The Ar-Raudah mosque in Pekojan. Part II: The Ba’Alawi sada sayids and the syekhs

This pleasant tempo dulu house belongs to the family of Sayid Abdurachman bin Muhammad Alatas on Jl Pengukiran no 9 in Pekojan; one of the few houses still remaining in the old style of Kampung Arab Pekojan. He was a cousin of former foreign minister Ali Alatas. Photo credit: Andi Muhammad Hamdis/IO

IO – The Musyolah Ar-Raudah is a small mosque located in the Pekojan quarter of Jakarta, just outside what would once have been the intramuros area of the Old Town of Batavia. In the beginning it was inhabited by Indian Muslims mainly originating from the Coast of Coromandel in eastern south India and Malabar in western south India. They were brought to Batavia by the VOC as slaves in the 17th century and were known as the “Koja” which refers to Indian Muslims. It is from here that the name Pekojan derives. Two of the mosques in Pekojan namely, Masjid Al-Anshor and Masjid Kampung Baru were originally built by them.

Shanum Al Hadi from Gang 3, Jl Pekojan I has a kajal or black circle painted on her forehead to ward off the evil eye which is a practice in some Middle Eastern countries. Photo credit: Andi Muhammad Hamdis/IO

By the 19th century however, the Indians of Pekojan had frequently intermarried with the local population and begun to assimilate with them. Taufik Abdul Aziz whose family has lived for four generations in Pekojan says that there is still one Muslim Indian family living in Perkojan today, that he knows of. That is the family of Ahab bin Rais who was one of the caretakers or guardians of Masjid Kampung Baru. He has since passed away but his descendants still live in Pekojan. Besides the Indians, a number of Chinese also settled in Pekojan which is why there are also several interesting Chinese temples there. In the past there were also Armenians living in Pekojan but apparently, they have moved away.

Syekh Taufik Abdul Aziz together with Abdul Aziz bin Yahya Basyaib, whose wife is the head of the RT or neighbourhood on Gang 3 near Musyolah Ar-Raudah. Photo credit: Andi Muhammad Hamdis/IO

It was mainly during the 19th century that more Arabs began to settle in Pekojan and slowly replace the Indian Muslims in number. Syekh Taufik Abdul Aziz estimates that today in 2022, there are still about 75 houses with Arab households in Pekojan. These are mainly located in RW (rukun warga or district) 1, 2 and 3. One nicely preserved house in an Indies style that was popular at the beginning of the 20th century (although the house itself may be older than that) is the house on Jalan Pengukiran no 9 which belonged to Sayid Abdurachman bin Muhammad Alatas. He was a cousin of one of Indonesia’s most esteemed diplomats, Ali Alatas who served as Indonesia’s foreign minister from 1988 till 1999.

In the past Pekojan was referred to as Kampung Arab Pekojan or the ‘Arab Village of Pekojan’. It has many old mosques established by prominent Arab families from the 19th century including the charming little Musyolah Ar-Raudah Shihabudin. Taufik Abdul Aziz’s brother still trades in goats and cows not far from the Jembatan Kambing or Goat’s Bridge where the goat traders used to congregate and there are also still little shops selling perfumes and oils, tasbih prayer beads and other souvenirs from the Middle East. Before COVID, there was one small restaurant run by Ibu Masturah Assegaf serving Middle Eastern food. Hopefully, she will open it again as COVID slowly recedes.

The late Saleh bin Umar Al Amri, a goat trader in Pekojan near the Jembatan Kambing. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

In the 19th century it was not easy being an Arab in Batavia (or any other foreign Oriental such as Chinese or Indian for that matter) for if one wanted to go out of town one had to have a travel pass issued by the Kapitan Arab (or the Kapitan Cina etc). These functioned a little like visas. On them had to be stated exactly where the bearer was travelling or his destination, and all the towns where he would stop  along the way and how long he intended to stop at each town or village; also how long he would be staying at his final destination. Taufik Abdul Aziz explained that after a month the Kapitan Arab would check to see if the traveler had returned and if he had not then someone would be sent out to find him and ensure that he returned to Batavia. In this fashion the Dutch very much limited freedom of travel outside of Batavia.

It was not only travel but also residence that was limited and Arabs like other Vreemde Osterlinge or Foreign Orientals as they were referred to had to live in special Arab quarters and were not allowed to simply live with the general population. Pekojan was the first such quarter for Arabs and other foreign Muslims, in Batavia. It was only in 1914 that the system of passes for Arabs in Pekojan (and most of Java) was abolished and the system of having to live in special quarters was finally repealed in 1919. This was after much protest from the Arabs. They even obtained the support of the Ottoman Sultan who claimed rule over Hadramaut and referred to himself as ‘the protector of all Muslims’. In 1873, members of the Arab community in Pekojan sent a petition to him protesting their treatment in Netherlands Indies. After 1883 there was a Turkish Consul in Batavia and they brought their complaints to him. His house was what is now the Jakarta Textile Museum and apparently, the Turkish consuls were always happy to take up the cause and advocate for the Arabs to the Netherlands Indies government.

Permit for Taufik Abdul Aziz’s father, Salim Abdul Aziz to slaughter and sell goats as a goat trader, from the Pekojan Slaughter House in 1951. Photo courtesy of Taufik Abdul Aziz

Now a little about the Arab families living in Pekojan. There are many Arab families with prominent and distinguished lineages still living there. Most of the Arabs of Pekojan (in fact in Indonesia in general) either came to Indonesia from Hadramaut in Yemen or their ancestors did. They may be divided into two main categories or groups.  One group are the Arabs who originally came to Indonesia from Hadramaut or from Saudi Arabia or other Middle Eastern countries or India who are not descended from the Prophet Muhamad. They frequently use the title sheik or syekh. Taufik Abdul Aziz’s family has lived for four generations in Pekojan and they belong to this category. His great grandfather Hamud bin Salim bin Abdul Aziz who arrived in Batavia from Hadramaut in 1825, was not a descendant of the Prophet.

Abu Sultan, a Pekojan goat trader supplies goats for every occasion: weddings, circumcision ceremonies, Aqiqah ceremonies after the birth of a child, Lebaran Haji etc. He is a cousin of Taufik Abdul Aziz. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

Habib Ali Yahya is a researcher at Mahiya  or Majelis Hikmah Alawiyah or the ‘Assembly for Alawiyah Wisdom’. Mahiya which also means ‘the essence’ is a foundation which houses an Islamic library and supports research, writing, publications, talks, seminars and conferences on Islamic history and thought specifically of the Thariqah Alawiyah.

In his book Menyusuri Jejak Cinta or ‘Following in the Footsteps of Love’ (written under the pseudonym Abu Muhsin).  Ali Yahya explains the second group of Arabs in Indonesia and therefore also in Pekojan namely, those Arabs descended from the Prophet Muhamad through his son-in-law Ali bin Abu Thalib who was married to the Prophet’s daughter Fatimah. They carry the title habib (which means ‘the most beloved’) or sayid or syarif (for a woman the title is habiba or syarifah). They are known as the Ba ‘Alawi sada. Ali bin Abu Thalib and Fatimah had twins, Husein and Hasan. Those descended through the lines of Husein are usually given the title of sayid whereas those descended through the line of Hasan are usually given the title syarif. However, this is not a fast rule.

One of the few old house still left in on Jl Pekojan Mesjid, Gang 5 no 1 in Pekojan. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

While in many Middle Eastern countries, the title sayid is more popularly used than habib, in Indonesia where the Alawiyin were deeply respected and loved the title habib is more commonly used for the descendants of Muhamad, than the titles sayid and syarif. Due to the deep respect and regard with which the Alawiyin were held, they were frequently able to marry into the local Indonesian aristocracy who wanted to have descent from the Prophet included in their family trees. We see this happening in Pontianak for example, where the founder of the Al-Kadrie ruling dynasty, Sultan Sjarief Abdurrahman al-Kadrie married the daughter of the Buginese Raja of Mempawah, Daeng Manamban. Her name was Princess Utin Candramidi. In Aceh, an Arab of sayid descent, Badr ul-Alam Syarif Hasyim Jamaluddin took over as the ruler of Aceh after the last queen, Inayat Zakiatuddin Kamalat Syah was said to have received a fatwa from Mecca providing that under Islamic law a woman could not be a ruler. Badr ul-Alam Syarif Hasyim Jamaluddin is thought to have married her. In the Sultanate of Siak Sri Indrapura, the daughter of the fourth sultan married a Hadrami of the Ba ‘Alawi sada. One sees the same in Malaysia where the House of Jamalullail of Perlis is descended from the Ba ‘Alawi sada. In the 16th century several north coast Islamic trading states were established in Java with rulers of Arab descent.

Fathmah binti Abdurrachman Baktsir (centre with child on lap) owned the house at Jl Mesjid Pekojan Gang 5 no 1. Her descendants still live there.

In Indonesia most of the habibs are descendants of Imam Sayid Ahmad Al-Muhajir bin Isa al-Rumi who was the originator of the Ba ‘Alawi sada. Ba is from the Hadrami word bani meaning ‘descendants of’ and the word sada is the plural of ‘sayid’. The Ba ‘Alawi sada are in fact the Hadrami sayid families who trace their lineage to Ahmad Al-Muhajir and his first grandson born in Hadramaut, Imam Sayid Alawi bin Ubaidillah bin Ahmad al-Muhajir. This is why they are referred to as the Alawiyin. They are also referred to as the sada. There are also descendants of the Prophet Muhamad who did not go to Hadramaut or who are descended through the Prophet’s grandson Hasan, but they did not tend to immigrate to Indonesia.

Ibu Fathmah Baktsir’s house in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of Taufik Abdul Aziz.

Imam Sayid Ahmad Al-Muhajir bin Isa al-Rumi was born in 873 in Basrah, Iraq and traced his descent from the Prophet Muhamad through the Prophet’s grandson Husein. Prof. Ismail Fajrie Alatas of New York University who lectures in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies explained that al-Muhajir means ‘the Migrant’. At the time, the Abassid Caliphate which centered in Iraq, was in decline with much political turmoil. Consequently, Al-Muhajir moved first to Madinah and then to Mecca however there, there were the Qaramatian rebellions and so finally, he moved to the Hadramaut where he eventually died. When Al-Muhajir moved to Hadramaut, he brought his wealth with him and invested it in reviving fallow land. This was not inexpensive as it took about 15 years for such land to recover and become fertile again with date plantations. Eventually however, he and his descendants became wealthy landowners in Hadramaut.

Old Arab house in Pekojan originally belonging to Syeikh Sa’id bin Awab Baya’sut. His descendants sold it to a Chinese merchant. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

In Hadramaut the valley where Al-Muhajir settled, was divided into tribal territories and there were also political problems with conflicts and disputes between the tribal peoples. Prof Alatas remarked that Al-Muhajir and his descendants tried to act as arbitrators amongst the tribes and create a strong and stable state but never really succeeded in doing so. This may be why many of Al-Muhajir’s descendants (as well as other Hadrami) looked for a life elsewhere and began to travel and immigrate to other lands.

The coast of Hadramaut is one of the major trade routes of the Middle East and so Al-Muhajir’s descendants were also traders. As Huub de Jong writes in his paper ‘Dutch Colonial Policy Pertaining to Hadrami Immigrants’ they went in search of ‘the ring of the Prophet Solomon’ which means hey went to seek their fortunes. However, as descendants of the Prophet they were very well versed in Islam and also went as scholars and preachers. It was in these two roles as traders and preachers that they went overseas and spread Islam to Africa, India and Southeast Asia.

The clan of Syekh Sa’id bin Awab Baya’sut in the 1960s. The women are wearing the Indonesian national costume: the sarong and kebaya. Photo courtesy of Taufik Abdul Aziz.

In Southeast Asia, they mainly went to Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei and a few went to Singapore, the South Philippines and Thailand. Tradition claims that several of the Nine Saints of Java or Wali Sanga were descendants of Al-Muhajir and his grandson Alawi bin Ubaidillah bin Ahmad al-Muhajir and that they were the ones who brought Islam to the Hindu and Buddhist kings of Java.

Charming interior of Baya’sut house in Pekojan area. Now an office and storehouse. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

Ahmad bin Isa al Muhajir died in 956 CE in the village of Husaisah in Yemen, which is located between the towns of Tarim and Seiyun. At Husaisah his shrine is located on a hill and it is usually the first shrine that pilgrims visit. There is some controversy about which creed he followed. Most Islamic scholars say that he maintained the Sunni Creed in the fiqh school of Shafi’i. Al-Muhajir was a Sufi and the Ba ‘Alawi tariqa is a sufi order founded by his descendant, Muhammad al-Faqih al-Muqaddam and closely tied to the Ba ‘Alawi sada.

Prof. Ismail Fajrie Alatas says that Sufis see beauty in everything and infuse Islam with local customs. He describes Sufi paths as fundamentally teaching purification of the soul. “Sufism compliments Islamic law which teaches the exterior matters such as how to pray, what to recite, how to perform ablutions; all the things you should do so that your prayers are deemed correct. Sufism deals with things of the interior such as focusing on God, guarding the heart from envy and pride – all the diseases of the soul. So, Sufism compliments Islamic Law.” (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

An old fashioned petrol station on Jl Pengukiran, Pekojan. Photo credit: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO

If you enjoyed this article you may like to read more about the Ar-Raudah mosque by the same writer in:
Part I: