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Hamka

By:
Taufik Abdullah
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Hamka

Hamka is an acronym of Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah (1908–1981),Indonesian religious scholar and the most prolific of modern Indonesian Islamic writers. Hamka was born in the small village of Sungai Batang in the Minangkabau region of West Sumatra on February 17, 1908. His mother came from the adat aristocracy, and his father, Syekh Dr. Abdulkarim Amrullah, a member of a long-established ʿulamāʿ family, was a pioneer in the modernist reform movement. Although his father was the leading teacher of a traditional religious school that soon became a radical reformist school, the famous Sumatra Thawalib, the young Malik was enrolled in the Dīnīyah School, the first religious school to use the modern system of education, established by Zainuddin Labay el-Junusyah. Malik was not successful there and transferred in 1922 to Parabek (Bukittinggi), a school run by another modernist ʿālim, Syekh Ibrahim Musa. Instead of studying the kitābs (Islamic commentaries), he preferred Minangkabau traditional literature. It was only after he suffered a serious case of smallpox in 1923 that he began in earnest the career of a talented autodidact.

In 1924 Malik went to Java to visit his older sister, whose husband A. R. Sutan Mansyur was the chairman of the local branch of the Muhammadīyah. The visit gave him a chance to attend public courses presented by important Muslim leaders. At the end of 1925 he entered the world of journalism by sending articles to the daily Hindia Baru (The New Indies), edited by Haji Agus Salim, an Islamic political leader. On his return to Padang Panjang Malik established the first Muhammadīyah journal, Chatibul ummah. He soon traveled to Medan and to Mecca in 1927. The short but intense exposure to the Arab world not only immensely improved his linguistic ability but also introduced him to the treasures of Arabic literature.

On his return to Padang Panjang he began his career as a writer and adopted the nom de plume of Hamka. His first book, a Minangkabau novel titled Si Sabariah (A Girl Named Sabariah), was published in 1925. He regularly sent articles to local journals and published booklets on Minangkabau adat and Islamic history. His activities in the Muhammadīyah organization brought him to Makasar (1932–1934), where he published two journals, novels, and a book on Islamic history. In 1936 he received an offer to become the editor in chief of a new Islamic journal in Medan, Pedoman Masyarakat (Social Compass). Under his editorship the journal became one of the most successful in the history of Islamic journalism in Indonesia. The sojourn in Medan (1936–1945) was the most productive time of Hamka 's life. During this period he published most of his novels, notably Dibawah lindungan Kaʿbah (Under the Shadow of the Kaʿbah, 1936) and Tenggelamnya kapal van der Wijck (The Sinking of the van der Wijck, 1937), as well as his noted books on Islamic ethics and mysticism, including Tasauf Modern (Modern Mysticism, 1939), Lembaga budi (The Realm of Morality, 1939), and Falsafah hidup (The Philosophy of Life, 1940).

At the same time Hamka was a leading figure in the revolutionary struggle for national independence in West Sumatra from 1945 to 1949. In 1950 he moved to Jakarta. Appointed as a high official of the Department of Religious Affairs, Hamka spent most his time teaching, writing, and editing and publishing the journal Panji Masya-rakat (The Banner of the Society). In 1950 he published a widely acclaimed biography of his father, Ayahku (My Father), which also gives a historical account of Islamic movements in Sumatra, in addition to his four-volume memoir Kenang-kenangan hidup and the first volume of the projected four-volume Sedjarah umat Islam (History of the Islamic World). In 1955 Hamka was elected a member of the Constituent Assembly, representing the Islamic modernist political party, the Masjumi. His political career ended with the dissolution of the Assembly by President Sukarno. See MASJUMI. In 1960 he was elected as “great imam” of al-Azhar Mosque. Falsely accused of involvement in the attempted murder of the president, he was detained in 1964. He spent twenty months in the hospital, where he completed the drafts of his thirty-volume Tafsir al-Azhar.

After the fall of Sukarno, Hamka was released and resumed his position as the great imam of al-Azhar Mosque with its prestigious elementary and secondary school. As the most sought-after mubaligh (public speaker) and a popular broadcast personality with books published in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, he was undoubtedly the most famous religious scholar in the Malay-speaking world. In 1975 he accepted the post of chairman of the new government-sponsored Indonesian Council of ʿUlamāʿ and was reelected in 1980, but he resigned owing to a political conflict with the minister of religion. His position, however, had popular support, and congratulatory letters flooded his house. A few months after the last volume of Tafsir al-Azhar was published, Hamka died on July 21, 1981, leaving ten children.

Hamka wrote more than one hundred books, including fiction, politics, Minangkabau adat, history and biography, Islamic doctrine, ethics, mysticism, and tafsīr. About twenty of these have enjoyed several reprintings and are still in print. Several collections of his writings have also been published posthumously. He received honorary degrees from al-Azhar University in Cairo (1958) and the University Kebangsaan in Kuala Lumpur (1974). The daily Berita Buanaʿ named him Man of the Year in 1980. He was also the “spiritual father” of most newly converted Chinese.

A keen student of history, Hamka not only made the long-forgotten past alive but also never failed to find the moral messages that history held for the present. His literary works show his concern for the little people and the human sufferings in his transitional society. His writings on Minangkabau reflect the attitude of a modernist ʿālim toward his beloved matrilineal society. He offered an influential interpretation of the Indonesian national ideology, the Pancasila, by making its first principle the recognition of the oneness of God (tawḥīd). Since his major concern was the maintenance of īmān (faith) and ʿaqīdah (creed) in changing times, it is understandable that in his tafsīr he often deviates from the traditional Asyhariate school of theology, which is still the foundation of Islamic orthodoxy in Indonesia.

See also MALAY AND INDONESIAN LITERATURE and INDONESIA.

Bibliography

  • Kenang-kenangan 70 Tahun Buya Hamka. Jakarta, Indonesia, 1978. Festschrift for Hamka on his seventieth birthday, including many recollections of colleagues, friends, and students.
  • Moussay, Gérard. “Une grand figure de l’Islam indonésien: Buya Hamka.”Archipel (Paris) 32 (1986): 87–112. Balanced and accurate short biography of Hamka, written by a Catholic priest who has lived for many years in the Minangkabau region.
  • Renard, John, ed.Windows on the House of Islam: Muslim Sources on Spirituality and Religious Life. Berkeley, Calif., 1998. Contains translations of some of Hamka's spiritual works.
  • Teeuw, Andries. Modern Indonesian Literature. The Hague, 1967. Contains a section on Hamka's place in the literary history of modern Indonesia.
  • Yusuf, M. Yunan. “Corak Pemikiran Kalam Tafsir al-Azhar: Sebuah telaah tentang pemikiran Hamka dalam teologi Islam.” PhD diss., IAIN Syarif Hidatullah, Jakarta, 1989. Thesis on Hamka's theological thought as reflected in his Tafsir al-Azhar.
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