Abuya was sired into the world destined to strive for the cause of Islam. His spirit, intellect and physique had all been prepared for the struggle. The Islamic struggle was his interest, avocation, lifework, spirit, intellect, and his life and death. In short, he would do whatever it takes to realize his ambitions in the struggle.
When he was 4 years old, and his mother was still alive, he would follow her everyday to the farm to plant and tend tapioca. To walk with bare feet 4 miles to the farm and 4 miles back, waddling behind his mother as early as 4 years old, was a training for a future leader of the cause of Islam who should not be taken for granted.
At the age of 5, he lost his mother forever, while his father was always not at home. So he had to tend his 3-year old younger sister. Carrying his sister on his back, walking along the rice fields and falling into them are usual experiences for him. One who strives for the truth ought to lead a tough life.
At 6-7 years of age, he had begun cooking rice and frying fish for his food. Using a wooden stove which took time to light up and staying within walls made of palm-leaves were a lifestyle forced on him in the character-building of patient, industrious and intelligent defender of Islam. When his shirts were torn (clothes were not easily available during Abuya’s childhood), Abuya would sew them himself. At night, bringing a torch and a bottle, he would go out with his mother to catch grasshoppers which become a dish fro meals. Another food during his childhood was rubber seeds (for 2 years) and kalilayau leaves. Once while enjoying his food, a leech was found within the kalilayau vegetable. So were the tough days that characterized the life of one who would strive for cause of Islam. One thousand and one hardships are like a normal journey for him. His brief life may be portrayed in the following biographical poem:
My age has entered its 60th year
I have gone through a lifetime full of twists and turns
Challenges after challenges have threatened my life
The sour, the sweet, the salty and the bitter have all been tasted
I went through various eras
At one time the Japanese era was ferocious and cruel
Twice the British ruled with a subtle diplomacy
In transition the communists terrorized us for 10 years
Impoverished, we also lived in fear
Every day someone was murdered
Some vehicle was put on fire
Police stations were attacked
Under Japanese rule, destitution was widespread
Lives were threatened, including mine and my family’s
Sweet potato was my ‘A1’ rice
my staple food at that time
At times I ate rice or banana once a day
The rice was mixed with chalk dust and potato
Potato was difficult to get
Sago and rubber seeds were my special daily diet
Rice was consumed once in 6 months or a year
Shoots, kalilayau leaves, wild mushrooms
everyday I ate them
One day while about to devour the kalilayau vegetable
I found a leech within the leaves
Thank goodness freshwater fish was then easily obtainable
Food from the jungles could also be easily found
For in those times such natural commodities
Were not yet destroyed by development and progress
Then, tigers, boars, crocodiles, snakes
showed fierceness anywhere
Their savagery resembled the Japanese
who were atrocious especially to the Chinese
Nearly every day cows, buffalos, goats would be gobbled up
In the Japanese era, clothes were difficult to come
Whatever available was scanty and pitiful
Dresses and shirts had thousands of patches
In fact some had already worn
leaves which were wide and hard
Or barks draped over the body as blankets
Corpses were wound up in screw pine mats
were like aboriginal residences in today’s jungles
My family’s house were like theirs
Diseases spread violently
nobody was spared from their attacks
There was no medicine, except traditional remedies
Nutritious food was scarce
The healing of skin sores was far fetched
Maggots were usually found in them
Mosques and prayer houses were left derelict for the goats
Religious people were then like a husk within rice grains
Among all villagers, if only two or three
Offered prayers constantly, one could be proud of them
In the Japanese era my family members died
Within a year four succumbed to death
My mother, sister, younger brother, uncle
Communication was very difficult
Communication gadgets were hardly available
Crossing rivers were over bamboo bridges
In some places bamboo rafts were used
Walking was a daily routine
Sometimes we walked umpteen miles
Or we rode bovine carts for many miles
Only once or twice a year would we ride a car
or usually a lorry
Twice during the Japanese era
Japanese planes approached
The whole village fled in fear
including me, still a kid then
I once saw a jet fighter burst into flames in the air
Then it plunged to a spot I did not know where
After some time then only I knew
A British fighter plane had been gunned down by the Japanese
it fell at Kampong Sawah Raja, Rembau
At the beginning of British rule
life was a bit better
But falsehood and poverty were rampant
Rice was available, flour had become normal
Though still restricted and limited
Clothes were sold at many places
Most were from unbleached calico
However there was no extravagance
If there were, only from among the upper class
This group was a rare minority
Employment was limited
Malays were generally occupied
as policemen, soldiers, teachers
Clerks and customs officers here and there, including my father
Communication existed but it was uncomfortable
A one-hour journey now
would probably take five hours then
In those days I and my family boarded on and alighted from buses
Duration of journeys was quite lengthy
A trip to Kelantan then took two days
To reach Kota Baru
Malays were generally ignorant
and backward in education
Illiteracy was widespread especially among rural villagers
University graduates could be counted by fingers
I was among those whose education
was sacrificed to circumstances then
If I were to present a concise history of my life in general
From the British era until today, it would be something like this:
Walking was my culture, the bovine cart was my special vehicle
I ate potato, rubber seed, and sago replacing rice
as my staple food
My clothes had a thousand patches, I patched them up myself
I was then a kid
When my mother and father were not at home
I cooked myself
I washed my own clothes
I sew the torn parts myself
Before schooling age I could already fish myself
I brought back the fish caught
I would rest in a rundown hut
A chicken den today
is more beautiful than my house then
I kept on changing vehicles used
The standard changed gradually, without leapfrogging
It improved in stages
I then cycled
until I had a few children
At times I cycled for a good couple of miles
Walking bare feet was common in my childhood days
It was pleasant, not painful
After that, praise be to Allah, a small relief came
I could ride a Honda 65 motorcycle, then a Honda 90
Allah then provided a secondhand Helman car
Followed by a Morris Minor, also secondhand
Then a secondhand Holdan
Bit by bit it became more sophisticated
Starting with a Corolla
Moving to a Peugeot 404, then a 504
And after that only a Mercedes
Followed by a Pajero
Then a Mercedes MPV (multi-purpose vehicle)
In terms of public transport, the peak was the aeroplane
So my life had various sides to it
and went through various stages
From being impoverished, poor, comfortable, and conventionally rich
I have yet to become outstandingly rich though
I should also tell you other aspects as I remember them
Being stung by catfish was common for me
Often being attacked by wasps of various kinds
I was twice bitten by a centipede, once by a scorpion
And by poisonous ants numerous times
I was chased by a dog, hunted by a male monkey
nearly bitten by it
Being bitten by leeches was unavoidable
it was normal
I fell down from the house, and fell down from a tree
Once during a religious feast, people were eating
the verandah of the house collapsed
Curry drenched my clothes
That was on my first day of duty
As a government teacher
I cannot forget falling from a bicycle and bleeding my knee
My car plunged into a ravine, I broke my leg
how can I forget
Several times I drowned in the river when I was a kid,
Thank God I was saved
Twice I was pierced by a nail, the scar remains
The second time my sight became dark for a while
My caretakers changed, from hands to hands
I never had time to be indulgent with my parents
Migration from one place to another
Became a culture
Moving from one slum dwelling to another
as a tenant it was common
At schooling age, I carried buckets of water
searched for firewood, picked up tree shoots
swept the vicinity, cooked
I stayed in various places, in the countryside and in town
I have stayed in the jungle, in a rubber plantation
In the rice field, in the seaside, next to a graveyard
In education I learned and taught at many schools
Moving from school to school
In this struggle, Allah has destined
Since my schooling days
I had harboured the ambition to struggle for Islam
As soon as I left school, the struggle began
I joined various Islamic movements
PAS, Jamiatul Dakwatul Islamiah, Ikhwan and ABIM
But my heart was dissatisfied
I left all of them
I established my own congregation, Darul Arqam was the name
For 28 years I led it
In our own congregation, overseas visits were normal
In fact I resided abroad continuously
for 7 years
In the congregation, various activities
This need not be told as stories
Many understand and know the story
Tests throughout the struggle
Have been felt a lot
Stairs to my house were removed, my motorcycle was salted
Several times I was about to be hit
Twice I was summoned to the Religious Department for cross-examination
It was uneasy with the struggle I initiated
At night my house was surrounded by police
a few times
But I was not arrested
Defamation and slander were usual
A lot of such allegations were thrown at me
Finally I was nabbed, extradited from abroad
Detained for two months, then isolated in Rawang
under the ISA
Six years have now passed
I have yet to be freed
If my age is prolonged
What other events will happen unto me
Only God knows
- 02 June 2000
Abuya wrestled with not only material matters, but he was also granted the experience of the unseen. In Pilin, as the day approached dusk, while accelerating his bicycle in then jungles, he overheard a female voice from above a huge tree. “Wait, wait.” Abuya and his friend stopped their bicycles and loudly recited the Kursi verse from the Quran, and faced the high parts of the tree to ‘fight’ the ghost.
In Segambut too he was disturbed by a genie while playing in a ditch in the valleys. He raved in the mosquito net, unable to sleep. His step grandparents had a hard time pacifying him. Abuya matured with such experiences, although he was still a kid then.
A great leader is produced from a world of big challenges and trials. The ability to overcome all the tribulations is evidence of one being qualified to take up the risks of leadership. The most arduous task is leading. If one cannot endure simple tests such as the above, one will not be able to pass the greater tests of leadership.
From one angle, Abuya’s life was neglected like wild long grass. He grew alone, leaving to fate what might be of him. Logically Abuya would get carried away or become inferior (spiritually sick). It was impossible that he would become somebody useful. If we liken it to a film script, we are watching an unfortunate village boy, whose life passes from one to another, who thinks of everything and organizes his life alone, amidst depraved surroundings. We would surely predict a sad ‘ending’ to conclude the film.
But it was not to be. Hardship had changed to become a glorious, useful, lofty and awesome education. The script therefore adopts a peculiar ending, that the Unfortunate Kid was really a Saviour for all humankind..
Abuya said, he could not accept many interpretations and explanations of religious knowledge given by the ulama of his school days. He disagreed with them. His heart rejected the knowledge although he loved them, for they worshipped a lot, displayed good morals and taught diligently, but their thinking on living and behaving religiously was, in many instances, Abuya thought, not derived from the pure religion. It had been contaminated by the intellect and the evil selfish desires.
Actually Abuya himself does not understand the reasons for his becoming like that. He lacked any argument to defend his views. Only his heart strongly felt as such. So he was silent on the matter. He kept it to himself in his own heart, nobody knowing of it.
There were times when the dissatisfaction manifested itself.
In 1957, at 20 years of age, Abuya was in Form 3 of the lower secondary school (thanawi), Maahad Hishamuddin. He went to school on the morning, and at the evening, he became government religious teacher at Sungai Udang Primary Religious School.. That year there was supposed to be no examination. No student got prepared. Suddenly at last minute it was announced that there was to be an examination. All students were taken by surprise. Abuya and 3 other teachers planned a collective strike. They succeeded in influencing 10 other teachers, and were supported further by 3 secondary classes. The primary classes were not involved.
On examination day, the students entered the examination hall. But they did not answer any question, they submitted answer scripts with nothing written on them.
Such was the planning and execution of the protest. That was the struggle at that time – a record for them.
As a consequence, all the striking teachers were transferred to teach at religious schools. Abuya was transferred to Sungai Nibong (Tanjung Karang) in 1958, 70 miles from Klang. He taught there for 2 years and 5 months. His schooling days had ended when he very much desired to remain in school! Actually, facing the realities of a life full of challenges and obstacles, which needed constant answers, was an informal school more educational than the formal school. This statement is supported by the facts and events that have taken place in his life, as early as he was 20 years old. Perhaps the formal duration was enough for one who strives for Islam, for too many details had to be learned from the useful realities of life in facing the expanding struggle!
Abuya collected money to continue his education in Singapore. But his father decided that he got married. How was this obedient son to face this conflict? So in 1957, at the age of 20, he tied the knot with Ustazah Hasnah Salim, his classmate, with whom he sired 12 obedient children.
Marriage is a challenging responsibility, an effective schooling which would build the character of one who would strive for Islam. Students of formal classes will not acquire the broad knowledge obtained by students of the household institution, full of clashes, hardships, conflicts, love and care, and responsibilities! Abuya overcame all of them. The certificate merits not just a Ph.D., but numerous PhDs. The qualification is that of a leader, the future career path of which had been laid for him.
In 1961, Abuya was transferred to teach at Sungai Leman Secondary Religious School as assistant headmaster for one year. This school was 4 miles from Sungai Nibong. Throughout his life, Abuya has been constantly transferred from one place to another due to controversies erupting around his struggle.
In Tanjung Karang, outside teaching time, Abuya was involved directly in PAS. After his opportunity to further his education had been shut down, his ambition was directed towards his the vocation he had yearned for since childhood – striving for Islam. Since PAS was seen as Islamic in name, Abuya wasted no time in joining it as early as 1958, when he was about 20 years old. Abuya tells that he was too young then to start his own struggle. He had inadequate experience and knowledge. So he temporarily struggled alongside others in search of experience.
Nonetheless Abuya had had his own stand. Ever since his Pilin days, his target had been set, his policy had been worked out and his methods had been prepared in his mind. The principles had been nailed down in Abuya despite encountering a thousand and one changes in the various platforms he was exploring. This feat – not being influenced by patterns which had been trying to colour his perception - is extraordinary. He was able to preserve the pattern created for him since his conception in his mother’s womb, his infanthood and his later childhood.
So Abuya taught in Sungai Leman for one year, but thereafter, in 1962, when he was 24 years old, Abuya was appointed as headmaster of a secondary religious school which had 300 students and 4 teachers. At the same time, he actively built up PAS in Tanjung Karang.
His continually striving and burning spirit, which had been consistently guided, sparked off the second strike of his life. Opposed to the sinful acts being committed during the sports carnival organized by the primary school next to Abuya’s school, Abuya organized a demonstration of around 1000 protesting villagers from among both PAS and UMNO supporters. They were successfully persuaded to join in the protests, forcing two trucks of Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) policemen to control the situation. The strike ended with the agreement of the primary school authorities to stop culturally abhorrent festivities within its compound. Until the end of 1966, when Abuya left the religious school, no other sinful activities were heard of in the primary school. They were completely stopped for 4 years.
Outside official working hours, Abuya dedicated himself to another unofficial vocation, that of building up the local PAS congregation by implementing social activities as follows:
- A private school
- A mini market
- A bakery with 17 distribution outlets
- A school for adults
- Religious talks, da’wah work and campaigning, done almost every night
All the aforesaid activities did not conform to PAS’s way. PAS was just a political body, so Abuya’s approach was not amenable to PAS’s central authorities. He had tried to mould PAS according to what he understood about the Islamic struggle since his adolescent days. Beginning with his family, he built up his congregation with an Islamic way of life, and enlarged the Islamic system in society. That is the model he would offer to the world. Who taught him this at the early age and who supplied him with such an understanding? When he carried out anything in accordance with his understanding, there would be followers. These are amazing questions whose answers must be sought after.
Intimidated by liveliness of PAS in Tanjung Karang, the local UMNO branch waged serious fight. The police, the religious department and various belligerent parties targeted Abuya. Among other things, Abuya’s motorcycle’s fuel tank was poured salt, the door of his house was sealed, ‘war’ broke out in the mosque, the police besieged his house alleging his involvement with the Indonesian Confrontation, he was threatened to be hit as he was bathing, his motorcycle was obstructed in midnight on his journey home from da’wah work, and a thousand and one other political fights that Abuya experienced.
In his youth, as a result of his activities in initiating a da’wah-orientated political struggle complete with its social development, he was summoned twice to the Klang religious department, being accused of fomenting disunity within society. But Abuya overcame all the trials. In fact, he accepted them as part and parcel of the struggle which in no way stopped him from continually pursuing the struggle. Back from the religious department, the struggle continued.
In 1966, when still in Sungai Leman, Abuya was afflicted with chronic illness. The pain was such that he felt he was about to die. For four months, people said that he was suffering from malaria. Every day Abuya shivered in pain, starting from 4 o’clock in the evening until dawn. After dawn, the condition of his body normalized. He could go out of his house without feeling sleepy or tired despite staying awake all night long. At 3 o’clock, Abuya would quickly return home in anticipation of the mysterious illness. His ordeal persisted for 4 months. Abuya never knew what caused it. He neither visited the hospital nor took any medication until he got cured by himself. People did not believe that Abuya was ill.
During the aforesaid illness, Allah granted Abuya good dreams. Among them, he could see Syeikh Mahmud Bukhari come and ‘repair’ his body to improve it. In the occasional dozes of sleep that he got amidst his chronic illness, his soul experienced dreams, traveling from mosque to mosque, all of them big and beautiful, meeting with many ulama and learning from them.
In 1966, Abuya was appointed as an executive committee member of PAS in Tanjung Karang. Such were Abuya’s anti-government activities that he was transferred yet again, for the third time, this time to Kuala Lumpur. At 26 years of age, Abuya had gone this far in his struggle. The process was too swift to reach a faraway destination. Each day was like a course to be completed in one faculty before being transferred tomorrow to another course in a different faculty. This was to equip him to become a strongman of his era, with very high ambitions!
Abuya finally changed to striving to promote tariqah, love and care and da’wah. He was no longer a ferocious political fighter. Before reaching 30 years old, Allah destined that he was very committed to PAS. Probably Allah had wanted Abuya to become a non-passive Sufi. This means that PAS had really enlivened his spirit of struggle and strategic disposition, to be blended with his sufi understanding. Abuya says, if he had not been changed by Allah, he was very fierce. Once, when he was still in PAS, in the bus, he would purposely find a seat which enabled him to campaign for PAS. By way of luck, the seat next to a policeman was vacant. He took the golden opportunity to lecture the policeman, teasing him that he was unIslamic. The whole bus could listen. The policeman pinched Abuya’s thigh requesting him to stop. Abuya was then resentful, bad-tempered and unthinkingly brazen – such were the bad conduct instilled while in PAS.
The spirit brought in the struggle with PAS, which lacked religious discipline, had moulded his previously bad conduct, relates Abuya. Once during a religious talk, a PAS preacher spoke without scolding the enemy! Abuya forced him to rise to the stage again and berate the opposing party, in line with his wicked PAS appetite. Excoriate them! This happened in Tanjung Karang.
All these made Abuya hate himself. Allah rotated his spirit by 360 degrees. From one known for his religious zeal and sacrifice, he finally isolated himself and penitently wept over his sins. He felt what he had done was to no avail. It was unIslamic.
Those who misunderstood him say he was frustrated in PAS. But actually his heart had acted to change him. As Embah Mahmud had known, Abuya would certainly shift from a political struggle to a sufi tariqah struggle. Indeed, throughout his venture in PAS, he never neglected the recitation of the Aurad Muhammadiah which had been his practice since he was 13. On the destined day, as Sayidi Syeikh Suhaimi said, Abuya was transformed by Allah. One would not believe it if one had not experienced it himself. In reality, Abuya had changed. After 2 years of life in solitude and reclusive correction of the self, Abuya returned to the arena by struggling for Islam as he had really desired. It seemed as though the struggle was just about to begin.