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Syed Muhammad al Naquib bin Ali al-Attas (Arabic: ‫ سيد محمد نقيب العطاس‬Sayyid Muḥammad Naqīb al-

ʿAṭṭās; born 5 September 1931) is a Malaysian Muslim philosopher. He is one of the few contemporary
scholars who is thoroughly rooted in the traditional Islamic sciences and who is equally competent in
theology, philosophy, metaphysics, history, and literature.[citation needed] He is the pioneer in proposing the idea
of Islamisation of knowledge. Al-Attas' philosophy and methodology of education have one goal:
Islamisation of the mind, body and soul and its effects on the personal and collective life on Muslims as well
as others, including the spiritual and physical non-human environment. He is the author of twenty-seven
works on various aspects of Islamic thought and civilisation, particularly
on Sufism, cosmology, metaphysics, philosophy and Malay language and literature.


 1Early life and education

 2Malay Literature and Sufism

 3Islam and Metaphysics

 4Awards and achievements

 5Ancestry

 6Bibliography

o 6.1Books and Monographs

 7See also

 8Notes

 9References

 10External links

Early life and education[edit]

Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas was born in Bogor, Java, Dutch East Indiesinto a family with a history of
illustrious ancestors, saints.[1] His genealogical tree can be authentically traced over a thousand years
through the Ba'Alawi sayyids of Hadramaut and all the way back to the Imam Hussein, the grandson of
Prophet Muhammad.[2] He was the second of three sons; his older brother, Syed Hussein Alatas later
became an academian and politician, and also had a younger brother, Syed Zedal. [3] He is the cousin of the
academic Ungku Abdul Aziz.
After World War II, in 1946 he returned to Johor to complete his secondary education. He was exposed
to Malay literature, history, religion, and western classics in English.
After al-Attas finished secondary school in 1951, he entered the Malay Regiment as cadet officer no. 6675.
There he was selected to study at Eaton Hall, Chester, England and later at the Royal Military Academy,
Sandhurst, UK (1952–1955). This gave him insight into British society. During this time he was drawn to the
metaphysics of the Sufis, especially works of Jami, which he found in the library of the Academy. He
travelled widely, drawn especially to Spain and North Africa where Islamic heritage had a profound influence
on him. Al-Attas felt the need to study, and voluntarily resigned from the King's Commission to serve in the
Royal Malay Regiment, to pursue studies at the University of Malaya in Singapore (1957–1959).
While an undergraduate at University of Malaya, he wrote Rangkaian Ruba'iyat, a literary work, and Some
Aspects of Sufism as Understood and Practised among the Malays. He was awarded the Canada Council
Fellowship for three years of study at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal. He
received the M.A. degree with distinction in Islamic philosophy in 1962, with his thesis Raniri and the
Wujudiyyah of 17th Century Acheh. Al-Attas went on to the School of Oriental and African
Studies, University of London where he worked with Professor A.J. Arberry of Cambridge and Dr. Martin
Lings. His doctoral thesis (1962) was a two-volume work on the mysticism of Hamzah Fansuri.
In 1965, al-Attas returned to Malaysia and became Head of the Division of Literature in the Department of
Malay Studies at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. He was Dean of the Faculty of Arts from 1968
until 1970, where he reformed the academic structure of the Faculty requiring each department to plan and
organise its academic activities in consultation with each other, rather than independently, as had been the
practice hitherto.[citation needed]
Thereafter he moved to the new National University of Malaysia, as Head of the Department of Malay
Language and Literature and then Dean of the Faculty of Arts. He advocated the use of Malay as the
language of instruction at the university level and proposed an integrated method of studying Malay
language, literature and culture so that the role and influence of Islam and its relationship with other
languages and cultures would be studied with clarity. He founded and directed the Institute of Malay
Language, Literature, and Culture (IBKKM) at the National University of Malaysia in 1973 to carry out his
In 1987, with al-Attas as founder and director, the International Institute of Islamic Thought and
Civilisation (ISTAC) was established in Kuala Lumpur. This institution strives to bring an integrated
Islamisation into the consciousness of its students and faculty. Al-Attas envisioned the plan and design of
every aspect of ISTAC,[citation needed] and has incorporated Islamic artistic and architectural principles throughout
the campus and grounds.

Malay Literature and Sufism[edit]

He authored Rangkaian Ruba'iyyat a literary work that was among the first ever published in 1959 and the
classic work, Some Aspects of Sufism as Understood and Practised Among the Malays, in 1963. His two-
volume doctoral thesis on The Mysticism of Hamzah Fansuri, which is the most important and
comprehensive work to date on one of the greatest and perhaps the most controversial Sufi scholars in the
Malay world earned him the PhD in the UK in 1965.
Al-Attas engaged in polemics on the subjects of Islamic history, philology, and Malay literary history, which
have resulted in the opening of new avenues for known as the Sha'ir, and have established that Hamzah
Fansuri was the originator of the Malay Sha'ir. He has also set forth his ideas on the categorisation of Malay
literature and periodisation of its literary history. He has contributed importantly to the history and origin of
the modern Malay language.
His commentaries on the ideas of Fansuri and al-Raniri are the first definitive ones on early Malay Sufis
based on 16th- and 17th-century manuscripts. In fact he discovered and published his meticulous research
on the oldest extant Malay manuscript, wherein among other important matters, he also solved the riddle of
the correct arrangement of the Malay-Islamic cyclical calendar. He was also responsible for the formulation
and conceptualisation of the role of the Malay language in nation building during debates with political
leaders in 1968. This formulation and conceptualisation was one of the important factors that led to the
consolidation of Malay as the national language of Malaysia. As the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University
of Malaya, he personally initiated its implementation and mobilised the Faculty and the student
organisations toward the systematic implementation of Malay as an intellectual and academic language. In
fact, al-Attas's writings in Malay on Islamic subjects are unique in their poetic prose, and serve as literary
models for the Islamic-oriented scholars and writers of Malaysia. This marks the first time that modern
Malay is used intellectually and philosophically, thereby creating a new style of language. [citation needed]

Islam and Metaphysics[edit]

Al-Attas maintains that modern science sees things as mere things, and that it has reduced the study of the
phenomenal world to an end in itself. Certainly this has brought material benefits, however it is
accompanied by an uncontrollable and insatiable propensity to destroy nature itself. Al-Attas maintains a
firm critique that to study and use nature without a higher spiritual end has brought mankind to the state of
thinking that men are gods or His co-partners. "Devoid of real purpose, the pursuit of knowledge becomes a
deviation from the truth, which necessarily puts into question the validity of such knowledge." [Islam and
Secularism, p. 36]
Al-Attas views Western civilisation as constantly changing and 'becoming' without ever achieving 'being'. He
analyses that many institutions and nations are influenced by this spirit of the West and they continually
revise and change their basic developmental goals and educational objectives to follow the trends from the
West. He points to Islamic metaphysics which shows that Reality is composed of both permanence and
change; the underlying permanent aspects of the external world are perpetually undergoing change [Islam
and Secularism, p. 82]
For al-Attas, Islamic metaphysics is a unified system that discloses the ultimate nature of Reality in positive
terms, integrating reason and experience with other higher orders in the suprarational and transempirical
levels of human consciousness. He sees this from the perspective of philosophical Sufism. Al-Attas also
says that the Essentialist and the Existentialists schools of the Islamic tradition address the nature of reality.
The first is represented by philosophers and theologians, and the latter by Sufis. The Essentialists cling to
the principle of mahiyyah (quiddity), whereas the Existentialists are rooted in wujud (the fundamental reality
of existence) which is direct intuitive experience, not merely based on rational analysis or discursive
reasoning. This has undoubtedly led philosophical and scientific speculations to be preoccupied with things
and their essences at the expense of existence itself, thereby making the study of nature an end in itself. Al-
Attas maintains that in the extra-mental reality, it is wujud (Existence) that is the real "essences" of things
and that what is conceptually posited as mahiyyah ("essences" or "quiddities") are in reality accidents of
The process of creation or bringing into existence and annihilation or returning to non-existence, and
recreation of similars is a dynamic existential movement. There is a principle of unity and a principle of
diversity in creation. "The multiplicity of existents that results is not in the one reality of existence, but in the
manifold aspects of the recipients of existence in the various degrees, each according to its strength or
weakness, perfection or imperfection, and priority or posteriority. Thus the multiplicity of existents does not
impair the unity of existence, for each existent is a mode of existence and does not have a
separate ontological status".[citation needed] He clarifies that the Essence of God is absolutely transcendent and is
unknown and unknowable, except to Himself, whereas the essence or reality of a thing consists of a mode
of existence providing the permanent aspect of the thing, and its quiddity, endowing it with its changing

Awards and achievements[edit]

Al-Attas developed a style and precise vocabulary that uniquely characterised his Malay writings and
language. In 1970, al-Attas was one of the senior founders of the National University of Malaysia, which
sought to replace the English language with the Malay language as the medium of instruction at the tertiary
level of education. In 1973, he founded and directed the Institute of Malay Language, Literature, and
Culture (IBKKM) at the new University.
Al-Attas has won international recognition by orient lists and scholars of Islamic and Malay civilisations. He
has chaired the panel on Islam in Southeast Asia at the 29th Congress International des Orientalistes in
Paris in 1973. In 1975, he was conferred Fellow of the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy for
outstanding contribution in the field of comparative philosophy. He was a Principal Consultant to the World
of Islam Festival held in London in 1976, and was speaker and delegate at the International Islamic
Conference held concurrently at the same place. He was also a speaker and an active participant at the
First World Conference on Islamic Education held at Mecca in 1977, where he chaired the Committee on
Aims and Definitions of Islamic Education. From 1976–77, he was a Visiting Professor of Islamic at Temple
University, Philadelphia, United States. In 1978. He chaired the UNESCO meeting of experts on Islamic
history held at Aleppo, Syria, and in the following year the President of Pakistan, General Muhammad Zia
ul-Haq, conferred upon him the Iqbal Centenary Commemorative Medal. [citation needed]
He occupies a position of intellectual eminence in his country as the first holder of the Chair of Malay
Language and Literature at the National University of Malaysia (1970–84), and as the first holder of the Tun
Abdul Razak Chair of Southeast Asian Studies at Ohio University, USA (1980–82) and as the Founder-
Director of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC), Malaysia (since 1987). He
has delivered more than 400 lectures throughout Europe, the United States, Japan, and the Far East and
the Muslim world. And in 1993, in recognition of his many important and far-reaching contributions to
contemporary Islamic thought, Anwar Ibrahim, as the Chairman of ISTAC and the President of the
International Islamic University Malaysia has appointed al-Attas as the first holder of the Abu Hamid al-
Ghazali Chair of Islamic Thought at ISTAC. King Hussein of Jordan made him a Member of the Royal
Academy of Jordan in 1994, and in June 1995 the University of Khartoum conferred upon him the Degree of
Honorary Doctorate of Arts (D. Litt.).
He is also an able calligrapher, and his work was exhibited at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam in 1954. He
has also published three Basmalah renditions on a living subject (kingfisher, 1970; chanticleer, 1972; fish,
1980) in some of his books. He also planned and designed the building of ISTAC (1991), the unique scroll
of the al-Ghazali Chair (1993), the auditorium and the mosque of ISTAC (1994), as well as their landscaping
and interior decor, imbuing them with a unique Islamic, traditional, and cosmopolitan character.
Syed Naquib is of mixed ancestry; His father, Syed Ali al-Attas, was the son of
a Hadhrami Arab preacher and a Circassiannoblewoman. On his father's side, Syed Naquib was the son of
a Hadhrami Arab and a Sundanese noblewoman.[4]

of Syed
Naquib al-Attas

A list of works by Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas is as follows. He authored more than two dozen books
and monographs, and a lot of articles.[5]

Books and Monographs[edit]

 (1959) Rangkaian Ruba'iyat (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka).

 (1963) Some Aspects of Sufism as Understood and Practised among the Malays (Singapore:
Malaysian Sociological Research Institute).

 (1968) The Origin of The Malay Sha'ir (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka).

 (1969) Raniri and the Wujudiyyah of the 17th Century Acheh (Kuala Lumpur: Monographs of the
Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society).

 (1970) The Mysticism of Hamzah Fansuri (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press).

 (1970) The Correct Date of the Terengganu Inscription (Kuala Lumpur: Museum Department).

 (1971) Concluding Postscript to The Origin of The Malay Sha'ir (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan

 (1972) Islam dalam Sejarah dan Kebudayaan Melayu (Kuala Lumpur: Universiti Kebangsaan

 (1975) Comments on the Re-Examination of Al-Raniri’s Hujjatu’l Siddiq: A Refutation (Kuala

Lumpur: Museum Department).

 (1977) Islām: Faham Agama dan Asas Akhlak (Kuala Lumpur: Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia

 (1978) Islam and Secularism (Kuala Lumpur: Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM); reprint,
Kuala Lumpur: International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC), 1993).

 (1980) The Concept of Education in Islam (Kuala Lumpur: Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia
(ABIM); reprint, Kuala Lumpur: International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC)).

 (1986) A Commentary on the Hujjat al-Siddiq of Nur al-Din al-Raniri: Being an Exposition the
Salient Points of Distinction between the Positions of the Theologians, the Philosophers, the Sufis and
the Pseudo-Sufis on the Ontological Relationship between God and the World and Related
Questions (Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Ministry of Culture).

 (1988) The Oldest Known Malay Manuscript: A 16th Century Malay Translation of the `Aqa’id of al-
Nasafi (Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya).
 (1989) Islam and the Philosophy of Science (Kuala Lumpur: International Institute of Islamic
Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC)) (tr. into German by Christoph Marcinkowski as Islam und die
Grundlagen von Wissenschaft, Kuala Lumpur: ISTAC, 2001)

 (1990) The Nature of Man and the Psychology of the Human Soul (Kuala Lumpur: International
Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC)).

 (1990) On Quiddity and Essence (Kuala Lumpur: International Institute of Islamic Thought and
Civilisation (ISTAC)).

 (1990) The Intuition of Existence (Kuala Lumpur: International Institute of Islamic Thought and
Civilisation (ISTAC)).

 (1992) Islam: The Concept of Religion and the Foundation of Ethics and Morality (Kuala Lumpur:
International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC)).

 (1993) The Meaning and Experience of Happiness in Islam (tr. into Malay by Muhammad Zainiy
'Uthman as Ma'na Kebahagiaan dan Pengalamannya dalam Islam, Kuala Lumpur: ISTAC; and into
German by Christoph Marcinkowski as Die Bedeutung und das Erleben von Glückseligkeit im Islam,
Kuala Lumpur: ISTAC, 1998)

 (1994) The Degrees of Existence

 (1995) Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islam: An Exposition of the Fundamental Elements of

the Worldview of Islam(Kuala Lumpur: International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization

 (2001) Risalah untuk Kaum Muslimin (Kuala Lumpur: International Institute of Islamic Thought and
Civilization (ISTAC)).

 (2007) Tinjauan Ringkas Peri Ilmu dan Pandangan Alam (Penang, Malaysia: Universiti Sains

 (2011) Historical Fact and Fiction (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: UTM Press).[6]

 (2015) On Justice and the Nature of Man (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: IBFIM).