Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad Milatu

Singapore Infopedia


Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad Milatu (b. 18 August 1922, Desa Pingging, Surakarta (Solo), Central Java, Indonesia–d. 12 August 2010, Singapore) was a prominent ulama (religious scholar) who played a critical role in the development of Islamic education and the nurturing of ulama in Singapore and the region.1 He was a founding member of the Persatuan Ulama dan Guru-guru Agama Islam (Singapura) (PERGAS; Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association), formed in 1957.2 He also held numerous positions in the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS; Islamic Religious Council of Singapore) and was a respected adviser on Islamic religious matters.3

Early life
Born to Mohamad Milatu bin Hj Haromain and Raden Ummi Salamah Binti Haji Anwar,Ustaz Sonhadji came from a family of religious preachers.5 Some of his family members were experts in Quranic recital and teachers to the fourth sultan of Surakarta.6

In 1927, his father brought him to Singapore, and they lived at Pasir Gembur, near Jalan Sultan.7 The family later moved to Riau, Indonesia, where he received a religious education as his father worked as a religious teacher.8 At the age of 14, he returned to Singapore and enrolled in Madrasah Aljunied. In 1941, he went to Rengat, a province in Riau. In Rengat, he cofounded a madrasah, Perguran Agama Islam Rengat (Rengat Muslim Teachers’ College), with one of his teachers.9 Upon returning to Singapore, Ustaz Sonhadji continued his education at Madrasah Aljunied, and completed his studies in 1944.10

Teaching career
After he completed his studies, Ustaz Sonhadji worked as a trainee teacher at Madrasah Aljunied before becoming a full-time teacher at the school.11 While teaching at Madrasah Aljunied, Ustaz Sonhadji set up a nasyid group, a religious choir, and taught the students how to sing using musical notes.12

In 1945, he established a religious school, Madrasah Bustanol Arifin, on Coronation Road.13 He taught there for a while, then left to start his own religious school, Madrasah ad-Dinniah, with classes held in his home on Coronation Road.14 The school lasted for seven years.15

While serving on the education ministry’s Islamic Education Council from 1958 to 1960, Ustaz Sonhadji was tasked to plan the curriculum for religious education in Singapore.16 He also wrote more than a dozen religious books that became textbooks used at local madrasahs.17

In 1966, Ustaz Sonhadji moved to Brunei to become the head teacher at Sekolah Menengah Arab Hassanul Bolkian (Hassanul Bolkiah Arabic High School), where he remained until 1970.18 A song composed by Ustaz Sonhadji is still the official song of some schools there. Many prominent public figures in Brunei, such as former Minister of Religious Affairs Pehin Haji Mohd Zai Haji Serudin, were once his students.19

Ustaz Sonhadji later returned to Singapore and held several key appointments. He returned to teach at Madrasah Aljunied in 1971, and was appointed the school principal two years later.20 He worked there until 1980.21

In 1980, Ustaz Sonhadji was made imam (religious leader) of Muhajirin Mosque.22 He continued teaching at Muhajirin Mosque23 even after his retirement as imam of the mosque in 2002.24 In 1993, he was appointed as chairman of Madrasah Al-Irsyad.25

Religious adviser
Described as a progressive scholar, Ustaz Sonhadji joined as a member of the Fatwa Committee of MUIS in 1975, and served on the committee for over 30 years.26 As a member of the committee, he influenced the committee’s rulings on various issues such as organ donation, religious endowments and the acceptability of NEWater.27

He was also a key adviser to the Religious Rehabilitation Group, which helps rehabilitate detained terrorists. He crafted a manual to address the detainee’s misinterpretation of Islamic concepts such as jihad.28

Literary career
Ustaz Sonhadji’s name was inspired by the Tunisian author Sheikh as-Sonhadji,29 and wrote many books himself. His best-known publication is Abrul Athir, which means “through the air waves”.30 It is a translation and interpretation of the Quran in the Malay language, a 30-volume work that took him more than 25 years to complete.31

He first started translating the Quran in 1959 for a programme on Radio Singapura.32 The programme ran between 19 February 1959 and 26 April 1984.33 From there, he began to work on the book version. The first volume was published in 1960, a year after the radio programme started, hence the name of the publication, Abrul Athir.34 The full 30-volume work was finally completed and published in 1993.35 Abrul Athir has been said to be among the finest works of translations and it has been republished many times in different languages.36

Ustaz Sonhadji also authored an instructional guidebook on Islamic prayers,37 which has been reprinted and translated into various languages such as Korean and Sinhalese.38

In August 2008, Ustaz Sonhadji signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Library Board (NLB) of Singapore to donate his literary collection to NLB for the benefit of the public.39 The Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad Collection consists of more than 1,000 publications on Islam and the development of Islam in Singapore and the region, and over 500 manuscripts including his sermons and interpretations of the Quran.40

Ustaz Sonhadji died of complications from pneumonia at the age of 88 on 12 August 2010. His wife passed away in 2001. The couple were survived by 10 children, 32 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.41

 Appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Negara, Inche Yusof bin Ishak, as member of the Muslim Advisory Board, Singapore.42

1988: Public Service Medal43
1992: Anugerah Jasawan Cemerlang (Excellence Award), MUIS44
1993: Gelar Ilmiawan – Ulama Contoh, Persatuan Pelajar-Pelajar Agama Dewasa Singapura45
2010: National Day Team Award, Ministry of Home Affairs46

Nurhaizatul Jamila Jamil

1. “He Is Not an Ordinary Ulama,” Straits Times, 4 September 1997, 14. (From NewspaperSG)

2. “Sonhadji giat tabur budi kepada masyarakat” [Sonhadji is actively contributing to the community], Berita Harian, 10 October 2004, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Zakir Hussain, “Noted Islamic Scholar Ahmad Sonhadji Dies,” Straits Times, 13 August 2010, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Keluarga tidak pernah diabaikan walau sibuk” [Family is never neglected despite being busy], Berita Harian, 18 August 1996, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Sonhadji giat tabur budi kepada masyarakat.”
6. Norman Suratman, Menyongsong arus: Biografi Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad [Facing the tide: Biography of Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad] (Singapore: Pustaka ASB Mohamad, 1997), 28. (Call no. Malay RSING 922.97 NOR)
7. Mazelan Anuar, “Signing of Memorandum of Understanding between National Library Board and Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad,” BiblioAsia 4, no. 3 (October–December 2008), 46.
8. “Hijrah ke Singapura” [Migration to Singapore], Berita Harian, 18 August 1996, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Suratman, Biografi Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad, 21, 40.
10. “Sonhadji giat tabur budi kepada masyarakat.”
11. Suratman, Biografi Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad, 43.
12. “Cipta lagu dalam zaman muda [Creates songs in his youth], Berita Harian, 10 August 1996, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Sonhadji giat tabur budi kepada masyarakat.”
14. “Keluarga tidak pernah diabaikan walau sibuk.
15. Suratman, Biografi Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad, 44.
16. Suratman, Biografi Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad, 90.
17. “He Is Not an Ordinary Ulama.”
18. “Sonhadji giat tabur budi kepada masyarakat.”
19. Suratman, Biografi Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad, 92.
20. Suratman, Biografi Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad, 58.
21. “Hijrah ke Singapura.”
22. Suratman, Biografi Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad, 60.
23. Anuar, “Signing of Memorandum of Understanding.”
24. “Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji letak jawatan” [Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji resigned], Straits Times, 6 December 2002, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Ustaz Sonhadji dalam lembaga Al-Irsyad” [Ustaz Sonhadji on the Al-Irsyad board], Berita Harian, 6 March 1993, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “DPM Wong Pays Tribute to Late Islamic Scholar,” Straits Times, 14 August 2010, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Zakir Hussain, “Noted Islamic Scholar Ahmad Sonhadji Dies.”
28. Zakir Hussain, “Noted Islamic Scholar Ahmad Sonhadji Dies.”
29. Suratman, Biografi Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad, 14.
30. “Anak jadi inspirasi kitab tafsir” [Daughter become the inspiration of the book of interpretation], Berita Harian, 18 August 1996, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
31. “He Is Not an Ordinary Ulama”; Anuar, “Signing of Memorandum of Understanding.”
32. “Anak jadi inspirasi kitab tafsir.”
33. “‘Institusi’ mengaji” [Studying institution], Berita Harian, 28 March 1993, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
34. “Anak jadi inspirasi kitab tafsir.”
35. “Suara Ustaz masih semerdu dulu” [Ustaz's voice is still as melodious as before], Berita Harian, 27 March 1993, 4 (From NewspaperSG)
36. “He Is Not an Ordinary Ulama”; Anuar, “Signing of Memorandum of Understanding.”
37. “Mahu jadi seniman, tapi…” [Want to be an artist, but…], Berita Harian, 28 March 1993, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
38. Anuar, “Signing of Memorandum of Understanding.”
39. Anuar, “Signing of Memorandum of Understanding.”
40. Anuar, “Signing of Memorandum of Understanding.” 41. Zakir Hussain, “Noted Islamic Scholar Ahmad Sonhadji Dies.”
42. “Advisory Board,” Straits Times, 9 January 1961, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
43. “Proud Moment for Award Recipients,” Straits Times, 27 October 1988, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
44. “For S’pore to React Fast, Its Leadership Must Be Sensitive: President Wee,” Straits Times, 8 November 1992, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
45. “Ahmad Sonhadji Ulama Contoh” [Ahmad Sonhadji, an example of a scholar], Berita Harian, 8 August 1993, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
46. “DPM Wong Pays Tribute to Late Islamic Scholar.”

Further resources
Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad, Tafsir al-Quran [Interpretation of Al-Quran]. (Singapore: Almaktab Attijari Asshargi, 1962). (Call no. Malay R 297.1227 AHM)

Mohamed Qusairy Bin Thaha, "Pemikirian Sosio-Agama Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad Melalui Khutbah 1971-1980 [Socio-religious thought of Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad through sermons]," in Chapters on Asia: Selected Papers from the Lee Kong Chian Research Fellowship (2020) (Singapore: National Library Board, 2021), 65–91.

Zulkifli Haji Mohd Yusoff, Noor Naemah Abdul Rahman and Mohd Asmadi Yakob, eds., Tazkirah untuk orang mengaji: Karya Sonhadji [A reminder for those who recite the Al-Quran] (Shah Alam: Mahli Training, Intel Multimedia and Publication, 2004) (Call no. Malay RCLOS 297.2 TAZ-[UAS])

The information in this article is valid as of August 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.



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