Haba’ib in Southeast Asia: A Review

Ismail Fajri Alatas, “Habaib in
South East Asia” in The Encyclopedia of Islam Volume III edited by Kate Fleet,
et all., Leiden : Brill, 2018.
A subtitle, “Habaib in Southeast
Asia” authored by Ismail Fajri al Attas published in The Encyclopedia of Islam
Volume III gives a concise description on the origin and role transformation of
the Habaib in Southeast Asia. In this piece, the author draws the earliest
interaction of Habaib in the region was as early as the 15th up to the present
times. Although the writing of this work is meant as a general reading, it is
essential to note that the writer omitted Aceh’s role on the development of the
Habaib position in this region which had been seen as inadequately narrated in
numerous academic scholarly fields.
It begins with explanation on the
terminology of the words and genealogy. The author stated that ‘Habib’ is an
awarded label of honor by the indigenous Southeast Asia Muslims to prophet
descendant traced their lineage to Ahmad bin Isa, the grand grandson of the
prophet Muhammad SAW who emigrated from Basra to Hadhramawt in Southern Arabia
in the 10th century, in which later they pioneered numerous religious and
political establishments. One of them is in Sufism field where Tariqat
al-Alawiyyah flourished and spread to Southeast Asia which persisted till the
very present time. In these 4 pages narratives, Prof Alatas mentioned that the
community was the earliest known Muslim missionaries in Southeast Asia, traced
their existence to the 15th century period. Yes, their origin in this area is
pretty much debatable that one of the arguments indeed relates evidences of
their existence as early as 11th century, appointing to inhibition of Lamuri, a
long lost area once situated in the Northern part of Sumatra.
In the coming centuries, their
roles, as convincingly enumerated through numerous coherent primary evidences
such as graveyards, letters and manuscripts, were evolved from being merchants
and jurists to royal advisers and even as Sultan. On the last particular
position, the author skipped the fact that the Habaib firstly gained such
domination of political authority from activities in Aceh where within the
latter’s internal conflict and political disintegration opened up opportunities
for non-indigenous figures such as one from the Habaib community to act in
power of sovereignty over its territory. Although insecurities in the area
continued to last even after the election of the highly claim spiritual
Hadhrami figure known as Jamal al-Lail, his generations dominated crucial
functions in the royal courts up to the 19th century. The election of the first
Arab Sultan occurred in the very dawn of 18th century in Aceh, long before they
were known to lead royal position in other places in Malay Peninsula.
Although narratives on their
presence during the colonial period has been discussed briefly, It is
mesmerizing to learn that the writer ignored mentioning that colonization was
the reason behind the reduction of the role of these Hadhramis where they
either become an agent to the ruling colonial or to the rebelling indigenous
master, beside a handful of others were wealthy enough to be advisers to either
one of the two rules. Well, not to mention how the situation was worsen by numerous
fashioning ideologies emerged at that moment which affected the fluidity of
their mobilization across the straits. All these statements drawn through the
role of the Habaib in Aceh during colonization period that lasted more than 40
years since the Dutch unpredictable defeat in 1873.
Despite missing the direction
towards this essential turn of event, it is only logical for the writer to
insert ideas on fragmentation based on the infamous bifurcation development
among themselves which occurred at the end of the 19th century. Here, the
writer believes that the conflict was the result of disagreement on the
colonial ethic policy and so-called modernity achievement. The writer continues
saying that fragmentation among them was even deeper, reflected from internal
clashes within institutions and social organizations divided by differences of
ideology and masses in the 20th century. Although some of them incorporated
actively into the civilian mass movement during and after the independence
period where numerous names from the Habib origins later appeared as taking
ministry positions in Indonesian parliament, this did not stopped the
fragilities between them reflected from participation of some other groups in
the social mobilization organizations where religious purification lays as the
basis of its foundation and movement.
Despites understanding that this
work is authored as an extremely precise reading based on interpretation
through written documents of numerous secondary sources, I can’t help but see
that the missing of narratives on Aceh is important to address. Although the
author mentions on the lack of documentation evidence, the realities that found
through the available evidences encourages the significance of Aceh as the
stepping stone where these Habaib gained increasing prestigious role. And more
important it is to think that perhaps due to this inadequate given attention,
scholarly studies on the Arabs in Aceh remains absent from mainstream
historical literatures.




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