Abdullah Abdul Kadir

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Abdullah Abdul Kadir
A page of the Hikayat Abdullah written in Malay in the Jawi script, from the collection of the National Library of Singapore. A rare first edition, it was written between 1840 and 1843, printed by lithography, and published in 1849.
A page of the Hikayat Abdullah written in Malay in the Jawi script, from the collection of the National Library of Singapore. A rare first edition, it was written between 1840 and 1843, printed by lithography, and published in 1849.
BornAbdullah bin Abdul Kadir
Died1854 (aged 57–58)[1]
Jeddah, Ottoman Empire
OccupationAuthor, translator and teacher
Period19th century
SubjectEarly Malay history

Abdullah bin Abdul al Kadir (1796–1854)[1] (Arabic: عبد الله بن عبد القادر 'Abd Allāh bin 'Abd al-Qādir) also known as Munshi Abdullah, was a Malayan writer. He was a famous Malacca-born munshi of Singapore[2] and died in Jeddah, a part of the Ottoman Empire.

Munshi Abdullah has been popularly regarded as among the most cultured Malays who ever wrote,[2] one of the greatest innovators in Malay letters[3] and the father of modern Malay literature.[4]

The term Munshi means "teacher" or "educator". Munshi Abdullah was a great-grandson of a Hadhrami Arab trader,[5] and also had Indian Tamil and to a smaller extent, Malay ancestry.[6] Owing to his ethnic and religious background, the Malays would refer to him as a Jawi Peranakan or Jawi Pekan.

Munshi Abdullah followed his father's career path as a translator and teacher of colonial officials in the Malay Archipelago, mainly the British and the Dutch.

J.T. Thomson, a contemporary of Abdullah, described him thus: "In physiognomy he was a Tamilian of southern Hindustan: slightly bent forward, spare, energetic, bronze in complexion, oval-faced, high-nosed, one eye squinting outwards a little. He dressed in the usual style of Malacca Tamils. Acheen seluar, check sarong, printed baju, square skull cap and sandals. He had the vigour and pride of the Arab, the perseverance and subtlety of the Hindoo - in language and national sympathy only was he a Malay."[7]


Munshi Abdullah was born in Kampung Pali (now renamed as Kampung Ketek) in Malacca City, from parents of Tamil and Yemeni descent.[1] He was the youngest of five sons. All of his brothers died in infancy.[8] He was sick most of the time and his mother took great care of him. As per the customary practices of the Malay community of that period, he was taken care of by various individuals as it was held that a child with poor immunity to diseases should be cared for by caretakers other than his or her biological parents. Munshi Abdullah was critical of the practice, as described in Hikayat Abdullah.[9] He became a teacher or munshi, first by teaching Malay to the Indian soldiers of the Malacca Garrison. He then taught the Malay language to British and American missionaries and businessmen. He became a functionary in the Straits Settlements next. He became a scribe and copyist for Sir Stamford Raffles, followed by, in 1815, becoming translator of the Gospels and other text for the London Missionary Society.[1] He also worked with the American Board of Missions.[1]

Abdullah set sail for Mecca from Singapore in 1854 with the intention of completing the Hajj pilgrimage. He died of cholera shortly after his arrival in Mecca and before he could complete his pilgrimage, some time between May 8 and 18, 1854.[10] He was 59 years old at the time of his death. The Kisah pelayaran Abdullah dari Singapura sampai ke Mekah (The story of Abdulllah's voyage from Singapore to Mecca), one of Abdullah's lesser-known works, records his experiences on the journey to Mecca. There is some controversy over the exact time and location of his death, with some scholars arguing that he died in Jeddah in October 1854 at the age of 58, before reaching Mecca.[11][12]


His writing career took off after a missionary, Alfred North,[13] encouraged him to write an autobiography after reading Abdullah's account of a voyage along the east coast of Malaya.[1] His most important works are the Hikayat Abdullah (an autobiography), Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Kelantan (an account of his trip for the government to Kelantan), and Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Mekah (a narrative of his pilgrimage to Mecca 1854). His work was an inspiration to future generations of writers and marks an early stage in the transition from classical Malay literature to modern Malay literature.[3]

Hikayat Abdullah was the major literary work of Munshi Abdullah. It was completed in 1843[1] and first published in 1849,[14] making it one of the first Malay literary texts to be published commercially. Abdullah's authorship was prominently displayed in this text and the contents were conveyed in simple, contemporary Malay. Unlike typical classical Malay literary works that contain fantasies and legendary stories, Abdullah's work was realistic.[15] The book remains a reliable and accurate reference on early Malay history to this day.

Abdullah was known as an ardent critic of the Malay political system of Kerajaan ("kingship"). His work, Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Kelantan contained his advice to Malay rulers and comparisons he made between the British system of governing and that of Malay rulers.[16]

Abdullah argued that the system of Kerajaan was detrimental to the Malay individual, as it was an impediment to the social improvement of the Malays. The Malay Sultan was deemed to be someone who was selfish, with no concern toward his subjects, to the extent they were treated like animals rather than humans.

The idea of modernity and striving for excellence within the Malay community stemmed from his ideas and stinging criticisms of the ancient Malay polity of the Kerajaan. Under the Kerajaan, the Malays were deprived of education and hence they were easily oppressed. Without education, they did not have the ability to question the injustice meted out to them and could not take the initiative to institute changes to improve their lives.

Although the condemnation may be exaggerated, Munshi Abdullah's allegations were not without basis. He is regarded by many to be the first Malayan journalist, taking Malay literature out of its preoccupation with folk-stories and legends into accurate historical descriptions.


A statue of him was erected alongside several local Singaporean figures in Raffles' Landing near the Singapore River to commemorate the bicentennial establishing of modern Singapore in 2019.[17][18]

Places named after him[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Hoiberg, Dale H., ed. (2010). "Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. I: A-ak Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, Illinois: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. pp. 23. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8.
  2. ^ a b James N. Sneddon (2003). The Indonesian language: its history and role in modern society. Australia: University of New South Wales Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-86840-598-8.
  3. ^ World and Its Peoples: Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Brunei. New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation. 2008. p. 1218.
  4. ^ Emily Hahn (2007). Raffles of Singapore – A Biography. READ BOOKS. p. 124. ISBN 978-1-4067-4810-9.
  5. ^ Ainslie Thomas Embree (1988). Encyclopedia of Asian History. Macmillan Publishers. pp. 6. ISBN 978-0-684-18619-1.
  6. ^ bin Abdul Kadir, Abdullah (1986). The Autobiography of Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir (1797-1854). Translated by Hill, A.H. Singapore: Oxford University Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0195826265.
  7. ^ The Autobiography of Munshi Abdullah
  8. ^ Hikayat Abdullah
  9. ^ Ché-Ross, Raimy (2000). "Munshi Abdullah's Voyage to Mecca: a preliminary introduction and annotated translation". Indonesia and the Malay World. 28 (81): 182. doi:10.1080/713672763. S2CID 162579224.
  10. ^ A. Wahab Ali (2004). Tradisi Pembentukan Sastera Melayu Moden. Penerbit Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris. p. 82. ISBN 978-983-2620-32-7.
  11. ^ Khair Abdul Salam & Zulkifli Khair (2007). Cerita-cerita motivasi untuk ibadah haji dan umrah. Pts publications. p. 86. ISBN 978-983-3372-46-1.
  12. ^ "Alfred North | American missionary". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  13. ^ L. F. Brakel; M. Balfas; M. Taib Bin Osman; J. Gonda; B. Rangkuti; B. Lumbera; H. Kahler (1997). Literaturen (Asian Studies). Brill Academic Publishers. p. 143 & 144. ISBN 978-90-04-04331-2.
  14. ^ Keat Gin Ooi (2004). Southeast Asia: a historical encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-57607-770-2.
  15. ^ Siti 68-517-5 (2010). Malay Literature of the 19th Century. Institut Terjemahan Negara Malaysia. p. 116.
  16. ^ "Sang Nila Utama, pioneers join Stamford Raffles along Singapore River". Channel NewsAsia. 6 January 2019. Archived from the original on 4 January 2019.
  17. ^ "4 arca baru hiasi tepian Sungai S'pura bagi memperingati tokoh-tokoh pembangunan negara" (in Malay). Berita Mediacorp. 1 April 2019. Retrieved 11 August 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Lawrence, Kelvin. "Greed, guns and gore: Historicising early British colonial Singapore through recent developments in the historiography of Munsyi Abdullah." Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 50.4 (2019): 507-520.

External links[edit]