His Birth and Lineage
Al-Habib Abdillah bin Ahmad bin Ali bin Muhammad al-Jufri was one of the precious gifts of Allah (High and Exalted is He) to the Muslims of Singapore, coming from a family well-known for its scholarship, piety and saintliness. He was born at Asar on 29th Zulhijjah 1356 Hijri (2nd March 1938), the youngest of three children, to his father, Habib Ahmad Bin Ali al-Jufri, who migrated from Hadhramaut to Singapore, and his mother, a pious woman by the name of Sharifah Khadijah bint Hamid al-Jufri, with the latter having much influence in his upbringing, especially since he was orphaned by his father’s death at an early age. His name was initially Ibrahim, named after his elder brother who passed away, but it was later changed to Abdillah. Upon his birth, he was brought by his mother to the 2nd Chief Judge of Singapore, Qadhi Haji Abbas, who said that Habib Abdillah would be a great scholar. Thus, his mother would always remind the young Habib Abdillah to remain focused in his education, which he duly took seriously. As a boy, he also accompanied and received attention from the great ambassador of Islam, Maulana Abdul Aleem Siddiqui, during one of his visits to Singapore. Maulana Abdul Aleem placed his blessed hands on the head of Habib Abdillah and made a special du’a for this future leader of the local Muslim community.
Religious education was highly stressed upon the Hadhrami youth of Singapore in those days. Habib Abdillah was sent first to Madrasah Khairiyyah and later to the well-known Madrasah Aljunied, a school set up by a pious man by the name of Habib Abdurrahman Bin Junied al-Junied. At that time, the school was run by scholars of the highest calibre , making it a premier centre for Islamic learning and teaching in Southeast Asia. Habib Abdillah had his formal education at this school, as well as informal education at the feet of various ‘ulama residing in Singapore at the time.
He had the blessed fortune of having many great teachers, among whom were al-Habib Abu Bakr bin Taha al-Saggaf, al-Habib Abdullah bin Shaikh Bilfaqih, al-Habib Muhammad bin Alwi al-Aydarus, al-Habib Muhammad bin Hasan Bin Tahir (with whom he had private lessons after his classes at Madrasah Aljunied), al-Habib Abdullah bin Hasan al-Shatiri, al-Habib Alwi bin Tahir al-Haddad (the Mufti of Johor who gave him ijazah to teach), al-Habib Muhammad bin Salim al-Attas, ash-Shaikh Muhammad bin Abdullah Diab, and later from the great jurist of the Shafi’i madhhab, al-Allamah Ash-Shaikh Umar bin Abdullah al-Khatib.
Habib Abdillah also studied with non-Arab teachers, including al-Ustadh Ahmad Sonhadji Muhammad (who assigned him to take over his tafsir classes over the local radio), al-Ustadh Peer Sinarwatar, al-Ustadh Muhammad bin Muhammad Said Semarang, Kyai Ahmad Zuhri Bin Mutamin, and the 3rd Chief Judge, Qadhi Haji Ali bin Haji Ahmad Said. He had a tremendous exposure to the Malay language and culture, making him suitable for the leadership of the Muslim community in Singapore towards the end of his life. His mastery of the Arabic Language, both colloquial and classical, was also unparalleled, as was his mastery of the other sciences. As a student, he maintained the highest adab towards his teachers. One of them, Al-Ustadh Peer, remarked that Habib Abdillah was someone who deeply respected his teachers and it was came as no surprise then that the knowledge he acquired had so much barakah, bearing fruits for the Muslim community to benefit from later on in his life.
Giving Back to the Ummah
Equipped with the knowledge and wisdom acquired from his teachers and elders, Habib Abdillah began teaching. One of his earliest teaching experiences came when he was appointed to teach Islam at two famous Malay vernacular schools in Singapore, Sekolah Sang Nila Utama and Sekolah Tun Sri Lanang. He was described as a firm yet loving teacher towards his students, who deeply respected him. This period gave him valuable early experience with the local Muslim community and sharpened the unmistakable fluency and eloquence of his delivery, which he utilised effectively as a mode of da’wah to the community. His speeches were clear and precise, and yet uniquely unassuming, without affecting the unexplainable awe (haibah) that were felt by those around him. Whenever he was imam for a congregational prayer, his coarse yet beautiful voice endeared him to many.
Despite his popularity as a teacher, Habib Abdillah remained a man of humility (tawadhu’), and his humble nature was remarkable. He mixed with people from all races and walks of life. He patronises Singapore’s public transport system and it enabled the common man to have meet and interact with him on buses and trains.
He attended patiently to questions asked by his students, sometimes after his night classes and, at times, through telephone calls, even for seemingly petty questions like asking the spelling of the name of a newborn child, which he duly answered with his gentle manners. His adab towards those older than him was well-known. He regularly visited them, and maintained the deepest respect towards them. For instance, when the senior scholar al-Habib Abdurrahman bin Ahmad al-Kaff had a public class after Maghrib at Masjid Alkaff, Habib Abdillah, who would himself later be teaching after Isha’, would also usually attend the Maghrib class but he would peculiarly hide behind one of the pillars of the mosque. When asked as to why he did this, he said he did so because he did not want people’s attention towards Habib Abdurrahman to be shifted towards him. Such was his sublime akhlaq, which could also be seen in many other instances.
His Great Qualities
With his mastery of the Arabic language, he was given respect and the mantle of leadership by his peers and even elders from amongst the Hadhrami community. One of the pious elders, al-Habib Abdullah bin Shaikh al-Saggaf (well-known simply as “innallaha maas sabirin”), once remarked that Habib Abdillah was a successor of the next generation. One of Habib Abdillah’s contemporaries, al-Habib Abu Bakar bin Salim al-Bar, a righteous and great scholar whose scholarship remained unknown to many, had much praise for him and recalled that during one of the visits of al-Qutb al-Imam al-Habib Abdul Qadir bin Ahmad al-Saggaf to Singapore, Habib Abdillah would translate Habib Abdul Qadir’s Arabic speech into Malay flawlessly. Habib Abdul Qadir did not have to stop occasionally to allow the translation, instead Habib Abdillah would translate the whole speech of Habib Abdul Qadir in one go.
Notwithstanding his involvement in and membership of the local Hadhrami community, he was also deeply and affectionately involved with the Malay community and even joined one of its important literary associations. His command of the Malay language, which he used in his public classes and lectures, was of a high standard, and it was said that if one wanted to learn Malay one simply needed to listen to Habib Abdillah’s speeches. He used to teach books in the old Malay script of Jawi, one of which was Shaikh Muhammad Arshad al-Banjari’s magnum opus, Sabil al-Muhtadin. He stressed the importance of learning Jawi to his students, and said that it should not be neglected. Thus many of the books that he wrote were in both the modern Rumi script and Jawi, including those he wrote for children.
Habib Abdillah was not just an author but also an able translator. Some of the classical books he translated into Malay included Maslak al-Qarib of al-Habib Tahir bin Husin Bin Tahir and Fath al-Ilah of al-Habib Muhammad bin Husin al-Habshi. He was also assigned by the authorities to write textbooks on Islam for the secondary school curriculum, when Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK) was still taught in national schools.
A prolific writer, Habib Abdillah authored, co-authored or translated many books and wrote numerous articles and Friday sermons. Among his published works are:
- Essentials of Islam Series (Books 1 to 6) – Asas Agama Islam: Pelajaran Tauhid & Fikah
- Essentials of Islam Series (Books 1 to 6) – Asas Agama Islam: Pelajaran Akhlak & Sirah
- Arabic Language (Books 1 to 6) – Al Asas Fil Loghatil Arabiah (Book 1 – 6)
- Today and Tomorrow – Hari Ini Dan Esok
- Islamic History – The Prophet ﷺ till the Abbasids – Sejarah Nabi ﷺ hingga kerajaan Abbasiyah
- Teach Your Children to Love the Prophet ﷺ – Ajarkan Anak-Anakmu Cintakan Rasulullah ﷺ
- The Path of Proximity – Jalan Yang Dekat Bagi Pengikut Jalan Rujuk Kepada Tuhan
- The Gifts of Allah – Anugerah Tuhan – Dalam perkara kewajipan hamba kepada Tuhan
- Q&A on Islam – Anda Bertanya Saya Menjawab
- A Book of Du’as and Wirid – Doa Dan Wirid
- The Light of the Quran series (tafsir) – Pelita Al-Quran, Juz 30
- The Light of the Quran series (tafsir) – Pelita Al-Quran, Al Baqarah
- The Light of the Quran series (tafsir) – Pelita Al-Quran, Al-Imran & An-Nisaa
Habib Abdillah also regularly wrote articles for the local Malay newspaper Berita Harian where he would elaborate on many issues affecting the community, including the challenges of modernism and secularism.
He was well-known for his tafsir classes at several mosques which drew huge crowds. Listening to him was once described as listening to a khatib delivering his khutbah, due to the eloquence of his tongue. Yet even with multitudes of students and a great deal of knowledge and experience, he still continued learning with the more senior scholars such as ash-Shaikh Umar bin Abdullah al-Khatib, al-Habib Awad bin Hamid Ba’alawi, and al-Habib Husin bin Muhammad al-Habshi through the Majlis Roha, a weekly session of reading classical books, including Sahih al-Bukhari and Ihya’ Ulumuddin.
In fact, towards the end of his life, he himself led these blessed sessions, together with his contemporary al-Habib Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Semait. Despite this, he would still maintain several weekly classes focused on the teaching of fardhu ‘ayn, basic knowledge which every Muslim should know. He had a systematic methodology of teaching tauhid, fiqh and tasawwuf to the public, which is well-documented by his faithful students till today.
He offered the much-needed leadership that the community thirsted for as it entered the new millennium. He was seen by many as a natural leader and yet he was the most humble of men, reluctant to take up positions of authority and always deferential towards his peers and elders. Towards the end of his life, conditions were such that he had to assume positions of leadership. In 1999, he was entrusted to lead PERGAS, the organisation of religious scholars and teachers, taking over from his friend Al-Ustadh Abu Bakr bin Hashim. The following year, he was also tasked to be the Mudir of Madrasah Aljunied, his alma mater.
The timing of these appointments allowed Habib Abdillah to fulfil a final amanah to the community before departing from this world. In 2000, the authorities had been pushing for full-time madrasah education to begin only at the secondary level. The community, under his wise and courageous leadership, resisted this as it was seen as tampering with the educational needs of Muslims. Habib Abdillah provided guidance, advice, and leadership through this difficult times. A day after he led congregational hajat prayers asking Allah for help, the authorities announced that they would retract their original plan and continue allowing the madrasahs to take in students at the primary level.
Illness and Demise
After this critical period, Habib Abdillah’s age began to get the better of him. He relinquished his brief positions at PERGAS and Madrasah Aljunied but continued teaching as much as he could. His health began to deteriorate and he passed away peacefully from this world at the age of 67 Hijri years on 1st Dhulqa’dah 1423 Hijri (4th Jan 2003), leaving behind his wife and 4 children. His death was a huge loss to the community because many had hoped for him to continue leading and guiding the community. Thousands flocked to his home in Kembangan and later followed his blessed body to Masjid Sultan where his janazah prayers were led by al-Habib Zain bin Husin al-Habshi, a scholar from Johor. The mosque was so crowded for the prayers that the scene was like that of a Jumuah Prayer. The crowd then continued to follow his body till his burial at Pusara Aman, where the talqin prayers were led by his friend al-Habib Hasan bin Ahmad al-Bahr. Many of the attendees were his students from all over the country and beyond and they came to pay their last respects to a man who was irreplaceable, and whose sincerity and courage helped mould a better community. Everyone noticed how the weather on that day seemed to have held up for this great man – everyone who accompanied his body till its burial took place felt a gentle coolness.
His death came exactly a week after that of the person who had much influence on his life, his mother, who lived to the age of 96. It has been said that the barakah of Habib Abdillah’s life was due to his filial piety towards his mother. Habib Abdillah, in her presence, would be like an innocent little child, ever fearful and respectful. As mentioned in a noble hadith, the redha of Allah (High and Exalted is He) lies in the redha of one’s parents, and in this, Habib Abdillah had truly excelled, setting the example to everyone that no matter how much knowledge and status one has, one is a nobody with regards to one’s parents. May Allah (High and Exalted is He) continue to benefit us by him and may his memory live on, as a genuine example for generations to come. Amin.
This biography was contributed by students of Al-Marhum Al-Habib Abdillah Al-Jufri