Old Malay manuscripts still in foreign lands

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Darul Aqsha

SOTHEBY’S finally auctioned off a rare Bruneian Al-Quran manuscript dated 1660 for £97,250 (B$204,225) last Tuesday. Of interest is that the old manuscript was written by Hashim ibn Muhammad al-Brunawi in Kota Batu, the old capital of the Brunei Malay sultanate and was dedicated to “our lord the Sultan”.

An "Important and rare Al-Quran manuscript" dated 1660 dedicated to the Sultan of Brunei then, was sold for £97,250 ($201,871), more than its estimated value. The manuscript was valued at £60,000 to £80,000, according to the website of auction house, Sotheby's.

An “Important and rare Al-Quran manuscript” dated 1660 dedicated to the Sultan of Brunei then, was sold for £97,250 ($201,871), more than its estimated value. The manuscript was valued at £60,000 to £80,000, according to the website of auction house, Sotheby’s.

But, who was “our lord the Sultan”? In its website, Sotheby’s mentioned that the reigning Sultan of Brunei in the year 1660 was Sultan Muhyidin. But according to the Brunei History Centre, the reigning sultan at that year was Sultan Haji Muhammad Ali (1660-1661) who replaced Sultan Abdul Jalilul Akbar (1659-1660). Sultan Muhyidin himself was the 14th Sultan who reigned from 1673 to 1690. He replaced Sultan Abdul Hakkul Mubin (1661-1673).

Historians say that the recently auctioned Bruneian manuscript is but one of the many thousands of old manuscripts from the Malay Archipelago which are spread all over the globe.

nask mal minangkabauSome historians say that as many as 10,000 Malay and Islamic manuscripts, including Jawi manuscripts, are scattered in 28 countries, including the Netherlands, France, Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and even the US.

The westerners did not only colonialise the states in the archipelago, but they also took away its natural, historical and cultural resources such as manuscripts and artefacts. The forced removal of important manuscripts to Europe had been conducted since the 16th century, aiming at perpetuating colonialism and scientific studies.

Many students and researchers, including those who come from the Malay Archipelago (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia) had to study the Islamic and Jawi manuscripts in those western countries. His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, initiated the move to build a gallery to conserve old and rare manuscripts. The gallery was also expected to be a rich source for students and researchers to study the legacy of Malay and Islamic cultures.

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nask mal1 sulThe gallery was named “The Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Islamic Exhibition Gallery”, which was opened on August 18, 2001, in conjunction with the First International Islamic Expo.

The gallery is located at Darulifta Brunei Darussalam Complex, State Mufti’s Office, some 2km from Bandar Seri Begawan.

According to Penjana Tamaddun Islam (“Revitalising Islamic Gallery”), a book published by the State Mufti’s Office to commemorate the establishment of the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Islamic Exhibition Gallery (2006), there are 708 Islamic manuscripts listed in the gallery.

It should also be noted that there are some 117 Jawi manuscripts in the Sultanate, 40 of them are presently kept at the gallery.

Some 300 mushafs (handwritten Al-Quran in various forms) from various countries such as North Africa, Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia are also exhibited at the gallery. His Majesty’s other old manuscript collections of Al-Quran can also be found in the Brunei National Museum in Kota Batu.

The old manuscripts at the gallery contain various themes. They include Islamic knowledge on religion, language, biography, encyclopaedia, medicine, history, physics, mathematics, tasawuf, logics, romantic poetry, Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), hadith, commentary of Al-Quran (tafsir), literary and dictionary, among others.

nask mal3 acehThe manuscripts played significant roles in the community, especially in the spread of Islam and the development of Malay literature in the archipelago.

One of the old manuscripts which had a strong influence in urging the Malay people to rise against the European powers was the Kitab Dala’il Khairaat.

Written by Syaikh Muhammad ibn Sulaiman al-Jazuli, the kitab is also better known as the Dalail al-Khairat wa Syawariq al-Anwar fi Dzikr al-Shalat ‘ala al-Nabiy al-Mukhtar (15th century).

This kitab was widely known as the book which was used by Malay sultans to fight against European powers. Raja Haji of the Johor-Riau Sultanate and his troops, for an example, read the manuscript before their major offensive against Dutch troops at the battle of Linggi in 1783.

While from Indonesia, one of Abdul Samad al-Falimbani’s works also encouraged local freedom fighters to fight against the Dutch in Palembang, Sumatra.

Other influential manuscripts were Kitab Shirat al-Mustaqim by Syeikh Nuruddin ar-Raniri (Aceh) and Kitab Sabil al-Muhtadin li’l-Tafaqquh bi Amr al-Din by Syeikh Muhammad Arsyad al-Banjari (Banjarmasin).

Other notable Muslim scholars of the archipelago include Hamzah al-Fansuri, Syamsuddin al-Sumatrani, Abdul Ra’uf ibn Ali al-Fansuri of Aceh, Indonesia (16th-17th centuries), Daud ibn Abdullah al-Fatani of Patani, Thailand (19th century), Abd al-Samad Pulai Condong al-Kalantani of Kelantan, Malaysia, (18th) and Muhammad Idris al-Marbawi of Perak, Malaysia, as well as Syeikh Ahmad Khatib al-Minangkabawi of Minangkabau, Indonesia (19th-20th).

The Brunei Times
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A preservation effort of old Malay manscript in SOAS, the UK.

A preservation effort of old Malay manscript in SOAS, the UK.





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