He was born in the early 1700’s and could trace his family descent directly to the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him. Tuan Guru, meaning “esteemed master”, was the titled granted to the prince in South Africa due to his extensive knowledge. His knowledge covered several branches of Islamic ‘ilm, including Qu’ran, hadith, ‘aqidah, fiqh and tasawwuf.
The earliest accounts of Islam in the Indonesian archipelago date back to the Abbasid Caliphate. It was followed by a series of slow, fragmented waves introduced by increasing trade links. As a result, tradesmen, merchants and royalty were some of the first to adopt Islam. For all that, Islamic activism grew predominantly in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Subsequently, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Indonesia were marked by frequent battles between the colonising Dutch and the Muslim inhabitants of the land. Throughout, the Dutch exiled a number of Islamic leaders, who were viewed as a threat to their continuing expansion. Tuan Guru, was one of these exiles, and sent as far as Robben Island, west of the coast of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, South Africa from 1781 and 1793.
While on Robben Island, he demonstrated his phenomenal memory, and tremendous grounding in the classical disciplines of Islam, by writing M’arifat al-Islam [Knowledge of Islam] – which consisted of a number of articles on hadith, fiqh, dua’, ‘aqidah, and numerous transcriptions of the Qur’an. And upon his release at the age of 81, almost immediately, sought to establish an ‘ummah, a community of the faithful.
His knowledge extended to establishing the first Islamic school as a base for conducting Muslim education in the Cape.
Other achievements included founding the first mosque in South Africa, the Auwal Mosque in Cape Town, as the institutional centre for an emerging Muslim community. Before Tuan Guru, Muslims were scattered, and congregated in small circles around individual shaykhs. Through his efforts, however, Muslims organised as an ‘ummah around the mosque.
When, Tuan Guru died at the age of 95 in 1807, he left a legacy.