The Influential Nusantaran Sūfī in Mecca: Shaykh Ahmad Khatīb al-Sambasi al-Jawi

by Nurul Anwar Norruddin

The Malay scholars in Mecca played an important role in spreading Islamic knowledge to this part of the world. The 18th to 19th century was the period when Islamic scholarship was at its pinnacle amongst the Nusantaran ulama (scholars), with the majority of them learning and teaching in Mecca. These scholars wrote many books on various subjects in Arabic and Jawi/ Malay, receiving accolades even from the notable ulama of the Arab world.

Shaykh Ahmad Khatīb Sambas (the honorific title 'Shaykh', will not be included in most parts of this article for ease of reading) was one of those scholars who played a vital role in this tradition. He was born in Kampung Dagang Sambas in the Hijri month of Safar 1217 H/1802 CE. His father was ʿAbd al-Ghaffār bin ʿAbdallāh bin Muhammad bin Jalāl al-Dīn.

Early Years

In his early years, Ahmad Khatīb’s uncle, who was known to be a knowledgeable and pious man in the district of Sambas, nurtured him. Ahmad Khatīb spent his time searching for knowledge from various teachers in the Sultanate Territory of Sambas. According to Shaykh Ahmad Bin Muhammad Zain al-Fathani (1272 H/1908 CE), Ahmad Khatīb Sambas memorised the al-Qur’an and al-Hadith and had a deep knowledge of Islamic law. He travelled to Mecca when he was 19 and chose to stay in Mecca until the end of his life.

His Teachers

Ahmad Khatīb was a bright student. He was able to master the various branches of the Islamic sciences in three years what others would take thirty years to accomplish. It was in Mecca where he studied under many outstanding scholars – Shaykh Daud bin Abd ‘Allah al-Fatani (1297 H/1879 CE) being one of them.

Another one of his teachers was Sayyid Ahmad al-Marzuqi (1281 H), the author of the famous aqidah (creed) book 'Aqīdah al-'Awām, and who was also one of the Maliki mufti in Mecca.

He was also a student of Shaykh Ibrāhīm al-Bajuri (1276 H/1860 CE) – theologian and the Grand Shaykh of al-Azhar University who had many students from the Nusantara and is also the author of Risalah al-Bajuri fi al-Tauhid.

Ahmad Khatīb received the spiritual authority of the Qadiri Sufi Order from Shaykh Syamsuddin. Not much has been mentioned about him.

His Students

In Siyar wa Tarajim by ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Jabbar and al-Mukhtasar min Kitab Nasyr an-Nur wa al-Zuhar by ‘Abdullah Mirdad Abu al-Khair, Ahmad Khatīb was described as the “Leader” of the scholars of Jawi origin in Mecca.

Some of his well-known students were:

1. Shaykh Abdul Karim Banten (1325 H/1897 CE) whom he appointed as one of his main representatives. He had travelled to Singapore and stayed for about three years to spread and teach Islamic knowledge.

2. Shaykh Nawawi Bantan (1314 H/1896 CE) known as mahaguru sejati (the great scholar) wrote numerous monumental works in Arabic. At least 200 students would attend his halaqah (traditional learning circle) sessions in Mecca each time.

3. Shaykh Tholhah Kalisapu Cirebon (1935 H) who was from the lineage of Sunan Gunung Jati, one of the Wali Songo.[1]

4. Shaykh Kholil Bangkalan (1820 H/1925 CE) who alongside Sheikh Mahfuz Termas, held the highest narration amongst the ulama in the 19th century. 

The Sufi Order (Tariqah[2]) He Established

Tariqah Qadiriyah wa Naqsyabandiyah (TQN) is a unification of the Qadiri Order and the Naqsyabandi Order founded by Shaykh Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī (561 H/1166 CE) and Shaykh Bahaud-Din Naqshband (791 H/1389 CE) respectively.

It is not clear if Ahmad Khatīb inherited the spiritual chain of the Naqsybandi order through Shaykh Syamsuddin or from his other teachers. In practice, the elements of Qadiri is more evident than that of Naqsyabandi.

Almost all the successors and khulafa (representatives) of the TQN Sufi Order in the Malay World are from the lineage of Ahmad Khatīb Sambas. An interesting fact is that Ahmad Khatīb did not travel to Indonesia to spread and teach this tariqah. His students from the Nusantaran lands who had studied with him in Mecca fulfilled this task.

Even with the number of followers, Ahmad Khatīb Sambas was not concerned about renaming this new order as “Tariqah Sambasiyyah” which is an attribution to his name and which he has the authority to do. He was not creating a new order but continuing and merging the existing methods of the two orders; Qadiri and Naqsyabandi.

At present, the silsila (spiritual chain) of TQN that has flourished here in Nusantara are from these three renowned chains; the silsila of Shaykh Abdul Karim Banten (Mecca), Shaykh Thalhah Kalisapu Cirebon (West Java) and Shaykh Hasbullah Madurah (Central Java).

The spiritual authority of Shaykh Abdul Karim Banten (Mecca) was succeeded by the student network of Kiyai Asnawi Caringin (Banten), Kiyai Asy’ari Bakom (Bogor), Kiyai Arsyad Thowil Banten (Minahasa),  Kiyai Tubagus Falak (Bogor), Kiyai Ibrahim Brumbung (Demak) and later on to Kiyai Abdurrahman Mranggen (Demak), and others.

As for Shaykh Thalhah Kalisapu Cirebon, the authority was given to Kiyai Abdullah Mubarok bin Nur Muhammad; Abah Sepuh (Suryalaya) and then passed down to Kiyai Ahmad Shohibul Wafa Tajul Arifin; Abah Anom (Suryalaya).

The spiritual authority of Shaykh Ahmad Hasbullah Madura was passed down to Shaykh Tamim Peterongan (Jombang), and then to Kiyai Usman al-Ishaqi (Surabaya).


Inilah risalah yang dinamakan dia Fath ul-‘Arifin yang diterjemahkan dengan Bahasa Melayu, pada menyatakan bai’at zikir dan silsilah al-Qadiriryah dan al-Naqsyabandiyah.”
(This treatise is entitled Fath ul-‘Arifin, translated to the Malay Language, describing the initiation of zikr and the chain of al-Qadiriyah and al-Naqsyabandiyah.)

Fath ul-‘Arifin (Victory of the Gnostics) serves as a practical guide for practitioners of TQN. A treatise comprising of 12 pages, it is the most popular and important literature on Sufi practices in Malaya. Ahmad Khatīb Sambas did not write this treatise. Instead, he dictated it to his students. The version that is well recognised and widely available today was written by Shaykh Muhammad Bin Ismail Bin ‘Abdur Rahman al-Bali (1295 H/1877 CE). It was verified and published by Ahmad al-Fathani in 1305 H/1887 CE.

The core practice of TQN is zikr jahr (remembrance of the tongue) and zikr khafi (remembrance of the heart). A santri (seeker) is given the official permission to practice the litanies after receiving bai’ah/ talqin (oath of allegiance)[3] from a Mursyid (spiritual guide) who has narrated it from his teacher in a chain of narrations linking all the way back to Prophet Muhammad SAW.

Zikir jahr,
as associated with the Qadiri Order, is the recitation of the kalimah tauhid[4] and it consists of statements of negation and affirmation. Its function is to remove signs of syirik jaliy (associating partners with Allah SWT). Meanwhile, the purpose of zikir khafi (associated with Naqsyabandi Order) is to achieve sincerity by releasing and cleansing the heart of blameworthy traits.

In this treatise, Ahmad Khatīb affirms that this tariqah is based upon 5 different types of Sufi orders; Qadiri, Naqsybandi, Anfasiy, Junaydi and Muwafaqah. All of these, with their own uniqueness, have their place in the practice of TQN.

Fath ul-‘Arifin (Writer's copy)

According to Wan Muhammad Saghir, there are two of Ahmad Khatīb’s unpublished works still in the manuscript form. One is a treatise regarding Friday prayers and the other, regarding fiqh.


The name Ahmad Khatīb Sambas is synonymous with classical and modern academic works especially in the scope of the spread of Islam and in particular Sufism and the Sufi orders in Nusantara. Tariqah Qadariyah wa Naqsybandiyah is still very much practiced and has more than merely survived, having adherents in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei in spite of pressures from modern Muslim reformists and the colonialists.

One of the later mursyids in this order is Kiyai Shaykh Ahmad Sohibulwafa Tajul Arifin (1432 H/ 2011 AD) whose successful approaches in acclimatising traditional Sufism with modern life has attracted people from all classes including politicians, aristocrats and scholars. Abah Anom as he was called, established schools and higher institutions of learning centred on the spirit of the tariqah where textual academic research thrive alongside traditional religious learning.

Shaykh Ahmad Khatīb bin ʿAbd al-Ghaffār bin ʿAbdallāh al-Sambasi passed away in 1875 AD in Mecca.


[1] The Nine revered saints of Islam in Indonesia

[2] The basic goal of the tariqah is “purification on different levels, first from the lower qualities and the turpitude of the soul, then from the bondage of human qualities, and eventually a purification and election on the level of attributes” (Schimmel, 1975)

[3] This oath of allegiance has no legal obligation upon the practitioner. This oath seeks to allow the practitioner to be part of the blessed chain

[4] lā ʾilāha ʾillā -llāhu (لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا ٱللَّٰهُ), meaning "There is no god but Allah”


1. Abdullah, H.Wan Muhd. Saghir (1980) Perkembangan Ilmu Tasawuf dan tokoh-tokohnya di Nusantara, Khazanah Fathaniyah

2. H. Mohamed, Ustaz Haji Ali Mohamed (2004) Mengenal Tasauf dan Tarekat, Thinker’s Library

3. Schimmel, Annemarie. (1975) Mystical Dimensions of Islam, Chapel Hill

 4. Al-Attas, Syed Naquib (2020) Some Aspects of Sufism as Understood and Practised Among the Malays, Ta’dib International

5. Abdullah, H.Wan Muhd. Saghir (1980), Penyebaran Thariqat Muktabarah Sufiyah, Khazanah Fathaniyah

6. Thohir, Ajid , (2011) Tarekat Qodiriyah Naqsyabandiyyah Pondok Pesantren Suryalaya - Membangun Peradaban Dunia, Mudaawamah Warohmah

7. Sya’ban, A. Ginanjar (2017), Mahakarya Islam Nusantara, Pustaka Compass.

8. Bruinessen, MartinVan (2018), Islam Di Nusantara: Kitab Kuning, Pesantren dan Tarekat, Inisiatif Buku Darul Ehsan

9. Sya’ban, Ahmad Ginanjar (2018), Mahakarya Islam Nusantara, Pustaka Compass

10. Arifin, KH Ahmad Sohibul Wafa Tajul ‘Arifin (1976), Miftah as-Shudur, PT Laksana Utama