The Malay Heritage Foundation

Sembang Ilmu Series #12 – Maulid dalam Tradisi Melayu Islam

The Malay Heritage Foundation‘s (MHF) Sembang Ilmu Series (SIS) concluded the fourth Asatizah Berwarisan forum in collaboration with Sultan Mosque Singapore in October 2023, the twelfth SIS installment. This time, distinguished panellists delved into the captivating topic of ‘Maulid dalam Tradisi Melayu Islam’ (Maulid in the Malay Muslim Tradition).

Saturday, 28 October 2023 – Ustaz Zulfadhli, the session’s emcee and a representative from Masjid Sultan Singapore, extended a warm welcome to the audience and esteemed panellists in Masjid Sultan’s auditorium. He set the stage by introducing the lecture series Asatizah Berwarisan, a vital component of SIS, before calling upon guest moderator Saudara Muhammad Khairool Haque. A writer of poetry and prose, Saudara Khairool previously won the Golden Point Award in 2009 and has graced several literary events, including the Singapore Writers’ Festival and Singapore Literature Conference.

Guest Moderator, Saudara. Khairool Haque setting the context and introducing the panellists. (Credit: MHF)

Saudara Khairool commenced with a brief exploration of what ‘Maulid’ means within the Malay Muslim community, raising its association with recitations of certain verses, praises, and salutations to the prophets, prayer, lectures, and communal feasting. He shared that the heart of ‘Maulid’ lies in recitating various kitab (books), such as the Maulid Barzanji and Maulid ad-Diba’i. That said, he underscored that ‘Maulid’ is not merely another ceremony but harbours a more profound significance that the upcoming speakers will further explore.

With that, Saudara Khairool introduced the first speaker of the forum, Ustazah Nur Fadiilah Mohamed Fadzil, who delved into the history of the Maulid celebration and its connection to the Nusantara region in her presentation titled “Sejarah Perayaan Maulid Rasul dan Kaitannya dengan Benua Nusantara”.

Ustazah Nur Fadillah Mohamed Fadzil introducing the Kitab Maulid written by Sheikh Nawawi Banten. (Credit: MHF)

Ustazah Nur Fadillah Mohamed Fadzil currently serves as the executive religious officer at Badan Agama dan Pelajaran Radin Mas (BAPA). She previously obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Arabic Language from the International Islamic University Malaysia (UIAM) before subsequently achieving her Master’s degree in Islamic History from The National University of Malaysia (UKM).

Ustazah Nur Fadillah initiated her presentation by sharing an excerpt from a syair (poetry) written by Syeikh Raja Ali Haji. Written some 150 years ago, she emphasised that such poetry purely aimed to instill a love for the Prophet within the Malay community then. She then provided a concise introduction to ‘Maulid,’ describing it as a widespread Islamic tradition observed globally, including in Singapore. Among its various objectives, Maulid serves to strengthen the spiritual connection of the community, mainly through its efforts to internalise the life story of the Prophet and send salutations to him. That said, she outlined the four primary ways the early ulama (Islamic scholars) celebrated Maulid. These included gathering the masses, reciting verses from the Quran, narrating stories related to Maulid and the miracles of the prophet, and preparing food for all attendees.

Following this, Ustazah Nur Fadillah delved into the history of the origins of Maulid, where she briefly discussed the three main theories that have emerged. The first theory suggests that the celebration of Maulid began during the time of the Prophet’s companions. Citing Schimmel, she mentioned the presence of solid evidence that the companions had indeed gathered in their homes to read stories of the Prophet and introduce them to family members.

The second theory posits that the Maulid celebration began during the Fathimiyyah Dynasty in Mesir, where several ulama like ‘Abd al-Salam, Grunebaum, and Katz opined that Maulid was a crucial yearly celebration that was exclusive for the kings and nobility.

The third theory suggests that Maulid gained prominence during the reign of Sultan Salahuddin Ayubi when large-scale Maulid celebrations took place. Such was the opinion of many religious scholars, including Ibnu Khallikan, who mentioned in his thesis that people from all over the world would attend the celebrations, which lasted for days. These celebrations included performances by singers, musicians, poets, and many more. Further, Sultan Salahuddin had even organised a writing competition where poets and ulama gathered to write verses praising the prophet; Sheikh Jaafar Al-Barzanji won the competition, and till today, his work, known as Maulid Barzanji, is still read during Maulid celebrations.

While these theories may seem contradictory, it is possible to consolidate them by concluding that Maulid celebrations evolved in stages, starting from the companions’ time and growing into larger-scaled events during Sultan Salahuddin Al-Ayubi’s reign.

Ustazah Nur Fadillah then discussed the spread of Maulid in Nusantara. She highlighted two main avenues: the arrival of ulama’ from the Arab world and local ulama who pursued their education in Mecca. She introduced the role of the Wali Songo (revered saints) in fostering local interest in Maulid celebrations through cultural practices like Wayang Kulit. In addition, Nusantara is home to many ulama like Sheikh Hamzah al-Fansuri, Nuruddin al-Raniri, and Arsyad al-Banjari, who wrote manuscripts still in use today.

To conclude, Ustazah Nur Fadillah shared a book translation of Barzanji and Diba’i by Ustaz Muhammad Taha Suhaimi, a local preacher. Without a doubt, her presentation shed light on the fact that the celebration of Maulid in the Malay Muslim community did not take place overnight but is the result of efforts by the early ulama, who wrote and translated works that eventually became a part of the community’s rich heritage.

Ustaz Muhammad Saiful Adli Ayob sharing on the Maulid Ad-Dhiya’ul Lami’. (Credit: MHF)

Ustaz Muhammad Saiful Adli Ayob is a manager at the Office of the Mufti, Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS). He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Education with a specialisation in Arabic Language and Islamic Studies from Kuwait University. Additionally, he has earned a Master of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Islamic Studies from UIN Sharif Hidayatullah, Jakarta.

Titled “Penyegaran Iltizam Keagamaan melalui Maulid Ad-Dhiya’ul Lami’” (Rejuvenation of Religious Commitment through Maulid Ad-Dhiya’ul), Ustaz Saiful Adli began by building upon Ustazah Nur Fadillah’s insights into the history of Maulid. He emphasised that the various theories regarding the history of Maulid, as raised by Ustazah Nur Fadillah, likely pertained to celebrating Maulid as a distinct event.

Yet, the essence and practices that constitute Maulid celebrations, such as sending salutations to the Prophet and praising him, are rooted in the Qur’an and teachings of the Prophet.

Related to this, Ustaz Saiful Adli shared several instances from the Prophet’s time when he acknowledged and allowed his companions to express praises towards him. For example, Ustaz Saiful Adli narrated the story of Ibn Abbas, the Prophet’s uncle, who sought permission to praise him. In return, the Prophet said, “May God grant fluency in your speech,” and Ibn Abbas eloquently expressed poetic words of praise.

In another instance, the Prophet came upon a group of his Companions sitting in a circle and enquired about their purpose of sitting together, to which they replied that they had gathered to remember God and praise Him for guiding them to Islam and bestowing His favours on them through the blessing of being sent the Prophet. The Prophet then asked if there was no other reason for their gathering. They insisted that their intention was solely for the reasons mentioned. The Prophet clarified that he was questioning not out of suspicion but because the Angel Jibril had informed him that God was taking pride in their gatherings.

These instances demonstrated that remembering God and praising the Prophet were not new practices but had been part of the tradition of the Salaf As-Saalih (the pious predecessors). Moving on, Ustaz Saiful Adli proceeded to introduce the Maulid Ad-Dhiya’ul Lami’, which was written by Habib Umar bin Hafiz, a highly respected Yemeni Scholar. Interestingly, Ustaz Saiful Adli mentioned that over the years, Habib Umar had refrained from referring to the text as “maulid” for he wanted to ensure that the text was accessible to all Muslims regardless of their inclinations. Instead, he encouraged its recitation as a way of reading the seerah (life of the prophet). Another interesting point raised by Ustaz Saiful Adli was that the title “Dhiya’ul Lami” could be found in one of the verses of the earlier written ‘Maulid Dibaie.’

Regarding the spread of Maulid Ad-Dhiya’ul Lami’ into the Malay world, Ustaz Saiful Adli shared that it coincided with the 1990s when Habib Umar was granted permission from his teacher to preach actively, including in the Nusantara region, bringing with him the Maulid Ad-Dhiya’ul Lami’ he had written. Thus, more often than not, recitations of Maulid Ad-Dhiya’ul Lami’ often occurred at events graced by Habib Umar’s presence himself. Maulid Ad-Dhiya’ul Lami’ became a unifying force that brought the community together for religious affairs and spiritual guidance.

Additionally, Ustaz Saiful Adli also emphasised that the writing of the various Maulid texts should be seen as part of the broader development of writings about the Prophet’s life. It began with the Companions sharing stories about the Prophet’s life and evolved into comprehensive accounts covering his migration, life, and even details from his birth. This narrative expanded further with the ‘Syamail,’ which recorded both the internal and physical characteristics of the Prophet. It was during this time that ‘Maulid’ texts emerged as part of the broader effort to narrate the life and history of the Prophet.

Concluding his sharing, Ustaz Saiful Adli emphasised that Maulid Ad-Dhiya’ul Lami’ arrived in this region with the strong spirit of its composer, Habib Umar, to spread the teachings of the religion. Since then, it has become a unifying force within the community, strengthening their faith and commitment to the religion.

Ustaz Ahmad Saiful Rijal enlightening the audience with the contents of Maulid al-Barzanji.(Credit: MHF) 

Ustaz Ahmad Saiful Rijal Hassan is an Associate Research Fellow with the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). His research interests are political Islam, religious rehabilitation, and community engagement.

In his presentation, titled “Penghayatan Bacaan Maulid al-Barzanji di Singapura” (Internalisation of Maulid al-Barzanji in Singapore), Ustaz Saiful Rijal introduced Maulid al-Barzanji, a work authored by Sheikh Ja’far al-Barzanji. Originally titled ‘Iqd al-Jawahir fī Mawlid al-Nabiy al-Azhar’ (The String of Pearls on the Blazing Birth of the Prophet), this text comprises stories of the Prophet’s life, character, and history in the form of Arabic poetry and narratives. The Maulid al-Barzanji is often recited during Maulid celebrations or other gatherings to unite the Muslim community. Interestingly, Ustaz Saiful Rijal also noted that in the past, such practices were held in the homes of local well-off individuals.

Moving on, Ustaz Saiful Rijal provided a brief biography of the author, Syeikh Sayyid Ja’far al-Barzanji, who was born in Madinah in 1714 and was a descendant of the Prophet. He was known to have mastered various fields of knowledge and once held the position of a Qadi from the Maliki school of thought.

Ustaz Saiful Rijal then delved into the contents of the Maulid al-Barzanji, which essentially summarised the Prophet’s history, covering his birth, declaration of Prophethood, migration, and passing. These stories are presented in engaging poetry, prose, and qasidah (Arabic poem of praises) with rhythmic and heart-touching lyrics.

The Maulid al-Barzanji has a rich history in the Malay world. Among others, Ustaz Saiful Rijal showed several newspaper articles dating back to the Japanese Occupation, reporting events that included its recitation. To this day, scholarly research continues to study the Maulid al-Barzanji for its melody, contents, or even the effects of its recitation.

The internalisation of this magnificent work by Sheikh al-Barzanji reflects his deep love and longing for the Prophet, displayed through sincere praises. In essence, the recitation of Maulid al-Barzanji is an act of worship through glorifying God’s name and sending salutations and praises to the Prophet. This practice is hoped to have positive implications, easing the believers’ affairs, fulfilling their hopes and aspirations, and bestowing sustenance upon them.

Aside from its spiritual and religious significance, Ustaz Saiful Rijal highlighted that Maulid al-Barzanji instills strong cultural values. He raised that both Malay and Arabic literature contain elements of positive values, making them compatible. It is thus unsurprising that both can co-exist in the community, creating a unique culture. Furthermore, Maulid al-Barzanji holds significant social value. During Maulid celebrations or other gatherings like weddings or circumcision ceremonies, individuals from various backgrounds, regardless of age and religion, come together and partake in the event in one way or another.

In conclusion, while the reading of Maulid al-Barzanji continues, a notable decline in its prevalence is observed. Nonetheless, its essence is still achieved by reciting other Maulid texts like Maulid ad-Dibaie. Ustaz Saiful Rijal emphasised that the recitation of Maulid texts, regardless of whether it be the Maulid al-Barzanji or others, has numerous positive impacts, and such a positive tradition should, necessarily, continue.

Saudara Gene Sha Rudyn conducting a mini warm-up session with the audience. (Credit: MHF)

Saudara Gene Sha Rudyn first gained prominence in 1998, performing 17 characters in the 90-minute bilingual theatre monologue “Anak Bulan Di Kampong Wa’ Hassan”, which he also directed. He has since performed in Kuala Lumpur, Pulau Pinang, and Singapore, as well as at arts festivals in Budapest, Hobart, Hong Kong, Perth, Tokyo, and Wellington. In 2008, he founded Keelat Theatre Ensemble and, in a decade, staged over 48 performances of 8 theatre productions in 15 mosques in Singapore.

In his presentation, titled ‘Pentas Masjid‘, Saudara Gene began with a brief excerpt from a video recording of the recent Masjid Wak Tanjong Family Day 2023 – Maulidur Rasul, where he directed a theatre performance featuring students from Madrasah Wak Tanjong.

Before delving into his presentation proper, Saudara Gene conducted a mini warm-up session with the audience, instructing them to perform specific actions on his command, such as raising and shaking their right and left hands when he said ‘tasbih’ and ‘tahmid,’ respectively, and both hands when he said ‘takbir.’ This demonstration, he explained, exemplified how Keelat Theatre Ensemble attempts to integrate Islamic practices into the arts, a process he terms the ‘Islamisation of Teater’.

Inspired by Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas’ definition of Islamisation, Saudara Gene defines it as a process of purification (penyucian) to obtain a product that is purely Islamic. He shared that in a separate lecture he attended previously, Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas’ mentioned that the process of Islamisation of any craft or science involves the extraction of any elements that are not in line with Islamic principles.

To exemplify this in the context of the arts, Saudara Gene then cited a verse from the Quran that describes the extraordinary character of the Prophet. He emphasised that this verse should be applied in creating art, where artists should always aim to portray a good character. Regarding the manifestation of good character through actions, he also cited a hadith that exemplifies the noble character of the Prophet. Through these verses, he underscored the importance of instilling the positive values prescribed in the Quran and hadith into the arts, not solely in the final artistic product but throughout the entire production process.

Before concluding his presentation, Saudara Gene returned to discuss the production he was involved in for the Masjid Wak Tanjong Family Day 2023 – Maulidur Rasul event. In just six short weeks of preparation, his team ensured that values and good character were preached and exemplified to the students involved. He particularly recounted one heartfelt incident when he was forced to raise his voice to garner the students’ attention, and, in response, one student asked why it was necessary to shout. Saudara Gene considered this a reminder, not from the boy, but from God through a young boy to consistently display noble character. This, he reflects, was not simply a reminder from a boy but a reminder from God through a boy.

With that, Mr Gene concluded by emphasising the potential of the arts as a platform to spread Islamic tenets following the example set by early Islamic scholars, as mentioned by previous speakers.

Panellists addressing questions from the audience during the Q&A segment. (Credit: MHF)

The forum concluded with a Q&A segment, during which the panellists addressed various questions from the on-site audience. This marks the end of the current season of SIS Asatizah Berwarisan. SIS is a discursive platform for our youths and young professionals to deliberate and discuss issues relating to the socio-cultural development of the Malays in Singapore from a contemporary perspective. SIS supports and provides a platform for youths to discuss these issues and topics with MHF and its collaborative partners.

Group photo with MHF General Manager Ms. Asmah Alias (most left), moderator Mr. Khairool Haque (second from right), and the panel. (Credit: MHF)

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  1. Full Video: Part 1 | Part 2

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