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In Memoriam: Haji Wan Mohd Shaghir Abdullah

If you are a researcher, or at least have interests, on the study of classical Malay Islam, you will certainly recognize this person, who passed away on the last April 12, 2007, Haji Wan Mohd Shaghir Abdullah. I am awfully sad to hear news about the passing of this figure from my colleague, Annabel Teh Gallop, a few days ago.

Indeed, I do not be familiar with him personally, even I just ever met him once in a Symposium of Archipelago’s Manuscripts, held in Riau and organized by Manassa in 2000. However, I am academically grateful to the late, due to his number of works on Malay manuscripts I continuously consult until now.

The scholarly Malay world should be suffered from a loss of him, since he is one of the best persons who has had great dedication to preserve and promote classical Malay manuscripts. He has spent a lifetime (since he was 12 years old, according to information here) compiling information and works written by Malay Muslim scholars (Ulama) since the sixteenth century.

The late Wan Mohd Shagir published a number of full-length biographies (of Arshad al-Banjari, Dawud al-Fatani, Ahmad b. M. Zain al-Patani, Ismail al-Minangkabawi), several books with compilations of shorter bio-bibliographical essays, and a series of such essays in the Jurnal Dewan Bahasa (Kuala Lumpur, 1990), please see here.

His two published books, entitled Khazanah Pustaka Asia Tenggara I and II (1991), contain the intellectual works of Malay Ulama, such as Hamzah Fansuri, Shams al-Din al-Sumatra’i, Nuruddin al-Raniri, and Abdurrauf Ali al-Jawi. He also specifically edited and published a number of Malay works by authors from Patani, giving special emphasis to his maternal grandfather Shaikh Ahmad b. M. Zain al-Fatani. All these books are published by Khazanah Fathaniah.

In addition, his works, that perhaps reach more than 100 books and articles, include not only the works of already well-known Malay Ulama, but also those of local one, which at the some extent are slipped away from the scholarly attention.

In line with his widely local manuscript-based knowledge, the late was never doubt to criticize an assumption by any scholars regarding his field on Islamic Malay works, if he feels it contains misinformation. Azyumardi Azra is one of the ever criticized scholars regarding some statements in his thesis on the Networks of Malay-Indonesian and Middle Eastern ‘Ulama’ in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century.

It is indeed, as Martin van Bruinessen suggested here, so his works do not measure up to present standards of critical scholarship and have to be used cautiously, but they present much material that is not easily accessible elsewhere.

It is important to note that Wan Mohd Shaghir’s books mention and describe as well the works by recently Malay Ulama in the twentieth century. The twelve-volume series entitled Penyebaran Islam & Silsilah Ulama Sejagat Dunia Melayu (1999-2001) are one of his most important compilations in this matter. Thanks to efforts by Muhammad Fakhrul Razi through his blog on Ulama Nusantara, most of Wan Shaghir’s articles could be accessed online currently.

Actually, in the end of last year 2006, the scholarly world of Malay manuscript was loss of another figure, who has had dedication and great contribution to preserve the Malay manuscripts, namely Abu Dahlan al-Baghdady al- Fairussy, the Keeper of thousands manuscripts in Dayah Tanoh Abee Aceh (see here).

The late Abu Dahlan did not write books and articles as much as Wan Mohd Shaghir Abdullah did, except his collaborated catalogues, respectively with Wamad Abdullah, Katalog Manuskrip Perpustakaan Pesantren Tanoh Abèe, Aceh Besar, Buku I (1980), and Katalog Manuskrip Perpustakaan Pesantren Tanoh Abeè, Aceh Besar, Buku II (1993) with Zunaimar, but his contribution to collect the scattered manuscripts among Aceh people, especially his families, is highly priceless, instead.

At present, thanks to the initiatives by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM) UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta, in collaboration with the Center for the Study of Education and Society (PKPM) Aceh, and fully financially supported by the CER Prince Claus Fund, the Netherlands, Dayah Tanoh Abee is going to have a library to preserve thousands of their Malay manuscripts well (see here).

Finally, we have to thank to the late Haji Wan Mohd Shaghir Abdullah, and also the late Abu Dahlan, for his invaluable dedication to safeguard our cultural heritages. May their soul rest in peace, ameen.

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