Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura
13 September 2013 / 07 Zulkaedah 1434
Ustaz Syed Ahmad bin Semait and the Preservation of Islamic Traditional Knowledge in Singapore.
Beloved Friday Jemaah,
I would like to remind myself as well as my fellow Muslims to diligently strive to increase our taqwa toward Allah s.w.t; toheed all of His commands and avoid what Allah has prohibited upon us.
There is no end to our journey in seeking knowledge. It is only through knowledge and extensive experience that we will gain the confidence to fulfil our goals as a true Mukmin. The advantage and preference of a learned person is mentioned by Allah in the Quran, in surah Ali Imran verse 18:
Which means: “ Allah witnesses that there is no deity except Him, and [so do] the angels and those of knowledge – [that He is] maintaining [creation] in justice. There is no deity except Him, the Exalted in Might, the Wise.”
My dear brothers,
Last week, the khatib shared with us about the contributions of al-Khawarizmi, an eminent Muslim scholar. If Al-Khawarizmi had placed much importance on the study of mathematics and science, today we will learn to appreciate the contributions of an eminent local Muslim scholar who played a significant role in enriching traditional Islamic studies. He is none other than Ustaz Syed Ahmad Semait, rahimahullah.
Almarhum Ustaz Syed Ahmad bin Semait was born on 21 August 1933. He was known for his valuable writings and his talent in translating books, not just in Singapore but throughout the region.
His writings and his translation works were significant contributions that led to a paradigm shift in the field of Islamic literature in Singapore and the Malay world.
He started writing and translating books in 1950, right after he graduated from Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah. He worked under the tutelage of Almarhum Sheikh Omar al-Khatib, who ran a store on Kandahar Street in North Bridge Road.
Ustaz Syed Ahmad Semait has imparted a significant amount of knowledge to the community through the culture of writing and translation. Traditional books in Arabic, which used to be out of reach to the masses, were translated and thus they became easily understood and were important sources of reference to certain group of individuals.
Among his prime works is the book of Sahih Bukhari: Translation, Analysis and Conclusion, which was published in 2006. Through this book, he presented his in-depth research of the book written by Imam Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami’us Salih or what is famously known as Sahih Bukhari. As part of the process to publish the book, Ustaz Syed Ahmad read every single page from the book on hadith written by Imam Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani titled Fathul Bari bi-Syarhi Sahihi Al-Bukhari. Almarhum Ustaz Syed Ahmad’s intense dedication led to 15 volumes of translated books and analysis of various hadith. Each volume consisted of at least 700 pages.
Ustaz Syed Ahmad’s extensive writing is one of the biggest contributions toward translation efforts and the analysis of hadith in the Malay Archipelago. There are not many books written by Muslim scholars in the Malay world which discussed books of hadith that were written in Arabic, in an in-depth manner. However Ustaz Syed Ahmad Semait was a pioneer in this field and the first steps to start the writing and translating the meanings of various hadith to help the Muslim community in the Malay Archipelago to understand and deepen their knowledge in the field of hadith.
It is evident that this is among the aspects of fardhu kifayah performed by Almarhum Ustaz Syed Ahmad. He identified a knowledge gap in the community, and took up the challenge of fulfilling the task to convey and spread religious knowledge through writing. It is through his writings that we have inherited religious knowledge.
This is in-line with a hadith by Nabi Muhammad s.a.w., who said and which means: “Indeed, the scholars are the inheritors of the prophets, for the prophets do not leave behind a dinar or a dirham for inheritance, but rather, they leave behind knowledge. So whoever takes hold of it, has acquired a large share (i.e. of inheritance).” [Hadith narrated by Imam Tirmidzi]
The books written or translated by Ustaz Syed Ahmad Semait are part of a vast heritage of Islamic knowledge. As the ummah of the Prophet s.a.w. we need to continue to research, study and understand this rich heritage. Traditional books on Islam are not snippets of our history, but also serve as a foundation for each individual Muslim to achieve the success that he aspires for.
Ustaz Syed Ahmad Semait proved that studying and researching the traditional books does not cause one to go into decline, but rather it can help sharpen an individual’s mind to apply what he has learnt into today’s context. We have seen how Ustaz Syed Ahmad, through his writings and books, strived to offer solutions to the problems of the present ummah. It ranged from his advice to couples on raising children in an Islamic manner, suggestions for those who aim to find inner peace and divine love amid the hustle and bustle of a busy, metropolitan city. These issues continued to influence his writings for 40 years.
There are several lessons that we can learn from the life of Almarhum Ustaz Syed Ahmad Semait:
First: The importance of reviving the culture and love of reading, writing, translating, undertaking research and analysis, to ensure that the culture of knowledge continues to grow within ourselves and our community. The process of thinking based on evidences and proofs, as reflected by Ustaz Syed Ahmad Semait, is deeply rooted in Islamic tradition. It will not only help to strengthen our belief in Allah s.w.t., but will guide us in our everyday lives. This concept should develop us to become individuals who can think critically and do not easily accept any information without assessing its validity, authenticity and accuracy or without any consideration of its impact on our lives, families and the community.
With social media tools such as blogs and Facebook, we are able to voice our opinions and thoughts on a wider platform. Those who can give their opinions to other must also be able to accept the opinions and criticisms of others, in a positive light, so that we can reflect upon a matter from different points of view.
Second: We need to emphasize the learning of Islamic intellectual heritage which is among the sources of strength of the Muslim ummah. We need to continue to understand how the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet s.a.w. can guide us in our present world. Therefore my brothers, continue to nurture the culture of reading beyond treating it only as basic knowledge of fardhu ain.
May Allah s.w.t. grant us with beneficial knowledge, and that we are able to apply it and convey it to others, insyaAllah. And may Allah s.w.t grant us taufiq to study the intellectual heritage left behind by our early Muslim scholars. Amin.