But as there is no language for the Infinite, How can we express its mysteries In finite words? Or how can the visions of the ecstatic Be described in earthly formula? So mystics veil their meanings in these shadows of the unseen
Mahmud Sa‘adu’l-Din Shabistari (quoted in al-Attas 1963: 25)
Contemporary accounts of Malay culture that focus on shamanism, dance, medicine and performance reveal only a partial view of Malay mysticism. However, given knowledge of the Malay martial art (silat) a more comprehensive understanding of Malay mysticism, religion, sorcery and magic becomes possible. Recognizing the silat master’s (guru silat) role in Malay mysticism reconfigures the social anthro- pology of Malay religion, sorcery and magic. Hence this account explores Malay mysticism, shamanism and sorcery from the perspective of silat, which may be considered as a kind of embodied war magic or warrior religion.
Shadows of the Prophet: Martial Arts and Sufi Mysticism is based upon my doc- toral dissertation (Farrer 2006b). Part I of the book, reflections, outlines the method- ological and theoretical base of the research. Chapter 1 outlines the fieldwork method of performance ethnography used to investigate a transnational silat organization called Seni Silat Haqq Melayu. This group are an offshoot of the Islamic Haqqani- Naqshbandi Sufi Order headed internationally by Shaykh Nazim, and led in South- east Asia by a Malay Prince; H.R.H. Shaykh Raja Ashman. Readers who prefer to delve directly into the ethnographic materials may skip Chapter 2, which contains an extensive academic literature review of anthropological theories of art, embodi- ment, magic, and performance read alongside Malay animism, shamanism, ritual and theatre. This reading encouraged me to merge perspectives from the anthropol- ogy of art with the anthropology of performance to conceptualise silat through the “performance of enchantment” and the “enchantment of performance.”
Part II, echoes, sketches eleven silat styles, alongside silat weaponry, dance, and martial techniques, before turning to the distinctive features of Seni Silat Haqq (Chapter 3). Next, I address the cosmology of silat, especially the shadow and reflection soul, which relates to Islamic Sufism, Malay magic, shadow theatre, and to notions of appearance and reality. Changing tack I consider Islam as a war- rior religion, analyzing the secrets of the prayer, chanting (dhikr), and the idea of becoming a shadow of the Prophet (Chapter 4).
Part III, doubles, explores the guru silat in the creation and maintenance of silat, and provides detailed genealogical data. I outline the career of the guru silat and regard how they double one another through spontaneous bodily movement (gerak), consider ritual empowerment granted through worldly and other-worldly powers, including rajas, saints, and spirits, and explore the relation of the guru silat to the
state (Chapter 5). Chapter 6 considers silat practitioners travelling from England to Malaysia, and Malaysian practitioners travelling to England to stage a theatre show. British students experienced social dramas engineered through collective forty- day retreats where adherents expected to break their egos (nafs), which considered alongside theatre raises questions concerning how social and aesthetic dramas feed into one another.
Part IV, shadows, charts the unseen realm (alam ghaib). Divination rituals pro- vide the guru silat with a personality theory, followed by an ordeal through boiling oil to reveal the power of God to grant invulnerability. The experience of these ritu- als examined together with cross-cultural and historical data, alongside theories of debunking, ritual heat, and war magic, let me to propose a theory of occulturation, meaning the attribution of occult power to esoteric skills (Chapter 7). Finally, Chap- ter 8 traces death and the afterlife. In summoning the shadows of the potent dead via martial dance, artwork, and urobic icons silat physically and spiritually transforms the practitioner by relinquishing their fear of death.
The College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at The University of Guam pro- vided a research grant of US$ 1,785 so that the pictures herein could appear in colour. For the most part, the Department of Sociology at The National University of Singapore supported my doctoral research undertaken between 2001 and 2007. Living in Singapore facilitated many bursts of intensive field work into Malaysia and promoted continuous access to the Singaporean Malay community. Special thanks are due to my principal supervisor, Roxana Waterson, for her patient guid- ance, amusing anecdotes, and her careful reading of my drafts. My second supervi- sor, Farid Alatas, provided many valuable insights, especially over sheesha smoked in Arab Street. Mutalib Hussin, my third supervisor, alerted me to the literature con- cerning riots in Malaysia. Ellis Finkelstein, acted as my unofficial guide and mentor throughout, and taught me the ethnographic method. Maribeth Erb gave continual support and encouragement. Todd Ames, Anne Ames, and Paul Rae read through various drafts of the dissertation and extended useful suggestions. Many thanks also go to Lian Kwen Fee, Lee Hin Peng, Lily Kong, Chua Beng Huat, Hing Ai Yun, Pauline Straughn, and Volker Schmidt who each helped in their own way. Jim Fox encouraged me to focus upon the Naqshbandi Sufi Order. Joel Kahn, Tony Reid, Matthew Mathews, Geoffrey Benjamin, and Vivienne Wee provided stimulating discussions on Malay topics. Thanks also go to my former teachers Bernard Bur- goyne, John Crutchley, Hamish Watson, and William Outhwaite who encouraged further studies. Michael Roberts persuaded me to write about noble death. Last but not least my thanks go to Bryan Turner who suggested that I ‘‘publish furiously.’’
Shaykh Nazim and H.R.H Shaykh Raja Ashman both generously gave their per- mission for this study to be undertaken. Pa’ Ariffin introduced me to silat in 1996 and provided warm hospitality during my many stays at his houses in Malaysia. Hospitality was also extended by his family including Muss, Din, Tutak, Watri, Jad, Fatima, Mrs. Mahidin and Pa’ Tam. I would like to thank the entire Seni Silat Haqq Melayu troupe, including Moone, Cecily, Chief, Colin, Toby, Paul and Nazim. Nir- wana Gelanggang in Kuala Lumpur, especially Cikgu Kahar, Jazwant, Solleh, and Rambo taught me valuable lessons. Cikgu Ezhar initiated me into silat gayong. I am grateful to the late Razak for hosting me after some particularly greasy fieldwork.
I would like to thank Mahaguru Hussain bin Kaslan for allowing me to observe his black-belt class, guru silat Samat for lessons in silat cimande, and Sheikh Alau’ddin who put me through a silat instructor’s course with the Singapore Silat