Exhibition: Sayyid 士Uthman of Batavia

Sayyid 士Uthman wearing a Royal decoration

Sayyid 士Uthman wearing a Royal decoration

Sayyid 士Uthman (1822鈥1914) was a Muslim scholar of Arab descent in the Netherlands East Indies. He was in close touch with the Dutch Islam scholar Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje. Sayyid 士Uthman authored more than 150 publications, not only on traditional theological, legal or ethical topics, but also reflections on current issues from an Islamic perspective. Some of his works are still reprinted in Indonesia.

From 1 December 2014 until 23 January 2015, the 鈥極ude UB鈥 (Rapenburg 70) highlights aspects of his life and work with a selection of objects from the special collections of the Leiden University Libraries.


An Arab scholar in the Netherlands East Indies

Sayyid 士Uthman ibn 士Abd Allah ibn 士Aqil ibn Yahya al-士Alawi was born in 1822 in Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies (present-day Jakarta, Indonesia). He hailed from a minority of Arabs originally from Hadramaut, South Yemen. He spent the first nineteen years of his life in his native city. He subsequently聽lived and studied in the Middle East until the age of forty, most notably in Mecca and Hadramaut. In 1862 he finally returned to Batavia, where he quickly gained a reputation as an authoritative scholar of Islam.

The Netherlands East Indies and Hadramaut (South Yemen) in perspective

The Netherlands East Indies and Hadramaut (South Yemen) in perspective

Cooperation with colonial rule

Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, c. 1890

Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, c. 1890

From 1889 until his death in 1914 鈥 now exactly one hundred years ago聽鈥撀爃e closely cooperated with the Dutch colonial administration, from 1891 onwards in the official capacity of Honorary Advisor on Arab Affairs. Sayyid 士Uthman鈥檚 most important contact in the Indies was the Islam scholar Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857鈥1936), who in 1906 left the Netherlands East Indies for Leiden, where he took up the chair of Arabic. Sayyid 士Uthman played a pivotal role in the relations between the colonial authorities and the Muslim population.


Author and publisher

Sayyid 士Uthman left more than 150 publications, written in Arabic or Malay and printed on his own lithographic press in Batavia. Remarkably, some of his publications are still reprinted in Indonesia. A number of his publications are traditional works on theology, law or ethics. In other treatises he reflected on current affairs from an Islamic perspective.

Sayyid 士Uthman, Atlas 士Arabi ('Arab Atlas'), Batavia, 1891

Sayyid 士Uthman, Atlas 士Arabi ('Arab Atlas'), Batavia, 1891

Special collections

The books, photographs and documents in the exhibition are mostly from the special collections of the Leiden University Libraries (UBL) and the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV). From last summer, the KITLV collections are administered by the Leiden University Libraries as part of the new Asian Library.

New monograph by Dr Nico Kaptein

The exhibition on the centenary of Sayyid 士Uthman's death also marks the release of a new monograph on Sayyid 士Uthman by Dr Nico Kaptein of Leiden University: Islam, Colonialism and the Modern Age in the Netherlands East Indies. A Biography of Sayyid 士Uthman (1822鈥1914), Leiden etc.: Brill, 2014.


Exhibition at the Old University Library ('Oude UB')

The exhibition 'Sayyid 士Uthman of Batavia: a Life in the Service of Islam and Colonial Rule' is on view from 1 December 2014 until 23 January 2015 in the Oude UB (the former University Library, now the administrative centre of Leiden University) at聽Rapenburg 70, 2311 EZ Leiden, Mon-Fri from 8am to 6pm.

The exhibition is organised in close collaboration between the Art Commission of the Oude UB, Leiden University Libraries and the Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society (LUCIS).

More information

Last Modified: 28-11-2014