Among the publications that have shaped the minds of the Malays for many generations was the Al-Imam (The Leader) magazine founded in 1905.
Influenced by the Al-Manar magazine published by Mohammed ‘Abduh and Rashid Rida, the editors of Al-Imam (Sayyid Shaikh Al-Hadi and Sheikh Tahir Jalaluddin, among others) saw the magazine as a means by which Malay society could be cleansed of the superstitions and intellectual backwardness that had stifled independent thinking. Al-Imam was to be a platform to “remind the forgetful, to arouse the slumber, to guide those that have been led astray and to give voice to the wise.”
Had the magazine enjoyed a longer lifespan, it might have played a wider and crucial role in promoting the penchant for progress among the Malays while infusing the true Islamic spirit into the hearts and minds of the Muslims in the drive toward developing an exemplary community in a colonial setting.
Because of Al-Imam’s transnational and regional approach to the spread of Islamic da’wah (call), copies were distributed in Jakarta, Semarang, Sumatra, Surabaya, and other parts of the Dutch East Indies.
Together, these publications facilitated the growth of Islamic nationhood in the Malay world, a style of thought that emphasized Muslim loyalty to the homeland while stressing the need to maintain transnational links, affiliations, and responsibility toward Muslims globally.
Al-Imam died a premature death on 25 December 1908, merely three years after its founding. But it left in its wake a legacy of critique and reflexivity. In challenging the long-established religious norms, moral axioms, and age-old traditions in society, the proponents of Al-Imam stirred productive debates that were unheard of in the history of the Malays in the Peninsula. Echoes of such debates still reverbates I’m our time.
Excerpt from the book: Radicals: Resistance and Protest in Colonial Malaya, pp.27-28 (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2015).
Author: Dr Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied