Hamzah Fansuri

Hamzah Fansuri (Jawi: حمزه فنسوري ; also spelled Hamzah Pansuri, d. c. 1590 ?) was a 16th-century Sumatran Sufi writer, and the first writer known to write mystical panentheistic ideas in the Malay language. He wrote poetry as well as prose.


Information on Hamzah's life comes largely from the takhallus bait (pen-name stanza) that ends his poetry (syair), as well as from the work of his disciple Hasan Fansuri and commentaries on Hamzah's poems. However, many of his biographical details are uncertain.[1] His name indicates that he may be from Barus (also known as Fansur to the Arabs), or have spent a large part of his life there.[2][3] A link to the Siamese Ayutthaya (Shahr-i-Naw) has also been proposed, although it may be that he travelled to Ayutthaya rather than that being his birthplace.[4] He was inducted into a Sufi order[5] and it is thought that he may have worked at the court of the Aceh Sultanate.

Hamzah travelled widely, and was known to have visited the Malay Peninsula, Mughal India, Mecca and Medina, and Baghdad.[3] He was one of the earliest Southeast Asians to have completed the hajj during the early 16th century.[6][5] The date of his death is generally assumed to be around 1590 or earlier,[4] although a later date during the reign of Sultan Iskandar Muda has also been proposed.[1] However, an inscription on a gravestone found in Mecca for a Shaykh Hamza b. Abd Allah al-Fansuri (note that this identification has been challenged) recorded a date of April 11, 1527.[7] Such an early date, if confirmed, may suggest that Hamzah did not live or work in Aceh, rather he was in Barus before leaving for Mecca where he died.[2]


Hamzah Fansuri's panentheism was derived from the writings of the medieval Islamic scholars. He was influenced by Ibn Arabi's doctrine of Waḥdat al-Wujūd popular in Persia and Mughal India during the 16th century.[3] He perceived God as immanent within all things, including the individual, and sought to unite one's self with the indwelling spirit of God. He employed the doctrine of seven stages of emanation (martabat) in which God manifests Himself in this world, ending in the Perfect Man, a doctrine widespread in Indonesia at the time. His teachings were promoted by Aceh theologian Shamsuddin al-Sumatrani.

However, his views were later deemed heretical by Nuruddin ar-Raniri for not conforming to the Islamic belief that God remained unchanged by His creation.[8] Nuruddin travelled to Aceh and under his influence, the Sultana Taj ul-Alam attempted to eradicate Hamzah's works and name, and his writings were burnt.[3]


The poetry, syair or ruba'i, of Hamzah Fansuri are usually not more than 13-15 stanzas, but some may be up to 21.[9] 32 of his poems have survived, and Hamzah included in each poem his name and information about himself in the last stanza (takhallus bait). Scholars have commented on his technical skill and mastery in his rhymes, the effective blending Arabic words into Malay poetic structure. They also noted a fondness for pun in his works that displays his humour and poetical virtuosity.[4][10] He also wrote prose, and his three surviving works in prose are:

  • Sharab al-'ashiqin ("The Lovers' Beverage")
  • Asrar al-'arifin ("The Secrets of the Gnostics")
  • Kitab al-Muntahi ("The Adept") – a collection of Arabic and Persian quotations with discussions in Malay.

He was the first writer to write about Sufi doctrines in the Malay language, or indeed any other languages of the Malay archipelago.[11]

See also


  1. Vladimir I. Braginsky (1999). "Towards the Biography of Hamzah Fansuri. When Did Hamzah Live ? Data From His Poems and Early European Accounts". Archipel. 57 (2): 135–175. doi:10.3406/arch.1999.3521.
  2. R Michael Feener; Patrick Daly; Anthony Reed, eds. (January 1, 2011). Mapping the Acehnese Past. Brill. p. 33. ISBN 978-9067183659.
  3. Keat Gin Ooi, ed. (13 October 2004). Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor, Band 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 561. ISBN 978-1576077702.
  4. G.W.J. Drewes and L.F. Brakel (eds. and tr.). The poems of Hamzah Fansuri. Dordrecht and Cinnaminson: Foris Publications, 1986. ISBN 90-6765-080-3, pp-3–18
  5. Tagliocozzo, Eric (2013-04-25). The Longest Journey: Southeast Asians and the Pilgrimage to Mecca. Oxford University Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-19-530827-3.
  6. Mary Somers Heidhues. Southeast Asia: A Concise History. London: Thames and Hudson, 2000. p. 81
  7. Vladimir I. Braginsky (2001). "On the Copy of Hamzah Fansuri's Epitaph Published by C. Guillot & L. Kalus". Archipel. 62 (1): 21–33. doi:10.3406/arch.2001.3656.
  8. M.C. Ricklefs. A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1300, 2nd ed. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994. p. 51
  9. Stefan Sperl; Christopher Shackle, eds. (1996). Classical Traditions and Modern Meanings. Brill Academic Publishing. p. 383. ISBN 978-9004102958.
  10. L.F. Brakel (1979). "HAMZA PANSURI: Notes on: Yoga Practies, Lahir dan Zahir, the 'Taxallos', Punning, a Difficult Passage in the Kitāb al-Muntahī, Hamza's likely Place of Birth, and Hamza's Imagery". Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. 52 (1:235): 73–98. JSTOR 41492842.
  11. Syed Muhammad Naguib Al-Attas (1970). The Mysticism of Hamzah Fansuri. University of Malaya Press.

Further reading

  • Muhammad Naguib al-Attas. The mysticism of Hamzah Fansuri. Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1970.
  • G.W.J. Drewes and L.F. Brakel (eds. and tr.). The poems of Hamzah Fansuri. Dordrecht and Cinnaminson: Foris Publications, 1986. ISBN 90-6765-080-3
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