they are the loan sharks of the world. But their country and nation are also weak.”
Mahathir replied, “I’ve never heard such an argument.”
The second time summoned by Mahathir to Putrajaya, in 2001, Abuya was asked by . Mahathir, “Why do you like to make for yourself such and such a claim?”
Abuya retorted, “If people want to praise me, or to condemn me, I cannot hinder them. I think that at this stage of time, more people despise me rather than praise me, whether I say it or not.”
Mahathir greatly resented Abuya’s cutting remark. He warned, “The government will act against you.”
Abuya rose and retaliated, “Allah will act against you.”
Such is the product of early schooling in Pilin. An intelligent Prime Minister defeated in argumentation. When he was apprehended by Mahathir, Abuya predicted Mahathir’s downfall for obstructing the Islamic resurgence. True, Mahathir fell from power when Abuya was still in ISA detention.
Pilin was a virtual university for Abuya. The degree conferred to him there, was not for the sake of seeking provisions and a place to live in this world. It equipped Abuya to emerge as the pioneer of Islamic systems in Malaysia. His influence reached a global stature and many hoped to be able to live alongside him. At this time, his potential is seen as capable of saving Malaysia from all sorts of threats.