SHAMAN, SAIVA AND SUFI
X. MAGICIAN AND MUSLIM
A rough granite monolith inscribed with Muslim laws in the Malay language and Arabic lettering, recently
discovered in Trengganu, is evidence that Islam had reached the east coast of the Malay Peninsula as early as the
fourteenth century. At the beginning of the next century it became the State religion of Malacca. Barbosa ascribed
this change of creed from Hinduism to the presence of many Indian Muslim traders at that port. An Achinese
account gives 1474 A.D. as the date of the conversion of the first ruler of Kedah to embrace the religion of the
Arabian Prophet. The royal house of Malacca gave rulers to Johore, Pahang and Perak, dominated Selangor and
Negri Sembilan and so spread the new faith throughout the Peninsula.
The early missionaries came from the Coromandel Coast and Malabar, and therefore made the Malays Sunnis
of the school of Shafe'i. Later arrived missionaries from the Hadramaut. In the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries Sayids of the great Hadramaut house, descendants of 'Alawi, grandson of 'Isa al−Mohajir, gained
enormous influence at the Perak court, one of them marrying a sister of Perak's most famous ruler and becoming
the father of a Sultan of that State.
The Malays of the Peninsula have been Muslims for some five hundred years. No zealots, they are orthodox
and convinced believers. But in their beliefs and their magic the influence of the early Indian missionaries of their
latest faith is marked.
There is a book called the Crown of Kings, of which several editions have been printed in Egypt and at Mecca.
It is on sale at most native bookshops in the Peninsula. Its author was an Achinese, prominent in the war against
the Dutch, Shaikh 'Abbas, who died in 1895. The book is especially interesting because, like "the majority of
Muslim philosophers and authors of bibliographical and encyclopaedic works," the compiler "keeping to the
classification of the sciences given by the Aristotelians, considers astrology as one of the seven or nine branches
of the natural sciences, placing it with medicine, physiognomy, alchemy, the interpretation of dreams, and so on."
The work is not free from Malay and Indian influence. There are given, for example, five divisions of a five−day
cycle, presided over by Siva the Supreme Lord, Siva the Destroyer, Sri, Brahma, and Vishnu! Still, the treatise is
a fair example of what Islam has taught the Malay to regard as science, and it is, in effect, a repertory of his latest
The author begins by saying that the science of astrology as first taught by Enoch was simple, and became
complex and difficult only at the prayer of Jesus, whose whereabouts before His arrest by the Jews were betrayed
by astrological calculations. This part of the book quotes among its authorities Abu Ma'shar, an Arab astrologer
known to Christendom in the Middle Ages as Albumasar, and Ja'far al−Sadik, the sixth of the twelve Imams,
reported by the Shilahs to have been the author of a book of infallible astrological prognostications for the
information of the House of the Prophet. A manuscript work on "Prognostications by Ja'far al−Sadik" came into
my hands from Malacca, and in Acheh and Java also fortune−tellers' manuals are ascribed to him.
Crude astrology divorced from all knowledge of astronomy enters largely into the Muslim element in Malay
magic. It determines lucky and unlucky times for begetting children, fighting, house building and planting. At the
Perak court the moment propitious for the circumcision of a prince is divined from pools of oil floating on water
"in the shape of moon and stars." There are charms that must be written only when the constellation of the
Scorpion is invisible. The meaning of a dream may depend on the day of the week on which it came to the
sleeper; the omen to be drawn from an eclipse on the month and year of its occurrence. Astrology is employed to
trace a thief or recover stolen property, and is part and parcel of most forms of divination. For example, there are
several ways of ascertaining how long one shall live, ways different according to the month of the Muhammadan
year. In the first month one has to close one's eyes at midnight, recite "Say, 'God is One!'" ten times, and then
open one's eyes and gaze at the moon; if it looks black, in that month one will die. In the fifth and sixth months
one must gaze not at the moon but at a lamp and that only on a Wednesday night. In the seventh and eighth
months one recites "Say, 'I seek refuge in the Lord of the daybreak!'" seven times and gazes at water in a bowl; if
it looks red, in that month one will die. In the Fasting month one recites "Praise be to God" nine times and gazes
at the moon; if one's shadow is there, in that month one will die. In the last two months of the year the eyes have
to be closed, the passage "Say, 'God is One!'" recited thrice and the creed once, and one's gaze directed at a cloudless sky either at dawn or at eve; if it looks red like blood, assuredly in that month one will die.
All Malay treatises on divination from dreams bear an Arabic title and are of Muslim origin. A popular poem
on the subject begins by explaining the omens to be drawn from dreaming that one sees Allah, meets an angel,
beholds the Throne of God or Paradise or the Razor Bridge across hell−fire or the Guarded Tablet of Fate. Then it
interprets the meaning of dreams about the Four Friends of the Prophet, the Quran, Iblis, being banished by a
Shaikh, riding a camel, eating horse−flesh, seeing a date tree or a fig tree! Needless to say, none of this theology,
zoology and botany is Malayan. Local fauna often takes the place of alien fauna in native translations of Muslim
manuals, but otherwise their contents are foreign and it is futile to look for an indigenous theory of dreams among
Muslim Malays. All these dream manuals are divided into chapters according to the class of object about which
one dreams: men, beasts, flora, clothes, birds, insects, countries and roads, stones, fruits, musical instruments,
traps for fish and game.
The Crown of Kings devotes several pages to the omens to be drawn from involuntary convulsive movements
of the left eyebrow, the right eyelid, the left nostril, the upper lip, the shoulder−blades, the left ring−finger, and
every part of the body. When the Malacca hero, Hang Tuah, was in Java, one day he donned his magic creese
because an involuntary twitch of his right shoulder led him to expect a brawl. But few modern Malays heed these
niceties or have read of them. Divination by the values attached to the letters of men's names is best known from a
"Poem on Affinities" to determine if a marriage will be happy: the abjad or alphabet of letters representing
numerical values is employed. This Malay poem has been translated into English. Divination by possession is
known to the Malays as to the Arabs, but belongs to the primitive, impious, and decried practices of the shaman,
who on demand will use it even to foretell the outcome of a pilgrimage to Mecca! Geomancy, or divination from
sand, is mentioned in Malay literature under its Arabic name, but is never practised by the Malays. Nor do they
observe the entrails of animals for omens.
Malay treatises enumerate many animals, pigs, the rhinoceros, wild dogs, deer of all kinds, whose entrance
into a garden forebodes calamity, unless the evil portent is averted by the offering of prayers to the Prophet and of
cash, cloth, and a feast to the pious expert who recites the prayers. Butterflies, bees, hawks, woodpeckers
alighting on a roof, frogs, monkeys, snakes, and geckoes invading house or garden, a tortoise under the floor,
fungus growing in a kitchen, coconuts two on a stem, nests of wasps or mason−bees in one's clothes−all these are
variously portents of poverty, divorce, disease or death, which the recital of an appropriate passage from the
Quran can change into omens of riches, health and happiness. When a mat belonging to the second Caliph of the
Abbaside dynasty was gnawed by a mouse, it was sent to a diviner who foretold a quiet and prosperous reign for
its owner. The Malay manuscript from which the above list of portents is taken concludes with a dissertation on
the omens to be drawn from the gnawing by mice of mats or pillows or of the neck, the right arm or the left arm,
or the bottom or side or back of a man's coat!
A Kelantan magician, whose lore was full of Muslim borrowings, claimed that he could reflect genies on the
finger nails of innocent little boys. Sir Frank Swettenham met an Arab in Malaya who declared that he could see a
robbery re−enacted in the surface of water, but that first of all he would see a little old genie by whose help the
scene of the crime would be reflected. The same writer saw a bowl of water, with a cotton lid tied taut across it,
used as a planchette to discover a thief. A chapter of the Quran was read, two men supported the bowl by the rim,
and when at last a slip of paper containing the name of one of the suspects was laid on the lid, the bowl began to
revolve. (The author explains that the bowl failed to respond to the first four names, that the names were written
in English characters unintelligible to the Malays present and that the experiment succeeded twice!) Among the
regalia of the ruler of Negri Sembilan is a bowl and a hair. Divination with this apparatus is done by Malays to
discover a thief. The bowl is divided by lines of Indian ink into eight compartments, each inscribed with the name
of the possible culprit. A blind man holds the hair, to which a gold ring is tied above the centre of the bowl, and
intones a Muslim prayer, whereupon, if the name of the culprit is there, the ring swings violently into the
compartment containing it.
Arab diviners, the recitation of passages from the Quran, the description of methods of divination in
magico−religious tracts, the observance of astrological times, all suggest that the forms of divination popular with
the modern Peninsular Malay are derived from Muslim sources.
A notable contribution from Islam to Malaya was a new type of amulet. The animist found a fetish in every
object possessed of potent soul−substance, stones from a water−fall, candle−nuts, cockle−shells, the hardy grass (Eleusine coracana) that survives even on the trodden path. A strange knot in a Malacca cane, a curious whorl on
the wooden sheath of a dagger, a mark on the damascene of a creese that no smith designed to fashion, the rare
celt, the Perak "ball of petrified dew," all these attracted his attention and awe and trust. The bezoar stone secreted
in fish or monkey or coconut he kept in rice−grain for fear that it should vanish offended and an article of great
medicinal value be lost. Then, India introduced a fresh stock of charms. The tinsel marriage crown protecting
bride and groom, the thread tied round the newly−wedded and on the wrist of a child, the incense burnt to scare
demons, the waving of charmed water over a married pair and over the sick, and perhaps the rubbing of those in
ghostly peril and the frail and ill with yellow turmeric, red betel, and black ashes may be traced to this source.
Last of all, Islam trafficked in amulets inscribed with magic squares, cabalistic letters, the signs of the planets and
the signs of the zodiac, the names of the angels and the Excellent Names of Allah. The hexagonal star of
Solomon's seal is used by Malays to cure madness and possession by devil, familiar spirit, ghost or genie. In
Perak three such stars are drawn on paper that is steeped in water for washing the face of one afflicted with
dizziness. A magic square scratched on leaf or paper and buried in the middle of a rice−field or at its four corners
will keep away rats and pests from the plants. Arabic characters representing K, M, 7, D, 3, ALA if traced in oil
on the palm of the hand and furtively rubbed on one's face in the presence of one of the opposite sex will attract
that person's love. Another such formula will bring the Perak fisherman a good catch. Yet another is hung round
the neck of an infant that refuses its mother's breast. One is inscribed on lead and planted under the house−ladder
of a woman one loves illicitly. Another is put under a patient's pillow to induce sleep. A text from the Quran is
hung in a child's locket to save it from convulsions or tied in a woman's waist−belt to save her from demons, or
fastened to an aching limb or written on paper to be dissolved in a patient's drinking water. Printed or manuscript
texts are pasted over the door of house or room to scare evil spirits. There is a translation by a Kelantan Malay of
a treatise popular with Indian Sunnis, the Mujarrabati−i−Dirbi, or "Prescriptions," which cites among its sources
works by al−Buni, a celebrated Arabian writer on the Cabbala, divination, magic squares, and the virtues of the
Basmala. The Basmala is a name for the Arabic formula translated "In the Name of God, the Merciful, the
Compassionate." The Malay translation of the "Prescriptions" relates as follows:−"When God sent down the
Basmala the hills shook. Its Arabic letters are nineteen, the number of the angels in charge of hell; whosoever
recites them shall not be damned. It was the Basmala that set up Solomon's kingdom. Whoever writes down the
phrase six hundred times and wears it shall be honoured by men. Whoever recites it seven hundred and eighty−six
times for seven consecutive days shall gain whatever he desires. Read fifty times over the face of a tyrant it will
bring him low. Written down sixty−one times and worn it will make the barren fruitful. Written on tin and put in a
fishing net it will attract shoals from all the seas." Similar virtues attach to the opening chapter of the Quran and
many texts used by Muslims to ward off physical and spiritual ills.
Incantations are frowned upon by strict theologians but, as we have seen, they are the breath of the Malay
magician's life. Recited for a lawful object they do not strike the vulgar as unorthodox. Illicit charms for the
seduction of women the Malay has inherited from the Hindu. And if there is reason to suspect the efficacy of his
appeal to "Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate" and to Muhammad to make a girl yield to her lover, then "it is
better if possible" to add a conclusion patently impious:−
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate!
Friend of mine, Iblis! and all ye spirits and devils
That love to trouble man!
I ask you to go and enter the body of this girl,
Burning her heart as this sand burns,
Fired with love for me.
Bring her to yield herself to me!
By virtue of this rice and steam
Place her here by my hearth
Or else take ye heed!
In a charm against the Will o' the Wisp a Kelantan magician, with pantheism perhaps unconscious, vaunts, "I
am Iblis, the son of Pharaoh! "
To destroy an enemy, there is prescribed in Malay versions of Muslim treatises a world−wide method of
sorcery. A cabalistic symbol is inscribed on wax. The wax is moulded in the form of a man. Then the eyes of the figure are pierced with a needle or its belly stabbed, while a purely Arabic charm is recited to call down upon the
victim the anger of Allah! To rob an enemy of power to harm, it suffices to draw his portrait in the dust of
crossroads, grind one's heel on his navel, tread on his pictured heart, beat the face with a stick, and recite a short
imprecation. Symbolic charms and Arabic formulae are also prescribed to cause impotency. Every good Malay
Muslim views with horror these black practices and Satanic incantations.
The contribution of Islam to Malay magic is not interesting. Flotsam and jetsam from the Talmud, the works of
the Gnostics, the science of Indian astrologers and the practices of Hindu sorcerers, it came to Malaya third−hand.