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Abdullah Fahim: The Man Who Decided The Independence Date

July 25, 2007 09:59 AM


By Zuraida Abdul Rahman

PENANG, July 25 (Bernama) -- The date 31 August 1957 marked the end of almost 450 years of foreign domination and the beginning of a sovereign nation known as the Federation of Malaya.

However, many may not be aware that the historic date was actually decided by an Islamic theologian from Penang, who was also a prominent astronomer and public figure.

The man is Tuan Guru Haji Abdullah Ibrahim Haji Abdullah or better known as Abdullah Fahim, the grandfather of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

According to the people in Kepala Batas, the name "Fahim" originates from the Arabic word "Fahimun" which means a highly knowledgeable person on religious matters.

He is the one to establish the Sekolah Agama Daeratul Maarif Al- Wataniah (DMW) in Kepala Batas and the locals also refer to him as Tok Ngah Lah.

Abdullah Fahim was not only a man of wisdom but was also an established writer, poet and politician.

Nevertheless, he chose to keep a low profile in the struggle for Merdeka though the leaders of the day like Datuk Onn Jaafar and Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj often sought his views over a host of matters.


Abdullah Fahim is said to have been born in Kampung Sha'ab Ali located close to the Masjidil al-Haram mosque, in Mecca, in 1870. But there are some who believe he was born in Kampung Kubur Panjang, Kedah, before moving to Mecca with his father Sheikh Ibrahim Tahir who became a religious teacher at the sacred mosque.

The father, and later the son, once represented the Masjidil al-Haram board and while in the holy land Abdullah Fahim also took the opportunity to learn international and Islamic politics.

More than 45 prominent scholars in almost all aspects of Islam tutored him in 15 disciplines of Islam. Later, he too taught astronomy, usuluddin (tenets of Islam), al-Quran and hadith (traditions of the prophet at the mosque).

According to the former Kepala Batas Umno Secretary Datuk Md Noor Ahmad, 70, a man closely associated with the Prime Minister's family, Abdullah Fahim's thoughts, writings and poems instilled awareness on the fate of the Malays and called for a jihad (struggle) to free them from occupation.

He said Abdullah Fahim's own jihad started while he was in Mecca and this was evident based on the lines of the antiphony (nasyid) he penned while he was there.


Abdullah Fahim also wrote a book entitled `Khutbah Penyedar' (Awakening Sermons) and compiled a prayer calendar, he said.

Upon his return to Malaya in 1916, being more fluent in Arab, he taught Islamic theology from his family home in Kepala Batas before being invited to teach at Pondok Tuan Haji Wan Sulaiman Wan Sidik at Kampung Limbungan Kapal, Alor Setar.

He returned to Kepala Batas four years later and continued teaching from his family home until he was invited by the Perak Sultan in 1931 to head the Madrasah Idrisiyah in Bukit Chandan, Kuala Kangsar.


Upon his return to Kepala Batas in 1934, Abdullah Fahim gained recognition as an ulama (Islamic scholar) and students from as far as Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei came to learn from him.

Md Noor said, around 1940s the Malay nationalism was slowly emerging before it went on high gear after World War II. The religious figures in Seberang Perai joined in the rising tide of nationalism.

The Malays there also established the Seberang Perai Malay Association (PMSP) as a front to clamour for independence and Abdullah Fahim was the head of the organisation's religious portfolio, he said.

Mohd Noor recalled that Abdullah Fahim's serious involvement in the struggle for Merdeka happened around 1945 when the English wanted to establish the Malayan Union.

Many of the Malays in Kepala Batas, Butterworth, Bukit Mertajam and Penang at that time joined Umno and denounced outright the proposal.


He said, one day, Tunku accompanied by Abdul Razak, Ahmad Maliki, Sulaiman Palestin and others met Abdullah Fahim at his home. While sitting at the verandah, Tunku sought his views on the condition set by the British that the non-Malays too must be part of the independent federation.

"Tok Ngah Lah advised Tunku to adhere to the condition set because Britain would consider independence if all the races reach consensus. So, just agree to what they want and show we are all fighting for the same cause so that they won't delay the independence," he said.

Heeding his advice, Tunku then started negotiations with the Chinese and Indians on the Merdeka plan thus paving the way for inter-racial cooperation through the Alliance.

Before leaving for London with the alliance leaders to negotiate independence, Tunku again met Abdullah Fahim to seek his wisdom.

"He (Abdullah Fahim) advised Tunku to leave for London on a ship so that they have ample time to negotiate and reach consensus, especially with the representatives of the Malay rulers, and to return immediately on an airplane giving no time to anyone to change their mind over what they have agreed," he said.


Tunku is said to have met Abdullah Fahim one more time to decide on the Merdeka date for the Federation of Malaya and based on his calculations from the Islamic calendar he provided the date 31 August 1957. The learned ulama had noted that it was the best earliest date and if Britain did not agree with the date then Malayans would have to wait another five years for the next auspicious date, 31 August 1962.

"If Merdeka is not declared on 31 August 1957, any of the following dates before 31 August 1962 are considered inauspicious for the Malays. However, he also related to Tunku his premonition that if Britain agreed with the 1957 date, the Federation of Malaya will see a change of name within seven years," said Md Noor.

"Tok Ngah Lah was right because after six years and six days, the Federation of Malaya became Malaysia on 16 Sept 1963 with the inclusion of Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak.


Meanwhile, another veteran in Kepala Batas, Datuk Othman Said, 69, said Tok Ngah Lah was a pious man, soft spoken, benevolent and charitable.

"Allah has given him strong intuition and good instincts and that is why whatever he says turns out to be true. He even foretold that his grandson Abdullah would one day lead the country," he said.

Ismail Said, 75, related that he got to know Abdullah Fahim when he was young. "I was a naughty youngster but Tok Ngah Lah was patient with me, instead he would ask me to pray, recite the al-Quran and eat before returning home.

"As time passed by I realised my misbehaviour with Tok Ngah Lah and this made me change for the better. Tok Ngah Lah's hospitality made the locals, regardless of their race, to refer to him whenever they had problems," he said.

Abdullah Fahim died on 28 April 1961 at 91 years of age.

Without Abdullah Fahim's involvement, the nation's independence date may have been different than what we know today and while we celebrate the nation's 50th Merdeka anniversary on this 31 August, lets not forget it is the date decided by Abdullah Fahim.

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