Hamka: A Great Indonesian Artist


Professor Doctor Hamka probably the most complete person that has ever lived in Indonesia. He was a great man with many great capabilities. He played many different roles in Indonesian history. Even he played significantly in all the roles that he played. There are so many aspects that we can tell from this great person. This essay will look at a glance his roles in politics, religion, journalism and literature. However, this essay will only focus Hamka’s role in the history of Indonesian literature.


Prof. Dr. Hamka or Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah was born on February 8, 1908 in Maninjau, West Sumatra, Indonesia. His father, Haji Abdul Karim Amrullah was an influential ulema (Islamic priest) in West Sumatra. He only attended formal primary school for five years. Then he attended some informal schools and learned Islam from senior ulemas. He mastered Arabic after studying it from the senior ulemas. He got his doctor honoris causa from two universities. The first one was from Al Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt, and the other was from University Kebangsaan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The title “professor” was awarded by Murtopo University, a private university in Indonesia. He was a great person with many great talents. There were many titles that people attached to him that were; ulema, politician, historian, orator, novelist and a poet.  He was very famous not only as an ulema but also as a novelist and a poet. He passed away on 17th July in 1981 when he was 73 years old. Indonesian government awarded Hamka as a national hero for his efforts in leading Indonesian people to struggle for their independence.


Indonesian literary works eras

Indonesian literary works is divided into some eras. These eras represented the time when the literary works were published. The works like short stories or poems usually published in magazines or newspapers. Novels and drama were published in books. Artist often used literatures to pump people’s spirit to independence because literatures were considered as the most appropriate form to spread the messages to independence. Therefore, literatures were used as a tool to reach the Indonesian independence. Colonialists often prohibit a particular publisher; magazine or newspaper, if they thought it was dangerous for their interest. 


According to H. B. Yassin, there are four eras or generation in modern Indonesian literary works. They are:

  1. Balai Pustaka Generation (1920s)

Balai Pustaka (Library Board) was a name of publisher which was founded by the Dutch colonialist to give an opportunity to Indonesian people to read literary works. By founding a publisher, the Dutch could control the content of the literary works.

  1. Pujangga Baru Generation (1930s)

Pujangga Baru (New Poet) was a name of a magazine in 1930s which published many Indonesian literary works.

  1. Generation 45 (1945-1950)

Generation 45 was taken because at that era, Indonesian literary works had specific characteristics in supporting Indonesian independence from Japanese colonialism.

  1. Generation 66 (1966)

Generation 66 was taken from the year when Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) tried to coup the official government but they failed. This event caused thousands of people killed.


Hamka as an artist for all eras

Usually, an artist can only be categorized into one particular era of Indonesian literature generation. This is because an artist could only produce literature works for a particular era. However, Hamka was very different. He was very productive. He always produced literature works for all eras or generation.


Hamka was one of the most productive writers in the history of Indonesian literary works. We can say so because he always played the role in every generation of Indonesian literary works. Some people called him as a genius because he could play a good leading role in every aspect of his life. As a politician, he joined the Indonesian people fight against the colonialist. As an ulema, he was very active in giving explanation about Islam through books, radio, TV, and other media. His works were adjusted with the era when the works were published.


Hamka as an artist

Actually, Hamka was known by Indonesian public as an artist especially a novelist. He wrote 113 books including novels, short stories, histories, poems, religious books and tafsir (the interpretation of the Koran). Most of his works became the bestseller books in Indonesia and Malaysia at their eras. The followings are the works of Hamka since he wrote for the first time in 1925 when he was seventeen years old:


  1. Khatibul Ummah (The leader of Community), first edition. This was his first work. It was printed in Arabic.
  2. Khatibul Ummah, second edition.
  3. Khatibul Ummah, third edition.
  4. Si Sabariah (The Sabariah), a novel, in Arabic (1928). Printed three times.
  5. Pembela Islam (Tarikh Sayidina Abubakar Shiddiq) (Defender of Islam), 1929.
  6. Adat Minangkabau dan Agama Islam (Minangkabau Tradition), 1929.
  7. Ringkasan Tarikh Ummat Islam (1929). The short history from prophet Muhammad until the fourth khalifah.
  8. Kepentingan melakukan Tabligh (The interest to spread Islam), 1929.
  9. Hikmat Isra’ dan Mi’raj (The lesson of Isra’ And Mi’raj).
  10. Arkanul Islam (Islamic Behavior), 1932.
  11. Laila Majnun (1932)
  12. Majallah “Tentara” (1932).
  13. Majallah Al-Mahdi (1932).
  14. Mati Mengandung Malu (Salinan Al-Manfaluthi)/ Death with shame, 1934.
  15. Di Bawah Lindungan Ka’bah (Under the protection of Ka’bah), 1936, Pedoman Masyarakat, Balai Pustaka.
  16. Tenggelamnya Kapal Van Der Wijck (The Sinking of S.S. Van Der Wijck), 1937, Pedoman Masyarakat, Balai Pustaka.
  17. Di Dalam Lembah Kehidupan (In the valley of life), 1939, Pedoman Masyarakat, Balai Pustaka.
  18. Merantau ke Deli (Go to Deli), 1940, Pedoman Masyarakat, Toko Buku Syarkawi.
  19. Margaretta Gauthier (Translation), 1940.
  20. Tuan Direktur (Mister Director), 1939.
  21. Dijemput Mamaknya (Picked up by her uncle), 1939.
  22. Keadilan Ilahi (The justice of God), 1939.

Religion and Philosophy:

  1. Tashawuf Modern (Modern Sufi), 1939.
  2. Falsafah Hidup (Philosophy of Life), 1939.
  3. Lembaga Hidup (The institution of life), 1940.
  4. Lembaga Budi (The institution of virtues), 1940.
  5. Majalah “SEMANGAT Islam” (1943).
  6. Majalah “MENARA” (1946).
  7. Negara Islam (The Islamic State), 1946.
  8. Islam dan Demokrasi (Islam and Democracy), 1946.
  9. Revolusi Pikiran (The revolution of thought), 1946.
  10. Revolusi Agama (The revolution of religion), 1946)
  11. Adat Minangkabau menghadapi Revolusi (Minangkabau tradition faces the revolution), 1946.
  12. Dibantingkan Ombak Masyarakat (Dashed by society’s wave), 1946.
  13. Di Dalam Lembah Cita-cita (In the valley of obsession), 1946.
  14. Sesudah Naskah Renville (After Renville’s manuscript), 1947.
  15. Pidato Pembelaan Peristiwa Tiga Maret (The defense’s speech of March the third’s event), 1947.
  16. Menunggu Beduk Berbunyi (Waiting for the drum’s sound), 1949.
  17. Ayahku (My father), 1950.
  18. Mandi Cahaya di Tanah Suci (The sun’s shower in the holy land), 1950.
  19. Mengembara di Lembah Nil (Wandering in the valley Nil), 1950.
  20. Di tepi Sungai Dajlah (By the river of Dajlah), 1950.
  21. Kenang-kenangan Hidup I (Memory of life), 1950.
  22. Kenang-kenangan Hidup II (1950).
  23. Kenang-kenangan Hidup III (1950).
  24. Kenang-kenangan Hidup IV (1950).
  25. Sejarah Ummat Islam (The history of Islamic society), first edition.
  26. Sejarah Ummat islam, second edition.
  27. Sejarah Ummat Islam, third edition.
  28. Sejarah Ummat Islam, fourth edition.
  29. Pedoman Mubaligh Islam (The guide of Islamic Preachers), 1937.
  30. Pribadi (Personal), 1950.
  31. Agama dan Perempuan (Religion and Women), 1939.
  32. Muhammadiyah Melalui Tiga Zaman (Muhammadiyah through three eras), 1946.
  33. 1001 Soal Hidup (1001 problems of life), 1950.
  34. Pelajaran Agama Islam (The lesson of Islamic Religion), 1956.
  35. Perkembangan Tashawuf dari abad ke abad (The development of sufi from century to century), 1952.
  36. Empat Bulan di Amerika (Four months in the USA), first edition (1953).
  37. Empat Bulan di Amerika , second edition (1953).
  38. Pengaruh Ajaran Muhammad Abduh di Indonesia (The influence of Muhammad Abduh’s teaching in Indonesia), 1958.
  39. Soal Jawab (Questions-Answers), 1960.
  40. Dari Perbendaharaan Lama (From the old treasures), 1963.
  41. Lembaga Hikmat (The institution of lesson), 1953.
  42. Islam dan Kebatinan (Islam and mysticisms), 1972.
  43. Fakta dan Khayal Tuanku Rao (Facts and Imagination of Tuanku Rao), 1970.
  44. Sayid Jamaluddin Al-Afghani (1965).
  45. Ekspansi Ideologi (The expanse of ideology), 1963.
  46. Hak-hak Asasi Manusia Dipandang dari Segi Islam (Human Rights in Islam), 1968.
  47. Falsafah Ideologi Islam (Philosophy of Islamic Ideology), 1950.
  48. Keadilan Sosial dalam Islam (Social Justice in Islam), 1950.
  49. Cita-cita Kenegaraan dalam Ajaran Islam (The state goals in Islam), 1970.
  50. Studi Islam (The Islamic Study), 1973.
  51. Himpunan Khutbah-khutbah (The collection of sermons).
  52. Urat Tunggang Pancasila (The root of Five pillars).
  53. Doa-doa Rasulullah SAW (The prophet Muhammad’s prayers), 1974.
  54. Sejarah Islam di Sumatra (The history of Islam in Sumatra).
  55. Bohong di Dunia (Lies in the world).
  56. Muhammadiyah di Minangkabau (Muhammadiyah’s organization in Minangkabau, 1975.
  57. Pandangan Hidup Muslim (Muslims’ ways of life), 1960.
  58. Memimpin Majalah Pedoman Masyarakat (Magazine).
  59. Memimpin Majalah Panji Masyarakat (Magazine).
  60. Memimpin Majalah Mimbar Agama (Magazine).
  61. Kedudukan Perempuan dalam Islam (The place of women in Islam), 1973.

84-113.Tafsir Al-Azhar (The Koran’s interpretation), 30 editions. These books were finished during from 1964 to 1966 when he was in the jail because of being accused pro-Malaysia by president Sukarno. 


His famous novels

There are at least four Hamka’s novels which became very popular in their era. They were Tenggelamnya Kapal Van Der Wijck, Di bawah Lindungan Ka’bah, Merantau ke Deli and Dijemput Mamaknya. All of them became bestseller. All of the novels talked and criticized the Minangkabau’s tradition, an ethnic in Sumatra’s island where Hamka was born.


In Tenggelamnya Kapal Van Der Wijck (The sinking of S.S. Van Der Wijck), Hamka wrote about the love story between Zainuddin and Hayati. The relationship between two of them were prohibited by their parents because of the Minangkabau’s tradition. Hayati was forced to marry Azis, a young man who could be accepted by the tradition’s law. Azis was considered as the best person for Hayati in term of his wealthy and his family’s line.

Then, Zainuddin moved to Java and started a new life. He became a successful man in Java. On the other hand, Hayati and Azis also moved to the same place as Zainuddin in Java. However, the couple had problems with their relationship and also with the debt they had when they started living away from their big family. Finally, Azis committed suicide because he could not cope with his problems. Hayati, then died because of her health’s condition. Zainuddin rejected Hayati when she wanted to come back to him.


The novel described Hamka’s criticism about the false tradition of Minangkabau’s perspective in giving an uncle an authority to determine his nephews and nieces. At that time, in Minangkabau’s tradition, an uncle had a strong power to decide what’s good and what’s bad for his nephews and his nieces. Parents, especially father did not have right to make a decision.


In Di bawah Lindungan Ka’bah (Under Ka’bah’s protection), Hamka told the story of a poor man, Hamid who was adopted by a rich family, Haji Ja’far. He fell in love with Haji Ja’far’s daughter, Zainab. However, Zainab was forced by her uncle to marry her cousin. Hamid and Zainab could not be united because of the strong tradition in Minangkabau. Both of them died because of the sadness and misery. The novel was very clear to challenge the false tradition in which a woman has to follow what her uncle’s words.


In Merantau ke Deli (Go to Deli), Hamka also criticized Minangkabau’s tradition. Leman, a minangkabau’s man divorced his wife, Poniem, a Javanese because he wanted to marry a minangkabau’s girl. At the end of the story, Leman went bankrupt in his business in Deli and went back home. As a victim in the story, Poniem lived happily ever after with his new husband, Sujono. The couple kept living in Deli because they loved the place and the community who came from many various places in cultures in Indonesia.


Hamka was against polygamy which was most common practices in Minangkabau. For him, it would destroy the life of a couple and it was almost impossible to have a peaceful life. In this novel, Hamka also promoted unity in diversity because Indonesia consists of hundreds of ethnics which speak different languages and have different cultures. Hamka emphasized that Minangkabau is not better than other ethnics in Indonesia; therefore, it was unnecessary to ask a minangkabau’s to marry only a minangkabau’s.


In Dijemput Mamaknya (Picked up by her uncle), Hamka told a story about a young man, Musa who had to let his wife be picked up by her uncle and went back to Minangkabau because her wife’s family thought that Musa could not give her wife a better life. Hamka criticized the interference of an uncle in a family of his niece. For Hamka, that was too much and could not be tolerated because everyone has a right to control his or her own life.


There are several common things that can be found in all Hamka’s novels. They are:

  1. Most of the themes are sad things. His language style is very sentimental, makes the readers sad.
  2. His entire novels criticized the tradition of his own ethnic, Minangkabau (West Sumatra). For example, West Sumatran’s tradition believed that they should only marry West Sumatran. In Hamka’s point of view, this is not true. Everyone should be free to marry anyone from any ethnics. One of his novels described that a west Sumatran woman who married to non-west Sumatran could live happily. On the other hand, another woman who married her local man ended with divorce.
  3. As an ulema, all of his novels were full of messages about Islamic teachings. For examples, in his novels, those who obey Islamic rules and be patient to whatever bad things happened to them would be happy at the end and those who keep their bad characters would end with misery.


The accusation of plagiarism

In 1962, Indonesian literary world was shocked by big news about Hamka. One of his novel “Tenggelamnya Kapal Van Der Wijck” (The sinking of S.S. Van Der Wijck) was accused as a plagiarism work by Lekra, a left group from Indonesian Communist Party. Hamka was accused plagiarizing the novel from a French novel “Sous Les Tilleuls by Alphonse Karr (1808-890). The novel had been adapted into Arabic by Mustafa Luttfi Al-Manfaluthi (1876-1924) entitled Majdulin. Al-Manfaluthi was an Egyptian writer who was admired by Hamka. Because of the polemic, H. B. Jassin, a well-known critic in Indonesian literature claimed that the novel was not a plagiarism because in the novel, Hamka put his own thought, feeling and experience. Lekra as a left group from a communist party just tried to use the opportunity to sully Hamka’s reputation. At that time, Hamka was the prominent politician who was very active to attack communist movement in Indonesia. He often criticized communism as a very dangerous ideology in Indonesia.


Hamka was imprisoned by Indonesian government

As a politician, Hamka was also active in a political party, Masyumi, a party with based on Islamic ideology. In 1960, Masyumi was declared as a prohibit party by Indonesian government without a clear reason. From 1964 to 1966, Hamka was imprisoned on president Sukarno’s order because he was considered as pro-Malaysia when there was a confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia. However, many Indonesian believed that the real reason for imprisoning Hamka at that time because he was very critical in attacking the communism ideology. On the other hand, president Sukarno was very close to the communism group. During his time in prison, Hamka could finish his greatest work Tafsir Al-Azhar, an interpretation of the Koran into Indonesian.


This event was very ironic because before Indonesia proclaimed his independence, Sukarno and Hamka were close friends. They supported each other. However, the communism’s influence in Sukarno’s surrounding tore them apart. There is no an eternal friend in politics. When Sukarno passed away, as ulema, Hamka was asked to lead a prayer before Sukarno’s body. He fulfilled the request to show that he never hated Sukarno.


Hamka as an ulema

Talking about Hamka, we cannot separate his role as an ulema as well as a politician. He played an important role in Indonesian independence. As a religious leader, he did not only lead people in war against the Dutch and Japanese colonialism but also used his influence to pump people’s spirit to fight. He was a great orator. After the independence, he used his ability in speech to deliver Islamic messages. In June 1975, Hamka was chosen as the first chairman of Majelis Ulama Indonesia (Indonesian Ulemas Council).



Hamka as an historian

Another role of Hamka was as an historian. He had a very strong memory. He was very interested in the history of Islam’s development in Indonesia. In his works on history, he combined the history and literature. The way he told the history was very interesting because he used dialogues in reconstructioning the history. He wrote “Ayahku” (My father) a biography of his father with the background of the history of Islamic teaching’s arrival in West Sumatra. He also wrote a history book “Sejarah Ummat Islam”  (The history of Islamic community).


Hamka as a journalist

As a journalist, Hamka founded a publisher with his friends. Through his own publisher, he published short stories, critiques, and poems. He also became an editor in some publishers. In his career he had become a journalist in some newspapers such as Pelita Andalas, Seruan Islam, Bintang Islam and Seruan Muhammadiyah. He became editor in some magazines such as Kemajuan Masyarakat, Al-Mahdi, Pedoman Masyarakat, Panji Masyarakat and Gema Islam





Kenang-kenangan 70 tahun Buya Hamka. 1979. Jakarta: Yayasan Nurul Islam.

Hamzah J, A. 1963. Tenggelamnya Kapal Van Der Wijck Dalam Polemik. Jakarta: Mega Book Store.

Perjalanan Terakhir Buya Hamka. 1982. Jakarta: Panji Masyarakat.

Sarwadi. 2004. Sejarah Sastra Indonesia Modern. Yogyakarta: Gama Media.



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