Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir

Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir bigraphy, stories - Malay author, translator and teacher

Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir : biography

1796 – 1854

Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir (1796–1854) (Arabic: عبد الله بن عبد القادر) also known as Munshi Abdullah, was a Malayan writer of Indian origin. He was a famous Malacca-born Indian munshi of Singapore and died in Jeddah, then part of the Ottoman Empire (it is now in Saudi Arabia).

Munshi Abdullah is regarded as the most cultured Malay who ever wrote, one of the greatest innovators in Malay letters and the father of modern Malay literature.

The term Munshi means "teacher" or "educator". Munshi Abdullah was a great-grandson of a Hadhrami Arab trader, and also had Tamil and to a smaller extent, Malay ancestry. Owing to his ethnic and religious background, the Malays would refer to him as a Jawi Peranakan or Jawi Pekan.

Munshi Abdullah followed his father’s career path as a translator and teacher of colonial officials in the Malay Archipelago, mainly the British and the Dutch.


His most important works are the Hikayat Abdullah (an autobiography), Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Kelantan (an account of his trip for the government to Kelantan), and Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Mekah (a narrative of his pilgrimage to Mecca 1854). His work was an inspiration to future generations of writers and marks an early stage in the transition from the classical Malay literature to modern Malay literature.

Hikayat Abdullah was the major literary work of Munshi Abdullah. It was completed in 1845 and first published in 1849, making it one of the first Malay literary texts to be published commercially. Abdullah’s authorship was prominently displayed in this text and the contents were conveyed in simple, contemporary Malay. Unlike typical classical Malay literary works that contain fantasies and legendary stories, Abdullah’s work was realistic. The book remains a reliable and accurate reference on early Malay history to this day.

Abdullah was known as an ardent critic of the Malay political system of Kerajaan ("kingdom"). His work, Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Kelantan contained his advice to Malay rulers and comparisons he made between the British system of governing and that of Malay rulers.

Abdullah argued that the system of Kerajaan was detrimental to the Malay individual, as it was an impediment to the social improvement of the Malays. The Malay Sultan was deemed to be someone who was selfish, with no concern toward his subjects, to the extent they were treated like animals rather than humans.

The idea of modernity and striving for excellence within the Malay community stemmed from his ideas and stinging criticisms of the ancient Malay polity of the Kerajaan. Under the Kerajaan, the Malays were deprived of education and hence they were easily oppressed. Without education, they did not have the ability to question the injustice meted out to them and could not take the initiative to institute changes in order to improve their lives.

Although the condemnation may be exaggerated, Munshi Abdullah’s allegations were not without basis. He is regarded by many to be the first Malayan journalist, taking Malay literature out of its preoccupation with folk-stories and legends into accurate historical descriptions.

Abdullah died in Jeddah in October 1854 at the age of 58, before he reached Mecca.

Early life

Munshi Abdullah was born in Kampung Pali in Malacca. He was the youngest of five sons. All of his brothers died in infancy.The Autobiography of Munshi Abdullah He was sick most of the time and his mother took great care of him. As per the customary practices of the Malay community of that period, he was taken care of by various individuals as it was held that a child with poor immunity to diseases should be cared for by caretakers other than his or her biological parents. Munshi Abdullah was critical of the practice, describing it as stupid in the Hikayat Abdullah.Hikayat Abdullah