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The Biography of Raja Ali Haji

For discovering all sides of a prominent figure, reading his personal history, or simply called biography, is very pivotal. Without it, the picture will not be complete, and the result wouldn't be satisfying. It is an integral part of the figure. Biography is defined as the records of person, which are written by other people. Thus, biography can serve as a means to capture someone's chapter of life written by other than him. Providing information on person's genealogy, the biography can be a valuable insight into his familial background. Besides, other information is narrated in the biography such as, education, working experience, activities in both national and international level, and the awards given to him. In other words, biography presents an array of timelines of person, commencing from his birth to his death.

Raja Ali Haji (RAH) is a powerful and important figure in the Malay world. His influential thoughts on the development of Malay world are very evident through his literary works and other, all of which become the main reference for the modern and classical writing tradition. He is known as an Ulama (religious thinker) contributing to the creation of new discourse and critical tradition in the Malay world as well. Below is the biography of RAH.

1. Biography

The full name of Raja Ali Haji is Raja al-Hajj bin Raja Ahmad al-Hajj bin Raja Haji Fisabilillah bin Opu Daeng Celak alias Engku Haji Ali bin Engku Haji Ahad Riau. He was born in 1808 A.D. in the Riau-Lingga Sultanate in Panyengat Island (now Riau Islands , Indonesia ).

There was a short story of Panyengat Island . In the book published by the Dutch, this small island was called “Mars.” By the inhabitants, it was called Indera Sakti (The Sacred Senses) as their admiration for Panyengat Island . A lot of Malay literature works and material cultures were written by Malay intellectual figures including RAH.

The date of his birth is different from his father, Raja Ahmad, that was stated in meticulous detail, on Thursday evening, Rajab 1193 Hijriyah (The Islamic calendar) in the palace of Yang Dipertuan Muda Riau, Raja Haji bin Daeng Celak. Otherwise, the birth of RAH is merely an estimation. Hasan Junus (2002: 62) states that the different era and atmosphere had led to the different cultural spirit of the time. This cultural spirit caused the common people called RAH by “Raja” (literally means King).

Malay people tend to remember the date of their children's birth by relating to the momentous occasion. For instant, RAH was born five years after Panyengat Island was changed into the residence of Engku Puteri. In other words, he was born two years after the Portuguese fortress, A-Famosa that was located in Malacca, was destroyed under the command of William Farquhar. The Malay people habitually give the name for their children by taking datuk (Grandfather) if their grandfathers have died. Consequently, the names of Malay people tend to be the same each other.

The date of RAH's death is still being debated as there are some sources stating that he died in 1872 A.D. However, there are other facts rejecting this public views. On December 31 st , 1872 A.D., he wrote a letter to his best friend named Herman Von De Wall, a Dutch cultural expert who died at Tanjung Pinang in 1873 A.D. Thus, we may conclude that RAH died at Panyengat Island in 1873 A.D.

Raja Ali Haji was buried in Engku Putri Raja Hamidah graveyard, outside of the main building. One of his masterpieces, Gurindam Dua Belas, has been intentionally carved on his tombstone so that everyone visiting his tomb can read it.


2. The Family Tree

Raja Ali Haji was the son of Raja Ahmad, who was titled Engku Haji Tua after accomplishing the pilgrimage to Mecca . He was the grandson of Raja Ali Haji Fisabilillah. His mother was Encik Hamidah binti Panglima Malik Selangor or Putri Selangor who died on August 5 th , 1844 A.D.

His grandfather, Raja Haji Fisabilillah, was the fourth Yang Dipertuan Muda (YDM) Riau. He successfully created the Riau-Lingga Sultanate as a significant trade centre in this area. He was a hero who bravely fought against the Dutch, thus he died in Ketapang Gulf on June 18 th , 1784 A.D. He left two children, Raja Ahmad (RAH's father) and Raja Ja'far.

Raja Ahmad was known as a Muslim scholar who was productive in producing masterpiece such as Syair Perjalanan Engku Putri ke Lingga (1835 A.D.), Syair Raksi (1843 A.D.), Syair Perang Johor (1843 A.D.). He was also famous as a cultural expert, especially in history. In his work, Syair Perang Johor, he explains the fact of war in Johor and the Sultanate of Aceh in the 17 th century, when the Johor Kingdom was in the golden age. His works inclined to discuss the relationship between the history of Bugis in Malay areas with the Malayan Sultans.

Raja Ali Haji grew up among the intellectual people who care in the authorship. It were Raja Ahmad Engku Haji Tua, Raja Ali Daud, Raja Salehah, Raja Abdul Mutallib, Raja Kalsum, Raja Safiah, Raja Sulaiman, Raja Hasan, Hitam Khalid, Aisyah Sulaiman, Raja Ahmad Tabib, Raja Haji Umar, Abu Muhammad Adnan, who were included into the family of Raja Ali Haji who had produced some great works. In-depth analysis of his family tree to Raja Ali Haji Fisabilillah will show that Raja Ali, Raja Abdullah, Raja Ali Kelana, and R.H.M Said were also counted as his family that was famous as a hard worker family.

From his father, Raja Ahmad, RAH had some brothers and sisters such as Raja Haji Daud, recognized as tabib or physician, Raja Haji Umar or Raja Endut, Raja Saleha/ Zaleha, Raja Cik, Raja Aisyah, Raja Haji Abdullah, Raja Ishak, Raja Muhammad Said, Raja Abu Bakar, Raja Siti, Raja Abdul Hamid, and Raja Usman.

Raja Ali Haji was a Bugis descendant from his grandmother named Opu Daeng Celak, who lived in Riau and got the position as Yang Dipertuan Agung (The Sultan's Assistant for the Governmental Administration). It was La Madusilat, the first Muslim King of Bugis, who actually had a descendant named Daeng Rilaka.

Daeng Rilaka had five children, Opu Daeng Parani, Opu Daeng Marewah, Opu Daeng Menambun, Opu Daeng Celak, and Opu Daeng Kemasi. Daeng Rilaka left Bugis, wandering to the Sultanate of Riau-Johor with her children. Those got privilege position in the sultanate. Opu Daeng Celak, the fourth children of Daeng Rilaka and the grandmother of RAH, was inaugurated as the Second Yang Dipertuan Muda Riau (1728 A.D. – 1745 A.D.). She replaced the position of her sibling named Opu Daeng Marewah, the First Yang Dipertuan Muda Riau (1723 A.D. – 1728 A.D.).

The position was the realization of an agreement between the Riau-Lingga Sultanate and the King of Bugis conquering Minangkabau. There was a war between Minangkabau Kingdom and the Sultanate of Malay at the time. Therefore, RAH was a descendent of the Riau-Lingga Sultanate that was known for having a deeply religious and scientific tradition.

Raja Ali Haji had 17 children, Raja Haji Hasan, Raja Mala', Raja Abdur Rahman, Raja Abdul Majid, Raja Salamah, Raja Kaltsum, Raja Ibrahim Kerumung, Raja Hamidah, Raja Engku Awan – the mother of Raja Kaluk, Raja Khadijah, Raja Mai, Raja Cik, Raja Muhammad Daeng Menambon, Raja Aminah, Raja Haji Salman Engku Bih, Raja Siah, and Raja Engku Amdah.

he first son of Raja Ali Haji, Raja Haji Hasan, had 12 children, Raja Haji Abdullah Hakim, Raja Khalid Hitam (he died in Japan ), Raja Haji Abdul Muthallib, Raja Mariyah, Raja Manshur, Raja Qamariyah, Raja Haji Umar, Raja Haji Andi, Raja Abdur Rasyid, Raja Kaltsum, Raja Rahah, and Raja Amimah. All of his children were noticed as great scholar and notable figure.

3. Education

Raja Ali Haji received his basic education from his father. In addition, he got education from some famous figures in the Riau-Lingga Sultanate in Panyengat Island . There were many prominent scholars such as Habib Sheikh as-Saqaf, Sheikh Ahmad Jabarti, Sheikh Ismail bin Abdullah al-Minkabawi, and Sheikh Abdul Ghafur bin Abbas al-Manduri, who came to Panyengat Island to teach and study.

The Riau-Lingga Sultanate was famous as the centre of Malay culture that actively developed some sectors such as religion, language and literature. As Raja Ali Haji belonged to the sultanate family, he got a big chance to achieve education from prominent scholars coming to Panyengat Island . He had the same basic education as other people at his age but he had a brilliant thought. For another level of his education, he also learned the holy qur'an, hadith, and other Islamic knowledge.

Raja Ali Haji attained education from the out side of the Sultanate area. When he was in Betawi along with his father and his group in 1822 A.D., he used the occasion as a moment to learn, deepening his knowledge. He learned Arabic and the Islamic knowledge during his pilgrimage in 1828 A.D. That is why, they were noticed as the first Riau nobles accomplishing pilgrimage to Mecca . He had also ever taken a journey to Egypt after visiting Mecca when he was young.

He used almost all his time to improve the Islamic knowledge when he was in Mecca . His Islamic knowledge showed the enormous improvement. He acquired knowledge of Arabic and Islamic cases from a prominent scholar named Sheikh Daud bin Abdullah al-Fatani who was noticed as a noble ulama by Malay people in Mecca . He made a close friendship with the son of sheikh Muhammad Arsyad bin Abdullah al-Banjari named sheikh Syihabuddin bin Syeikh Muhammad Arsyad bin Abdullah al-Banjari.

4. Working Experience

He held the significant post of the state administration when he was a young. In thirty, he went to every part of the Riau-Lingga Sultanate's areas, even to the hinterland, following his brother, Raja Ali bin Ja'far. It was planned to check those areas. He also helped his brother who became the vice of Yang Dipertuan Muda in the Riau-Lingga Sultanate.

When he was 32 years old, Raja Ali Haji and Raja Ali bin Ja'far, was relied on to hold the authority of Lingga to help Sultan Mahmud Muzaffar Syah who was too young. At the time, he would not like to designate someone to be the Yang Dipertuan Muda, replacing Marhum Kampung Bulan. On June 26 th , 1844 A.D., or on Wednesday, Jumadilakhir 9 th , 1260 H (The Islamic calendar), he filed a petition supporting Raja Ali bin Ja'far to be the Yang Dipertuan Muda of the Riau-Lingga Sultanate. People supporting Raja Ali bin Ja'far singed the petition published by Raja Ali Haji.

On the time when Raja Ali bin Ja'far was inaugurated as the eighth Yang Dipertuan Muda Riau in 1845 A.D, Raja Ali Haji was promoted as the religious advisor of the Sultanate. Though he was trusted to hold a fundamental duty, he was able to be professional by productively writing on language, literature and culture.

Together with Raja Abdullah Mursyid and Raja Ali bin Ja'far, he did commercial enterprises in Karimun Island and Kundur Island and managed the tin mining. When The Eighth Yang Dipertuan Muda Riau, Raja Ali bin Ja'far, was replaced by Raja Haji Abdullah Mursyid, RAH and Raja Ali bin Ja'far established a foundation named “Ahlul halli wa Aqdi” to encourage the governmental administration of the Riau-Lingga Sultanate.

In 1858 A.D., Raji Haji Abdullah Mursyid bore a testament sounding that RAH would hold the enforcement of law including the Islamic jurisprudence. He headed the group of the Riau-Lingga Sultanate visiting Belanga Bay to attend the inauguration of Johor Regent named Abu Bakar as the king of Johor on May 7 th , 1868 A.D. The position on the law administrative officer was held until his death in 1873 A.D.

5. National and International Activities

5.1. The Journey to Betawi

He was known for having close family ties with his father, Raja Ahmad. In 1822 A.D, Raja Ahmad led his group for having a journey to Betawi, followed by his wife, Raja Muhammad and Raja Ali Haji for about three months. The journey was aimed to set the cooperation with the Dutch in commercial and research programs. The group would hold a meeting with the Governor of the Dutch, Godart Alexander Gerad Philip Baron van der Capellen. The group departed from Riau by penjajab, a kind of traditional ship, and the other used the conventional ship. The trip was started from Riau, stopped for a moment in Lingga Island then was continued through Bangka Strait .

This rare occasion was effectively used by RAH to improve his erudition. He had ever met General Governor Godart Alexander Gerard Philip Baron van der Capellen who cordially welcomed the group of Raja Ahmad in the residence of the Dutch Governor. He also formed friendship with the Dutch people who were able to speak Malay language. In Bogor , his group attended the art performances such as opera and had a meeting with a prominent scholar named Sayid Abdur Rahman al-Mashri.

The historical record and the wonderful experience of RAH were written on his book, Tuhfat al-Nafis. At least there were two incredible experience of RAH during his visit to Betawi. First , his occasion to watch the opera in the Schouwburg Building (now Jakarta Art Building ) with the concavity architecture. Second, his meeting with Christiaan van Angelbeek, the official interpreter for the Dutch Indigenous Administration Council.

In the 19 th century, there were two buildings that were frequently used to held art performances in Betawi, the Schouwburg Building and the Societet Concordia Building . However, he could not see any art performance taken place in the Societet Concordia Building as it was built after the attendance of his group to Betawi in 1833 A.D. The Societet de Harmonie Building, another name of the Schouwburg Building, was erected in 1815 A.D. with the capacity building was around 250 people with rumbia roof. By Deandles, it was functioned as gallery space. However, it was refurbished in 1821 A.D. then was used as theatrical building with 1.476 meters square called Schouwburg.

The truth about where the group of Raja Ahmad stayed, watching all of the art show in Betawi had ever been a debate. There were two parts with different point of views. The first one supported the statement that the group of Raja Ahmad was in the Schouwburg Building and the other one was on the contrary, Raja Ahmad's group was in the Societet de Harmonie Building. In Tuhfat al-Nafis , it says “ Syahdan pada satu malam datang panggil Gubernur Jenderal segala anak raja utusan itu; yang disuruhnya yaitu Sayid Hasan. Maka pergilah sekalian utusan itu. Maka lalulah dibawanya kepada satu rumah main wayang, Holanda, kata orang namanya wayang komedi, dan sifat rumahnya itu lekuk ke dalam tanah.... ” (One night, came an envoy named Sayid Hasan and his entire group member to the art building named Holanda. Most people called it by Komidi Holanda which had a concavity architecture). As a consequence, we may conclude that Raja Ahmad's group and RAH attended the art performances taken place in the Schouwburg Building , not in the Societet de Harmonie Building.

In 1826 A.D, Raja Ali Haji went along with his father to the northern coast of Java Island . It was intended to collect the fund to accomplish the pilgrimage by doing commercial enterprise. He felt in sick, even he went into coma in Juana sub-district. His father, Raja Ahmad, had ever bought for him a coffin as RAH was assumed for had been died. However, he got well immediately for the enormous God's boon.


5.2. The Journey to Mecca

As stated above, he went along with the group of the Riau-Lingga Sultanate to accomplish the pilgrimage headed by his father, Raja Ahmad. On March 5 th , 1828 A.D. or Sya'ban 18 th , 1243 H, they arrived in Jeddah. Since his pilgrimage, Raja Ahmad was commonly called Engku Haji Tua while his son, Raja Ali Haji was called Raja Ali Haji. During his journey to Mecca , he gained much profound knowledge for his life and his intellectual development.

He was noticed as a prominent scholar after his back from the pilgrimage. During the tenure of his brother, Raja Ali bin Ja'far or the eighth Yang Dipertuan Muda Riau (1845 A.D. – 1857 A.D.) who replaced his brother named Raja Abdur Rahman bin Raja haji, the Seventh Yang Dipertuan Muda Riau (1833 A.D. – 1845 A.D.), RAH was asked for teaching the Islamic knowledge in the Riau-Lingga Sultanate family. Moreover, Raja Ali bin Ja'far was also in his class.

He was a significant person for every Islamic case. He answered all of the Islamic problems patiently when he was asked for those. He was noted as an expert on religion, literature, language, history, law and state administration. He teached Arabic including nahwu (Arabic grammar) and sharaf (Arabic morpheme) , ushuluddin (The foundation of Islam), fiqih (The Islamic law) and tasawuf (The Islamic mysticism). Raja Haji Abdullah, the ninth Yang Dipertuan Muda Riau (1857 A.D. – 1858 A.D.) and Sheikh bin Ahmad al-Hadi were some of notable scholars that were noted as RAH's students.


5.3. Writing Experience

He took a great concern on writing, especially in literature when he was fourty. Among the other poets in the Riau-Lingga Sultanate, Johor and Pahang he was noted as the most productive one. Most of his works are regarded as valuable references for linguists including foreigners or domestics people.

This is just a short portrayal of his writing experience that was started from 1846 A.D. when he wrote Gurindam Dua Belas ( Tijdschrift van het Bataviaasch Genootschap II in Dutch language) , which was published by E. Netscher in 1854 A.D. Another one is Bustanul Katibin that was written and published at Betawi in 1850 A.D. On April 15 th , 1857 A.D., it was carved on the stone in Panyengat Island . In the same year, Raja Ali Haji and Haji Ibrahim set cooperation with H. Von De Wall to write Malay dictionary. Still in the same year as before, he had prepared a text entitled Muqaddimah fi Intizam al-Wazaif al-Mulk Khususan ila Maulana wa Shahibina Yang Dipertuan Muda Raja Ali al-Mudabbir lil Biladi al-Riauwiyah wa Sairi Dairatihi ( The Introduction of King's Authority: The Instructions for Raja Ali Haji ). It was a short essay that contained wazifah (three points) that were used for consideration in the cognizance process. In 1865 A.D., one of his works entitled Silsilah Melayu dan Bugis (The Genealogy of Melay and Bugis), Kitab Nikah (The Marriage Book), and Syair Suluh Pegawai (The Instruction for State Employee). In addition, the writing of Tuhfat al-Nafis was finished on November 25, 1866 A.D.

RAH was known for having close friendship with Hermann Von De Wall, whose full name was Hermann Theodor Friedrich Karl Emil Wilhelm August Casimir Von De Wall. He was a German born in Giessen , on March 30 th , 1807 A.D. On June 12 th , 1862 A.D, RAH suggested Von De Wall to compile the Malay dictionary that was done in 1870 A.D. In the same year, one of Raja Ali Haji's works, Bustanul Katibin, was published by H. Von De Wall as “ Kitab perkeboenan djoeroetoelis bagi kanak-kanak yang hendak menoentoet belajar akan dija ” (The Garden of the Poets for People who want to Learn Literature). By his cooperation with Von De Wall, the second edition of Tjakap-2 Rampai-2 Bahasa Malajoe Djohor was put out by Gupernemen at Betawi in 1872 A.D. On May 2 nd , 1873, Hermann Von De Wall was died. It was assumed that Raja Ali Haji died in the same year.

6. Awards

On November 10th, 2004, Raja Ali Haji was awarded the title “National Hero” by the President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. One of his works, Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa, published in 1985 A.D. – 1986 A.D, was used as the reference of Indonesian national language since it was used in the Congress of Indonesian Youth on October 28th, 1928 A.D. The award as National Hero is properly given to Raja Ali Haji for his incredible contribution for Indonesia.

On November 10th, 2004, Raja Ali Haji was awarded the title “National Hero” by the President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. One of his works, Kitab Pengetahuan Bahasa, published in 1985 A.D. – 1986 A.D, was used as the reference of Indonesian national language since it was used in the Congress of Indonesian Youth on October 28th, 1928 A.D. The award as National Hero is properly given to Raja Ali Haji for his incredible contribution for Indonesia.


  • Abdullah, Wan Mohd. Shaghir. “Raja Ali Haji: Pujangga Melayu termasyhur”, on www.ulama-nusantara.blogspot.com.
  • Junus, Hasan. 2002. Raja Ali Haji: Budayawan di Gerbang Abad XX, cet. II. Pekanbaru: Unri Press.
  • “Raja Ali Haji: Magma Sastra Melayu”, on http://www.kompas.com/gayahidup/news/0411/25/011519.htm accessed on November 20, 2007.
  • Tim Penyusun, Sejarah Perjuangan Raja Ali Haji sebagai Bapak Bahasa Indonesia, (Pekanbaru: Unri Press, 2004).
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