(Muhammad Basyuni b. Muhammad `Imran, Sambas, West Borneo, 1885-1953)

[Dictionnaire biographique des savants et grandes figures du monde musulman périphérique, du XIXe siècle à nos jours, Fasc. no 1. Paris: CNRS-EHESS, 1992, p.26]


Basyuni `Imran was the last Maharaja Imam (highest religious official) of the Malay sultanate of Sambas in West Borneo and as such part of the traditional religious establishment. At the same time however he was a convinced reformist and probably Rashid Rida's most prominent and devoted disciple in the Archipelago.

Basyuni was born into a family of `ulama that had long held official positions at the Sambas court; his father Muhammad `Imran was the then Maharaja Imam and as such the head of a modest religious hierarchy. He went to a colonial secular primary school (volksschool) and received his first religious education (Qur'anic recital and Arabic language) from his father. At the age of seventeen his father sent him to Mecca to pursue further studies. He first studied there Arabic grammar and fiqh, as most Jawi students did, with Malay teachers: `Umar al-Sumbawi, `Uthman al-Sarawaki (al-Puntiani) and the well-known Ahmad Khatib Minangkabau. Later he studied various other sciences (logic, usul al-fiqh, hadith, tafsir and doctrine) with the learned Arab scholar `Ali al-Maliki. In 1906, after almost five years, he returned to Sambas. Here he subscribed to the Egyptian reformist journal Al-Manar and began a correspondence with its editor, Rashid Rida. Strongly attracted to Egyptian modernist thought, he wished to continue his studies  at the source and left in 1910 for Egypt. He enrolled at al-Azhar and at Rashid Rida's newly established madrasa Dar al-da`wa wa al-irshad, and became apparently quite close to the master.

In 1913 he was called back to Sambas because his father was dying; later that year he succeeded M. `Imran as the Maharaja Imam. Besides his official functions of qadi and mufti he also took his tasks as a teacher seriously. He gave weekly public lessons in tafsir and doctrine (Rashid Rida's favourite subjects) in the chief Friday mosque and various other mosques, and in 1916 established a modern madrasa, the Madrasa Sultaniyya. This school was entirely financed by the sultan. It differed from most other Indonesian madrasa of the time in that the curriculum consisted of religious subjects only and instruction was not in the vernacular but in Arabic.

Basyuni never had the opportunity to go back to Egypt but continued corresponding with Rashid Rida, whose opinion he asked on many subjects. One of his questions to Al-Manar, on the reason why the Muslim nations stagnated while the others experienced rapid progress, prompted Shakib Arslan to write his well-known Li-madha ta'akhkhara al-muslimun wa li-madha taqaddama ghayruhum.

Basyuni translated two of Rashid Rida's works into Malay (an abbreviation of his biography of Muhammad and a selection of his lessons on doctrine) and wrote seven other Malay and two Arabic works. One of the latter, Al-nusus wa al-barahin `ala iqama al-jum`a bi-ma duna al-arba`in, was published at the Al-Manar press in Cairo in 1925, at the instigation of the master himself; the others were printed in Pinang and Singapore. (A complete list of titles in Pijper 1977 p 138-40). Most are relatively simple works but all reflect his reformist attitude. In the preface to his book on a thoroughly traditional subject as the Mi`raj (Nur al-siraj fi qissa al-isra` wa al-mi`raj), for instance, he states that he wrote this work to correct existing religious practices. In Borneo the 27th of Rajab was usually celebrated with dubious stories about other prophets besides Muhammad; Basyuni offers here the story as based on the most authentic hadith. The said work Al-nusus wa al-barahin discusses a subject of local relevance. In many Friday mosques in Sambas the number of worshippers did not reach the forty required to make the Friday prayer valid according to the traditional view of the Shafi`i madhhab, so that it was not held at all. Basyuni, reviewing a wide range of earlier fiqh works and hadith, concludes that there are sufficient reasons to accept the validity of the Friday prayer with a smaller number of participants.

Basyuni `Imran reputedly took active part in the Indonesian Muslim political organisation Masyumi (established in 1943 and turned into a political party after 1945) but never achieved national renown, although he was highly respected by the national-level `ulama who knew him. After independence, the sultanate of Sambas lost the relative autonomy it had enjoyed under the Dutch. The Madrasa Sultaniyya was discontinued with the death of the last sultan; when Basyuni himself died in 1953, no one succeeded to the office of Maharaja Imam. None of his students achieved a stature similar to his, and Sambas became again an intellectual backwater.

Shakib Arslan, Li-madha ta'akhkhara al-muslimun wa li-madha taqaddama ghayruhum (Cairo: Matba`a al-Manar, 1349/1930-1);
Abubakar Atjeh, "Kebangkitan dunia baru Islam di Indonesia", postscript to Lothrop Stoddard, Dunia baru Islam (Jakarta: Panitia Penerbit, 1966), 295-332, esp 318;
G.F. Pijper, Studiën over de geschiedenis van de Islam in Indonesia 1900-1950 (Leiden: Brill, 1977), p 134-141.

[Martin van Bruinessen]