Sheikh Yahya - The Young Entrepreneur
The fiqh textbook used in the night classes at the National Masjid, Masjid Negara Kuala Lumpur for their Course Tafaqquh Fiddin in the year 2005 was Matla’ul Badrain (2 volumes). This book was also being used in the afternoon religious classes in all government schools in Johore. The book was written about 100 years before in Mekkah
written in the Malay language by Sheikh Mohammad bin Ismail Ad-Daudy Fatani aka Sheikh Nik Mat Kecik who was teaching at Masjidil Haram circa 1880 – 1915.
How did that book become part of the syllabus used in local schools in Malaysia? This story unveils the hidden truth about a young entrepreneur who made it happened. The young spitfire grandson, Yahya Abdullah Fatani.
Yahya was born in 1912 in Mekkah. He was the first son of Sheikh Abdullah Muhammad Ismail Fatani and Fatimah Abdul Rahman from Losong Terengganu.
Yahya grew up in Mekkah in an extended family environment where uncles and aunties and cousins were living in a big house very near to Masjidil Haram. The Head of the family was Sheikh Nik Mat Kecik, his grandfather.
His grandfather was a well-known ulamak in Mekkah. He was a student of many ulamak and finally he wrote many books both in Malay language and also in the Arabic language and he taught in Masjidil Haram. He was the only Mutawwif who was licensed by the Ruler of Hijaz to bring in pilgrims for Hajj from the eastern Jawi states (Malaya, Patani, Indonesia and Singapore).
When Sheikh Nik Mat Kecik died in 1915 Sheikh Abdullah became the family Head and took over the Mutawwif operations.
First World War started in Europe and there were tribal fights in Hijaz over the control of Mekkah. Pilgrims from Jawi stopped coming for Hajj.
In 1916, his father decided to emigrate to Malaya. The ship landed in Terengganu, Sheikh Abdullah with Siti(Fatimah) and Yahya (4), Asiah (3), Kamil(2) and Maimunah(1) started a new life in Balik Bukit Terengganu, a 3-acre land by the Terengganu River given by the Sultan of Terengganu, Sultan Zainal Abidin III.
That life was not going to last forever. Sheikh Abdullah passed away in Patani in 1919, and Sheikh Mohammad Noor, his uncle brought the family back to Mekkah so that he can keep the family together and manage their welfare.
By this time the First World War was over, Europe was safe again.
There was a time when Siti wanted to stay in Mekkah forever, but that time Sheikh Nik Mat Kecik was still alive and she had her husband Sheikh Abdullah. Now, without them she felt the urge to go back to Terengganu, a place safer than Mekkah and safer than Patani.
In 1924, she decided to pack her bags and say goodbye to Sheikh Mohammad Noor and the greater family and brought her children to settle in Terengganu for the second time. It was not an easy decision to make. Such important decisions were made by men not ladies. But Siti was different, she was a brave and adventurous lady. The same character in her that made a decision to marry anybody who will take her to Mekkah was then making this difficult decision.
This time the Head of the family was not 46 years old Sheikh Abdullah, but a young 12 years Yahya Fatani.
Yahya had to become a man fast, he had to take care of his mother and his siblings Asiah, Kamil, Maimunah and Hafsah. He must show leadership and he must be feared by others so that they would not bully him.
With some money brought with them from Mekkah, he was able to build a decent house in Balik Bukit. The wooden house was raised high like a 2 story house. The ground floor was raised by 2 feet above ground and its made of brick and concrete. There was no wall for the ground floor. On this floor, Yahya installed a printing machine where he would start a business to print books written by his late grandfather Sheikh Nik Mat Kecik. At 12 years, this man had entered the world of entrepreneurship with absolutely no training whatsoever.
At the beginning, his assistant was his brother Kamil and a few outside employees like Wan Othman and Wan Abas.
Business was good. At that time a new school was started, an Arab school headed by his cousin Sheikh Ahmad Muhammad Noor Fatani, called Sekolah Sultan Zainal Abidin. Sheikh Ahmad was the first Mudir of the school which was located temporarily at Sekolah Bukit Jambul. The book printed by Yahya in Balik Bukit written by his late grandfather Sheikh Nik Mat Kecik in Mekkah taught in a government school by his cousin Sheikh Ahmad, titled Matla’ul Badrain became the syllabus. It was also used by privately run sekolah pondoks (village schools).
Sheikh Ahmad later became his brother-in-law when he married Asiah in 1927 and they went back to settle in Mekkah. Another cousin Wan Abdul Rahman (son of Fatimah) took over as the second Mudir of the school Sekolah Sultan Zainal Abidin. The third Mudir was also his cousin Sheikh Wan Zain Muhammad Noor Fatani. The school had progressed so much that it is now a university called University Sultan Zainal Abidin (UNISZA).
Yahya was feared for his stern and no-funny business nature. Due to that, villagers around that area in Pulau Kambing was reluctant to pass-by that area in case they stumbled into him. They decided to label that village enclosed by a fence made of bamboo trees as Kampung Mekkah.
Many years later, the house was occupied by tenants like Raja Yaakob from Kuala Kangsar and later Pok San and Mokku Chom (Tengku Kalsom) from Kelantan. The ground floor still existed but the concrete floor was sunk like a waveform. Apparently this was due to the weight of the printing machine. Yahya was certainly not an engineer, otherwise he would have made a
reinforced concrete foundation for the heavy machine, but then metal-bar reinforced concrete was only invented in the 50’s.
Yahya was a hot-tempered person, none of the sisters dared to serve tea, cold to him without getting a physical redress. He grew up with a huge burden of responsibility over his head and had to maintain strict discipline.
Yahya married Nafisah, his cousin from Mekkah, daughter of Khadijah. They had Abdullah, Asmah, Zainal Abidin and Faisal born in Balik Bukit and Zakaria, Aishah and Fauziah were born in Mekkah.
When Abdullah did something that displeased the father, he would be punished and none of the aunties dared to interfere. They were hurt to hear Abdullah begging the father “Abuya stop it, wait till I am bit fatter”.
Abdullah and Zainal Abidin were young but old enough to help the father with printing. One day an accident happened. The fingers of Zainal Abidin were cut by the machine leaving an unforgettable scar.
In 1936, Sheikh Yahya brought his family back to Mekkah.
Yahya died young. One day in 1955, he was driven in a car to take him from Mekkah to Jeddah to fetch his uncle Sheikh Daud Abdullah from Kelantan and his wife Wan Kalsom (Fatimah) coming to perform Hajj. Only a few could afford such luxury at that time. Suddenly, the engine caught fire. He had panicked and jumped out of a moving car and met his death due to the fall.
He was only 43 years old then.
Khali Yahya, had carried out his tasks on behalf of his father in protecting his mother and his 5 siblings in a completely new environment, had started business at a very young age and successfully make his grandfather’s book Matla’ul Badrain a school book even until today 100 years later. The books are still being used in government schools and sekolah pondok in Malaysia, Patani and Singapore. He was a man who lived a short life but achieved so much, nurturing and distributing the legacy of Sheikh Nik Mat Kecik Ad-Daudy Fatani.