Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas

Syed Muhammad Naquib bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Muhsin al-Attas was born on September 5th, 1931 in Bogor, Java. 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 the Holy Prophet (PBUH). His earlier illustrious ancestors include saints, scholars and savants, one of whom, from his maternal side, was Syed Muhammad al-‘Aydarus, the teacher and spiritual guide of Syed Abu Hafs ‘Umar ba Syaiban of Hadramaut, who initiated one of the most prominent scholars in the Malay world, Nur al-Din al-Raniri into the Rifa‘iyyah Order.

al-Attas’ mother Sharifah Raquan al-‘Aydarus, from her maternal side, came from Bogor, Java and was a descendant of the Sundanese royal family of Sukapura. His paternal grandfather, Syed Abdullah bin Muhsin bin Muhammad al-Attas was a saint (wali) from Java whose influence was not confined only to Indonesia but extended to Arabia as well. One of his disciples, Syed Hasan Fad‘ak was the religious advisor to Amir Faisal, the brother of King Abdullah of Jordan, and a contemporary of the famous Lawrence of Arabia. His paternal grandmother, Ruqayah Hanum, a Turkish lady of aristocratic lineage, was married to Ungku Abdul Majid, the younger brother of Sultan Abu Bakar of Johore (d. 1895), while her sister Khadijah was married to the Sultan himself, and became the Queen of Johore.

When Ungku Abdul Majid passed away, leaving two sons, Ruqayah married Syed Abdullah al-Attas and later gave birth to their only child, Syed Ali al-Attas, the father of Syed Muhammad Naquib. Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas is the middle child among three siblings, the eldest being Syed Hussein who is a distinguished sociologist and the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Malaya while the youngest, Syed Zaid is a chemical engineer and a former lecturer at MARA Institute of Technology.

Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas is among the most outstanding and multi-faceted Muslim thinkers in the contemporary world. He is the author of authoritative works on various aspects of Islamic thought and civilisation, particularly on Sufism, cosmology, metaphysics, philosophy and Malay language and literature. He received his M.A and Ph.D. (1965) from McGill University, and the University of London respectively with a special focus on Islamic philosophy, theology and metaphysics. He returned to Malaysia in 1964, and in 1965 became the Head of the Division of Literature in the Department of Malay Studies at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. Between 1968 and 1970 he served as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts.

He later in 1970 became one of the founders of the National University Malaysia where he founded and directed the Institute of Malay Language, Literature, and Culture (IBKKM). In 1987, al-Attas founded and directed the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC), a world-class post-graduate institution where he taught and collected, over a ten-year period, the unique multilingual library comprising more than one hundred and forty thousand volumes including rare books and manuscripts.