We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Malaysia, Salafiyyah in - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result

Malaysia, Salafiyyah in

Mohammad Redzuan Othman
Oxford Islamic Studies Online What is This? Online-only content developed by noted scholars is continuously added to the site, part of our ongoing efforts to expand our coverage of the Islamic world.

Malaysia, Salafiyyah in

Beginning from the early years of the twentieth century, Egypt had emerged as a breeding ground for nationalist movements with an Islamic flavor, initiated by the growth of the reformist movement spearheaded by Jamal al-Dn al-Afghan a few decades earlier. Afghan’s Pan-Islamic appeal, however, did not receive any remarkable response in Malaya as compared to the Arab world or the Indian subcontinent, but his reformist thought, which called upon Muslims to carry out necessary internal reforms, deeply influenced the two Arab thinkers Muhammad ʿAbduh (1849–1905) and Rashd Ria (1865–1935), who actually managed to exert a certain degree of influence in Malaya (Malaysia after 1963).

In Malaya this reformist group was known as Kaum Muda (Young Faction) or the Islah group, connected to the present-say Salafiyyah movement. The more conservative ideological and theological opponents of Kaum Muda, who strongly opposed their religious doctrines, were called Kaum Tua (Old Faction). As a better established group, the Kaum Tua, together with the Malay aristocracy and, during the colonial era, whatever administrative backing might be required from the British, managed to check the activity of Kaum Muda. Denied any access to the religious establishments, the Kaum Muda opened modern religious schools and published journals in order to spread their doctrines. It was through these channels that the Kaum Muda disseminated their reformist thought to the general public in their effort to bring about social change.

Reformist Writings.

The first Kaum Muda journal was al-Imam (The Leader, or The Guide). This journal was directly influenced by al-Manar (The Lighthouse) under the editorship of Muammad Rashd Ria. One the most prominent Malays who subscribed to al-Manar right from the start of its publication, and who while in Egypt was befriended by Rashd Ria, was Shaykh Tahir Jalaluddin. Shaykh Tahir began publishing al-Imam on 23 July 1906 (1 Jamada al-Akhir, AH 1324) in Jawi (a Malay form that uses the Arabic alphabet). It continued for thirty-one issues, ceasing publication in December 1908. The thinking of Kaum Muda was clearly presented in al-Imam from the beginning. It examined in particular the writings of Shaykh Tahir Jalaludin, who called upon Malays to purify their religious practices and build a community based on true Islamic teaching.

Even though al-Imam was short-lived, the ideas it promoted continued to live and were taken up by other journals. On 1 April 1911, a journal called al-Munir (Illumination) was founded by several ʿulama’ of Padang, West Sumatra. Under the editorship of Haji Abdullah Ahmad (1878–1933), the journal continued to be published until 1916. Like al-Imam, it was influential and widely circulated among the Muslim intelligentsia in the Malay world, and was strongly influenced by al-Manar. Another journal, Neracha, was published in 1911 under the editorship of Haji Abbas Mohammed Taha, who was also one of the founding members of al-Imam; it, too, published articles taken from al-Manar. When al-Ikhwan was published in 1926, it bore a strong resemblance to al-Imam. Sayyid Shaykh al-Hadi, a Kaum Muda activist and another founding member of al-Imam, promulgated energetically in al-Ikhwan a variety of reformist ideas of the Kaum Muda, which showed a strong influence from al-Manar.

Beginning in the early decades of the twentieth century, westernization in Egypt, which set the country on the road to a political, social, and cultural renaissance, also resulted in progress in its literary life. This progress, in turn, gave a new spirit to the development of Malay literature and was used by the reformists to further the cause of their struggle. This influence led to the publication of the first popular Malay romantic novel, Hikayat Setia Asyik Kepada Masyuknya atau Hikayat Faridah Hanum (The Love Story of Faridah Hanum) by Sayyid Shaykh al-Hadi. This novel was heavily influenced by the Egyptian novel Zainab by Muammad Husayn Haykal. Despite the fact that Hikayat Faridah Hanum deviated totally from the existing religious and traditional Malay literature and was strongly protested by the Kaum Tua, the publication of the novel was considered a success. It received a tremendous response and had a great impact on Kaum Muda’s struggle for progress with regard to women’s emancipation and their role in society.

Education Reform.

The Kaum Muda also used the modern form of religious education known as madrasah education, which was associated with reformist thought, to spread their ideas and bring progress to society. One of the earliest madrasahs associated with reformist thought was Madrasah al-Masriyyah, founded by Mohammed Salleh Masri in Penang in 1906. He established it and became its mudir (principal) after completing his studies at al-Azhar University. He named it Madrasah Masriyyah in honor of Egypt (Mir), since it was from there that the knowledge and curriculum of the madrasah was derived. When the madrasah was opened on 17 March 1906, thirty male students were enrolled. Following the modern Egyptian model, the teaching at the madrasah was a complete departure from the old-style pondok system, dominated by the Kaum Tua, for it taught mathematics, geography, Malay language, logic, and handicrafts in addition to the core subjects of religious knowledge. Since the school curriculum was based on that of Egypt, many of the madrasah’s graduates continued their studies there, with the encouragement of its mudir. They then returned to Malaya to propagate reformist thought.

Another religious school that was established on a similar model soon after Madrasah al-Masriyyah was Madrasah al-Iqbal al-Islamiyyah in Singapore. This madrasah was to have opened on 21 November 1907, but the evidence suggests that it did not actually open until 4 February 1908. To ensure that the madrasah implemented an Egyptian model of modern religious education with the reformist thought, its governing body actually employed an Egyptian, ʿUthman Effendi Rafʿat, as its mudir. These two madrasahs modeled on modern schools in Egypt became the forerunners of many other religious schools throughout Malaya, with the principal aim of introducing modern religious education. Among them were Madrasah al-Hadi in Melaka (1917) and Madrasah al-Mashhor in Penang (1919), both founded by Sayyid Shaykh al-Hadi. Another important madrasah that also followed this model of education was Madrasah Alwiyyah al-Diniyah in Perlis. The medium of instruction in these madrasahs was Arabic, except for instruction in the Malay and English languages, and the subjects taught included religious knowledge, geography, science, art, and mathematics. In principle its curriculum and even the textbooks were obtained from Egypt.

Conflicts of Religious Opinion.

From the 1920s to the end of the 1930s, another important aspect in the development of Malay society was the religious conflict between the Kaum Muda and the Kaum Tua pertaining to the everyday practices of Islam. All over Malaya, in villages where there were madrasahs, suraus (minor mosques), mosques, and public gatherings of any kind, the issues were widely discussed. In several villages public consultations were regularly held to resolve differences between conflicting opinions. This development shows a certain degree of intellectual progress in Malay society, where debates involve both parties setting forth their arguments based on the works of various ulama and religious scholars.

Even though the polemics between the Kaum Muda and the Kaum Tua provided a platform for intellectual discourse, there were occasions when the debate got out of hand, and hot debate over trivial issues caused major splits in the society. For example, in the state of Melacca in the early 1930s there was a religious dispute over the permissibility of the use of a kind of wooden drum (ketuk-ketuk) to call to prayers. Shaykh Hassan Yamani, former mufti of Macca and himself a Kaum Muda leader, gave an opinion that the use of ketuk-ketuk was not permissible since it resembled the bell used by Christian churches. Following an intense controversy between the Kaum Tua and the Kaum Muda, a gathering of ʿulama’ was organized to discuss the matter. The parties agreed to refer the matter to the ʿulama’ of al-Azhar with a picture of the ketuk-ketuk enclosed, so that a fatwa (legal ruling) could be given, which both parties agreed to observe. It is not known whether the ʿulama’ of al-Azhar delivered the fatwa or not, but the decision to refer the matter to Cairo at least managed to calm the tense situation.

In Kelantan in the mid-1930s another controversy arose, sparked by a Dalmatian hound kept by Tengku Ibrahim, the Raja Kelantan, heir apparent and younger brother of the Sultan of Kelantan.. Haji Nik Abdullah (1900–35), a reformist, was called by Tengku Ibrahim to the palace after Haji Nik Abdulla returned from a long educational sojourn in India and Macca. Tengku Ibrahim asked Haji Nik Abdullah about the permissibility of keeping a dog and the status of the human body if it was contaminated by the dog’s saliva.

Haji Nik Abdullah replied that it was indeed permissible to keep a dog for household security. As for the second question, he gave his opinion according to the doctrine of Imam Shafii and Imam Malik by saying that, according to the latter, the body was not obliged to undergo special ritual cleansing, but that, according to the ruling of the former, it was. Since there was a difference between the rulings, in his opinion it was up to the individual to decide. In his view, all the opinions from the four major madhhabs—Hanaf, Hanbal, Malik, and Shafii—could be practiced by the public, based on the principle of talfq, or combination of madhhabs.

The opinion of Nik Abdullah on this issue was contested by several ‘ulama’, including Haji Ibrahim Haji Yusoff (mufti), Haji Ahmad Mahir b. Haji Ismail, Haji Abdullah Tahir Haji Ahmad, and Haji Ahmad Haji Abdul Manan. In their opinion the principle of talfiq could not be applied, since the Malays were Shafii and they should therefore follow this madhhab in all religious issues. The opinion of these conservative ulama was also supported by Tengku Maharani, Tengku Ibrahim’s sister.

The issue became a matter of public disputation in Kota Bharu, but Nik Abdullah died suddenly, shortly thereafter. After his death his opinion was pursued by his father. To settle the issue, Tengku Ibrahim called a public council of debate (majlis muzakarah). The result was inconclusive, since each side held firmly to its opinion, supported by arguments and texts from the Qur’an, hadth, and commentators. The sultan decided to submit the matter to Shaykh Muafa al-Maragh for a fatwa. In the end, Shaykh Mustafa’s opinion was similar to that given by Haji Nik Abdullah.


From the beginning, the goal of the Kaum Muda’s reformist thought was to purify the religious practices of the Malays, not directly to awaken their social and political consciousness. As a result, even during the tense years prior to and immediately after World War I, Malaya was relatively free from serious political troubles. Even though the reformists did not succeed in elaborating a political nationalism with sufficient mass support to threaten colonial rule in Malaya, their ideas did manage to awaken the society to the need to purify its practice of Islam so that it was based on true teaching. The present-day Salafiyyah movement, like the Wahhabis or the Kaum Muda, remains confined to debate on trivial issues of Islamic ritual that many people consider irrelevant.


Books and Articles

  • Abdullah Alwi Haji Hassan. “The Development of Islamic Education in Kelantan.” In Tamadun Islam di Malaysia, edited by Kay Kim Khoo. Kuala Lumpur: Persatuan Sejarah Malaysia, 1980. Find it in your Library
  • Blasdell, Robert Allen. “The Use of the Drum for Mosque Service.” The Moslem World 30, no. 1 (January 1940): 41–45. Find it in your Library
  • Hamka. Ajahku. Riwayat Hidup Dr. Abdul Karim Amrullah dan Perdjuangan Kaum Agama Di Sumatera [My Father: The Life of Dr. Abdul Karim Amrullah and the Struggle of Religious Groups in Sumatra]. 3rd edition. Djakarta: Penerbit Djajamurni, 1967. Find it in your Library
  • Kheng, Cheah Boon. “The Japanese Occupation in Malaya 1941–45: Ibrahim Yaacob and the Struggle for Indonesia Raya.” Indonesia 28 (October 1979): 85–120. Find it in your Library
  • Khoo, Kay Kim. “Perkembangan Pelajaran Agama Islam” [The Development of Islamic Religious Education]. In Pendidikan Ke Arah Perpaduan: Sebuah Perspektif Sejarah [Education toward Unity: A Historical Perspective], edited by Awang Had Salleh. Kuala Lumpur: Penerbit Fajar Bakti, 1980. Find it in your Library
  • Mohammed Raus Md. Sam. “Suara Benar: Akhbar Melayu Yang Pertama Di Melaka (1932)” [Suara Benar: The First Malay Newspaper in Melaka (1932)]. In Warisan Sastera Melaka. Malaysia: Lembaga Bahasa Melayu Melaka, 1984. Find it in your Library
  • Mohammed Sarim Haji Mustajab. “Haji Wan Musa b. Abdul Samad: Ulama Islah di Kota Bharu” [Haji Wan Musa b. Abdul Samad: The Reformist Religious Scholar in Kota Bharu]. Akademika 12 (January 1978): 1–23. Find it in your Library
  • Mohammed Sarim Haji Mustajab. “Islam dan Perkembangannya Dalam Masyarakat Tanah Melayu, 1900–1940an” [Islam and Its Development in Society in Malaya, 1900–1940s). MA thesis, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 1975. Find it in your Library
  • Mohammed Sarim Haji Mustajab. “Neracha 1910–Jun 1915: Penyambung Nafas Islah al-Imam” [Neracha 1910–June 1915: The Continuation of the Reformist Struggle of al-Imam]. Jurnal Budaya Melayu 3, no. 1 (1978): 93–107. Find it in your Library
  • Mohammed Sarim Haji Mustajab. “Syeikh Muhammad Tahir Jalaluddin al-Falaki: Pelopor Gerakan Islah Islamiyyah Tanah Melayu” [Syeikh Muhammad Tahir Jalaluddin al-Falaki: The Pioneer of Reformist Movement in Malaya]. Malaysia in History 20, no. 2 (December 1977): 1–111. Find it in your Library
  • Nik Hasan, Nik Abdul Aziz bin. “Perbahasan Tentang Jilatan Anjing: Suatu Perhatian” [The Debate on the Dog Saliva: An Observation]. Jebat 9 (1979/80): 173–180 Find it in your Library
  • Othman bin Bakar. “Haji Salleh Masri: Pengasas al-Masyriyah Bukit Mertajam” [Haji Salleh Masri: The Founder of al-Masriyyah in Bukit Mertajam]. In Tamadun Islam di Malaysia, edited by Kay Kim Khoo et al. Kuala Lumpur: Persatuan Sejarah Malaysia, 1980. Find it in your Library
  • Rahim bin Osman. “Madrasah Masyhur al-Islamiyyah, Pulau Pinang” [Madrasah Masyhur al-Islamiyyah, Penang]. In Tamadun Islam di Malaysia, edited by Kay Kim Khoo et al. Kuala Lumpur: Persatuan Sejarah Malaysia, 1980. Find it in your Library
  • Roff, William R. Bibliography of Malay and Arabic Periodicals Published in the Straits Settlements and Peninsular Malay States. London: Oxford University Press, 1972. Find it in your Library
  • Roff, William R. “Kaum Muda–Kaum Tua: Innovation and Reaction amongst the Malays 1900–1941.” In Papers on Malayan History, edited by K. G. Tregonning. Singapore: University of Malaya Press, 1962. Find it in your Library
  • Roff, William R. The Origins of Malay Nationalism. Kuala Lumpur: Penerbit Universiti Malaya, 1980. Find it in your Library
  • Roff, William R. “Whence Cometh the Law? Dog Saliva in Kelantan 1937.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 25 (1983): 323–338. Find it in your Library
  • Sakkut, Hamdi. The Egyptian Novel and Its Main Trends from 1913 to 1952. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1971. Find it in your Library
  • Wan Salim, Wan Mohammad Noor. “A Study of the Development of Reformist Ijtihad and Some of Its Applications in the Twentieth Century.” PhD dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 1988.
  • Winstedt. R. O. “Malaysia.” In Islam To-day, edited by A. J. Arberry and Rom Landau. London: Faber and Faber, 1942. Find it in your Library
  • Yahaya Ismail. “Ahmad Talu: Novelis Melayu Yang Pertama” [Ahmad Talu: The First Malay Novelist]. Dewan Bahasa 18, no. 12 (December 1974): 615–655. Find it in your Library


  • al-Hikmah. Vol. 138, no. 4, 1 May 1937. Find it in your Library
  • al-Imam. Vol. 2, no. 3, 9 September 1907. Find it in your Library
  • al-Imam. Vol. 2, no. 8, 4 February 1908. Find it in your Library
  • Suara Benar. Vol. 1, no. 11, 11 November 1932 Find it in your Library
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2020. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice