I have never heard of anyone whose body glows in the dark – literally glows, emits light, until a lady of Habib Ali bin Jaafar al-Idrus family pointed at a photo in their living room and said to me, “That habib is known as ‘Habib Neon’!” It was a picture of Habib Muhammad bin Husin al-Idrus (1898 -1969).
Once upon a time, at a masjid in Surabaya, Indonesia, people gathered as usual after Isha for a Majlis Ta’lim. The masjidwas fully occupied with thousands of jemaah (assembly) waiting eagerly to listen to a tausiyah (lecture). All of a sudden the lights went off. Most of the crowd quickly rushed out of the masjid. It was full moon then so it was not too dark outside the masjid. As they were loitering, they saw a figure approaching them. Judging from the man’s dressing (Yaman gamis) and his green turban, they recognised him as Habib Muhammad bin Husin Al-Idrus.
Habib Muhammad then entered the masjid. The moment he stepped in, the crowd saw beams of light coming out from his body like a neon lamp! His entire physical had lit up! The crowds were flabbergasted because they had not seen Habib Muhammad carrying any torchlights or lamps. The masjidwhich was earlier in complete darkness became bright again with the lights shining from him. Eversince that miraculous event Habib Muhammad was known as Habib Neon.
Born in Tarim, Yaman in 1898, Habib Neon was a respectable and sought after scholar not only in Surabaya but also in the neighboring districts. Since he was a child he had enjoyed close attention and training from his father Habib Husin bin Zainal Abidin Al-Idrus who was a renowned ulama andarifbillah (gnostic). Their family name “Al-Idrus” means leader of the people of tassawuf (sufis). Many Al-Idrus ulama were in fact sufis such as Al-Imam Habib Abdullah bin Abu Bakar Al-Idrus, Habib Husein bin Abi Bakar Al-Idrus and Habib Muhammad bin Husin Al-Idrus himself.
Habib Muhammad or Habib Neon was known for his exceptional strength in fasting. He considered keeping a full stomach and the habit of over-eating as the root cause fornafs. For that reason he developed a habit to fast for an extended period of time. He fasted for seven years and throughout the seven years he only had seven dates for iftar(breaking of fast) and another seven for sahur meal in the break of dawn. At one time during a year of fasting he had only consumed about 3.4kg of wheat or 5 ‘mud‘. One ‘mud‘ of wheat equals 675 grams. This was a practice attributed to Imam al-Ghazali.
Habib Muhammad once said, “At the beginning of my journey, I had read a lot of sufi books. I also liked to test my nafs by following the methods of training employed by the salafussoleh as recorded in their kitabs.”
He is remembered as one who is tawadhuk (humble), always honoring his guests and never turned down an invitation especially from the less fortunate. He was always very warm and hospitable towards his guests. People enjoyed meeting him as his face was always cheerful and bright with nur (light). Everyday between 10.00 a.m. and Zuhur (noon prayer) he would receive guests who came from all over Indonesia and abroad to seek his advice. He welcomed them with open arms and his karamah (gifted ability) was that he already knew what people’s intentions and problems were even before they had a chance to speak.
He would spend the time between Maghrib and Isha (Evening and Night Prayers) revising salafi kitabs and on Friday nights he would customarily read the burdah with his jemaah.
He had deep respect for the ulama and would spend months traveling great distance to visit them in places like Palembang, Pekalongan and Tuban. The inherent ma’rifa (gnosis) attributed to the Al-Idrus clan was evident in Habib Neon. He spoke very little. He only uttered words of wisdom and zikr,and always refrained himself from speaking unnecessarily. He was also known for his generosity, ever ready to contribute his wealth to the needy. Most of his life was spent on propagating Islam. He passed away on 22 June 1969 at the age of 71. His maqam in Pergirikan, Surabaya is regularly visited by throngs of people especially during his haul (event commemorating his death), on the last Thursday of Jamadil Awal. AL-FATIHAH.