zondag 18 januari 2015

Sayyid Uthman

Among the 19th century Muslims of Indonesia, Sayyid Uthman (1822-1914) is definitely an important figure. He wrote and published many popular pamphlets and books with his lithographical press in Batavia. He was born in Batavia, studied and travelled in the Middle East (Mecca, Hadramaut, also in Egypt (Damietta), Istanbul, Jerusalem, between 1841-1862. From the 1860s on he was as an author and publisher of religious pamphlets and more serious books. He worked close with three Dutch scholars: Karel Frederik Holle, L.W.C. van den Berg and finally Snouck Hurgronje. After Snouck left the Indies, he remained close to the Kantor Agama, the Malay name for the Office of the Advisor of Native Affairs. On 13 March 1913 he held a uite positive speech at a meeting of Sarekat Islam, the nationalist organization. Before he had been very critical of all Reformists: Muhammad 'Abduh and Rashid Rida in Egypte and also the Indonesian Muhammadiyah.
Nico Kaptein has been working for many years on this prominent Muslim leader of Indonesia and published late last year a biography of the man.The book starts with two Malay biographies of Sayid Uthman between his death and 1924, one in poetry (a Malay syair) and one in prose. In a second part of the book Kaptein gives a biography from Dutch sources and from hiw own writings. The analysis of the writings is a very important part of this book (Islam, Colonialism and the New Age in the Netherlands East Indies. A Biography of Sayyid 'Uthman, 1822-1923, Leiden: Brill, 2014).
Last week I visited the exhibition that was prepared on this important figure, with explanations by Nico Kaptein himself.
One of the most astonishing objects of the exhibition is the stone used for lithography: a quite big stone is covered with fat, then the text or the drawings are put in the fat in mirror writing. Ink is put in the empty places and so page after page can be printed. It is a quite time consuming, but also difficult job, because of the very fine lines. If we see the personal character of the writing, the fine lines in the decorations we are astonished to see how this simple technology can create such refined results. Our generation, writing on computers, has much easier technology for the texts!
The exhibition showed some more special objects. One was a photograph of the office of the Dutch consul in Jeddah where Agus Salim was the secretary. On the picture below he is on the extreme left behind the table, still a young man. The Indonesian pilgrims had to show their passport in order to receive a stamp from the consul (and of course to pay for this service!)
Sayid Uthman was not a reformist. He was a staunch defender of what he considered as orthodoxy, but in a realistic way. He did not support any idea of a Holy War against colonialism, as long as freedom of religion was guarenteed, mosques could be built, prayers said, Ramadan observed and the Hajj could be performed in a proper way. Some modernizations were supported by him. He would be astonished to see in Indonesia now so many Friday services in so many places. He defended to right of one mosque in one place and became involved in several conflicts over new mosques who also wanted to offer Friday prayers, including the regular sermon. As to some modern devices he was lenient. He did not forbid to listen to a phonographic recording of the Qur'an, although it did not give the same reward as listening to a live recital. He also allowed prayers for the Dutch Queen and even composed  a prayer at the occasion of the coronation of Queen Wilhelmina in 1898.
There is some kind of a dynasty of ther learned Sayid. The exhibition has a decorated and coloured poem at the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the rule of the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina in 1923.
His grave is still honoured by members of his family in Jatinegara. But now there is also the academic book, published by the Leiden scholar Kaptein with many new details of the long and eventful life of this traditional scholar.

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