Alhamdulillah wa shukrulillah with the grace of Allah I finally made it to the abode of Habib Ali bin Jaafar al-Idrus in Batu Pahat, Johor, Malaysia. About three weeks before the journey, a mu'aleem whose audience I seeked for a private counsel, mentioned Habib Ali. That was the first time I heard of the blessed name. He said he once brought someone to see Habib Ali with an intention to get some 'healing' from the man many believe to be a saint of great stature. Although that mu'aleem had only mentioned Habib Ali in passing, he sure sparked an interest in me.
I then shared with a few people my niyyat of visiting Habib Ali. Surprisingly they all had some valuable information to offer. Signs were everywhere telling me that I must pay him a visit despite knowing that he almost always would refrain from seeing women unless they are deemed to be 'special' or if there is an absolutely urgent need.
Regardless of the tips on the do's and don'ts when visiting Habib Ali, I had set out the journey with tawakkal and a couple of reasonable expectations. I thought if I could locate his house given the limited clues I got; if I could see Habib Ali's face and just be there for barakah-sake, I would be delighted.
But I must say barakah were already coming our way even before my friend, my mother and I headed south. N is originally from Semerah which is about 20 minutes drive from Habib Ali's house, but she has not heard of Habib Ali until two years ago when one ustaz suggested that she visit him. Apparently, Habib Ali is more well-known among the outsiders. Regular visitors include admirers from Indonesia, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Yemen and not to mention renowned scholars like Allahyarham Sayyid Muhammad bin Alawi al-Maliki, Habib Zain, Habib Umar, Habib Yusuf Bakhour al-Hasani and Yusuf Islam.
We arrived fifteen minutes after Asar. Thanks to a Singapore car parked in front of the house, we knew that it was our destination. As we got onto the compound we discovered that the pulasan tree clue was actually a rambutan tree. It was not too difficult to find the place actually. At the traffic light (from Batu Pahat town) we turned left alongside Batu Pahat Mall and then made a right turn and then left onto a narrow street parallel to the mall.
Inside a humble looking house (picture above) lives an extraordinary 95 year old man. To many, he is one of the venerable saints of this region. Allah knows best of his maqam. And certainly he is not only a jewel in the crown of Batu Pahat but a much bigger area of which a saint is usually assigned as caretaker.
We can only speculate on his role in the unseen realm but to the mortals we know he now spends a week for himself and a week to receive guests albeit for limited hours. When he was done speaking to the male guests in the front part of the house, he retired to his room which was adjacent to the room where the female guests were seated. As we sat there talking to his eldest child and only daughter Umi Khadijah and the wives of his grandsons, we tried to catch a glimpse of him through the curtains separating the rooms.
Habib Ali despises people peeking at him. Despite having a poor vision he could tell if anyone was secretly watching him. However, he did not seem to mind when we pierced through the curtains to look inside his chamber, after getting permission from a family member of course. I saw him sitting cross-legged on the floor, his eyes were fiercely looking at a great distant towards the qibla as his hand was busy counting a tasbeeh. His room did not look comfortable at all but he did not seem to care about comfort anyway. Unlike before, he was not bothered when we pulled the curtains slightly.
We had earlier written a note introducing ourselves. His great grandson was supposed to read it out to him and asked him to make du'a for us. I sure hope he did!
I wanted to take photos of Umi Khadijah and pictures of habaib adorning the room reserved for ladies but she politely declined. Being the only girl in the family, it's understandable that her father allowed all her siblings to have their photos taken except her. Habib Ali is a strict father and very particular about adab (manners). Up until four years ago, Habib would attend to people's requests for healing. They would be asked to write down their situations on a piece of paper which was to be pasted face down on water bottles. There were times when Habib Ali would call Umi to help him figure out some of the illegible handwritings but he covered up the paper with his hands and only revealed the few words that he could not read. Habib Ali would remind Umi that 'people trusted me with their personal problems, not you. This is amanah (trust) for me to keep.'
According to Umi Khadijah, Habib Ali used to recite Yaseen and al-Mulk after Subuh and Maghrib, and al-Waqi'ah after Asar. Nowadays he does not recite the Qur'an as much due to poor vision and memory but he is continually doing zikir day and night. He sleeps very little and when he does he could even hear if a lizard had fallen from the ceiling.
Umi recalled the year when her mother Sharifah Allawiyah passed away. Sharifah was 35 and Habib Ali was 36. When people asked him to remarry, he said, 'even before my wife died I had already made a pledge that I would not marry again, so I wish to keep to my words.'
Umi was indeed kind to want to share stories about her father. We were grateful to be given such a warm welcome. She had made du'a for us not once but three times while we were there. When I candidly asked if Habib had any old tasbeehs, she went searching around the house and came back with two tasbeehs for us. Alhamdulillah!
From Sister Nora, the wife of one of Habib Ali's grandson, we learned about Habib Ali's diet. He neither eats beef nor chicken, she said. Habib would only eat fresh mutton. He would not eat anything that has been frozen. The same applies to eggs, so the family gets their eggs supply from the local village. Habib Ali is also particular about the person who cooks for him and she's glad that she's among the preferred ones.
According to Sister Nora, Habib Ali chose the names for all of his grandsons. As for baby girls, the parents are allowed to propose names for his consideration and approval. She's happy to be part of the al-Idrus family and enjoyed entertaining the stream of guests who came to visit Habib Ali.
I must say that we were well entertained and very happy to get to know the wonderful women of Habib Ali's family. At one time Umi Khadijah had squeezed my hands and with so much warmth and love in her eyes she said, 'we will meet again InshaAllah!'
Bi-iznillah, by the permission of Allah, we shall visit you and your family again O Habib Ali, O jewel in the crown. It did not matter that we ladies did not get to speak to you in person for we believe you could hear all our whisperings and all the Fatihah and al-Ikhlas presented to you from the bottom of our hearts. May Allah s.w.t grant you good health and a long life for you are a mercy to all who know you and all who may not be aware of your presence. In any case we do not know what your real worth is in the eyes of Allah. All we could do is pray so that we derive much benefit from your barakah and emulate the qualities of zuhud, waraq, aleem, abid and areef in you, bi-iznillah.
Thanks to Mohamed, Mas Taj, Kak Ina and Aunty Amnah for all the pointers. A special thanks to Nisa for driving us there.