THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

89 posts categorized "Middle East"

28 March 2017

'South Asia Series' talks from April to June 2017

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The British Library is pleased to announce the next set of talks in the ‘South Asia Series’, from April till the end of June 2017. This is a series of talks based around the British Library's South Asia collection and the ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ digitisation project. Speakers from the UK and the US will share the results of their research, followed by discussions facilitated by BL curators and other specialists in the field. The presentations will take place at the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, between 5.30-7.00pm.

The first talk, on Monday 24th April, will be by Francis Robinson, Professor of the History of South Asia at Royal Holloway, University of London. The talk entitled ‘Hasrat Mohani’s Diary’ examines the life of the poet, newspaper editor and politician Hasrat Mohani (1878-1951) in the tumultuous period of January 1947 to December 1949. Professor Robinson will use Hasrat Mohani’s diary to look at how the world changes for Muslims in the United Provinces after Independence and Partition, the discrimination they experienced and the attacks on their culture and position by a Hindu-dominated Congress.

Image 1 Hasrat Mohani
Image of Hasrat Mohani published by the Anjuman Aʿānat Naz̤ar Bandān-i Islām. British Library, SAC. 1986.a. 1967 Noc

The second talk will be on Monday 8th May, and will be given by Christopher Bahl, a PhD student at SOAS, University of London. His talk entitled ‘Cultural Entrepôts and Histories of Circulation: The Arabic Manuscripts of the Royal Library of Bijapur’ examines the historical circulation of Arabic manuscripts, which linked South Asia with other regions of the Western Indian Ocean world, including Egypt, the Hijaz, Yemen and Iran, during the early modern period. In particular, he will look at the historical development of the Royal Library of Bijapur in the Deccan, today among the India Office Library collections in the British Library, and how its collection of Arabic manuscripts provides crucial insights into the courtly circulation, social use and cultural significance of these texts in a local Indo-Persian environment.

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Arabic manuscript from Bijapur Library, 1617. British Library, Mss Bijapur 7 Noc

On Monday 22nd May 2017, Kamran Asdar Ali, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the South Asia Institute at the University of Texas, Austin, will talk about the 1951 Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, in which the Pakistan Government brought charges of sedition and of plotting a military coup against certain leaders of its own military and against members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). The talk titled ‘Of Communists and Conspiracy: The Rawalpindi Case in Pakistan’ will discuss the conspiracy in detail to show the relationship between the Pakistani state and how it perceived the communist threat in the early years of Pakistan’s existence. In particular, Prof. Kamran Asdar Ali will demonstrate how external influences on the  leadership of the Communist Party of Pakistan may have left it in an ideological conundrum, and thus perhaps susceptible to engagement in a dialogue with the military on a potential coup-d’état.

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Front page of a pamphlet on the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, 1951. British Library, ORW.1986.a.3327 Noc

The fourth talk, which will be on Monday 5th June 2017, will be by Radha Kapuria, PhD student at King’s College London. Her talk ‘Musicians and Dancers in 19th Century Punjab: A Brief Social History’ excavates the material conditions of the lives of musicians and dancers, and analyses social perceptions around them, in the region of Punjab, during the long nineteenth century. She begins with the Lahore darbar of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and then moves on to the discourses by colonial scholar-administrators like Richard Carnac Temple, Anne Wilson, and others, in the mid-19th century. Furthermore, Radha Kapuria will offer a unique perspective by discussing relatively obscure authors writing about musicians and courtesans in the qissa genre, especially popular during this century.

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An illustrated miniature of a courtly mehfil of musicians, from the ‘Guru Nānak Parkāsh’, 1891. British Library, Or. 13079 Noc

On Monday 12th June 2017, Simon Leese, PhD student at SOAS, London will discuss the Arabic poems of Shah Waliullah (d. 1176/1762), the Delhi intellectual best known for his formative contribution to Muslim revivalist thought in the 18th and 19th centuries. Simon in his talk titled ‘Visions of the Arabic Hejaz: Memory and the Poetics of Devotion in 18th and 19th century North India’ will demonstrate how Arabic was not only the language of scripture, but a site of memory and nostalgia. Alongside major works of exegesis, theology, and Sufism, Waliullah had composed a small body of sometimes highly innovative Arabic poems in which he drew on the language of Arabic poetic love to articulate his own devotion to the Prophet. The talk will examine some of Waliullah’s poems, their fascinating afterlife in manuscript and print, and what they reveal about the culture of the Arabic spoken and written word in South Asia.

Image 5 Simon Leese
Shah Abdul 'Aziz, Takhmīs amplifications on the Bāʾīyah and Hamzīyah by Shah Waliullah. British Library, Delhi Arabic 895 Noc

Please do come along, listen and participate. No advance booking is required, and the sessions are free for all to attend. For further information, please contact:

Dr. Layli Uddin, Project Curator of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’
layli.uddin@bl.uk

  Ccownwork

20 March 2017

First Impressions: The Beginnings of Ottoman Turkish Publishing

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One of the hottest topics on every economist’s lips is the rising price of housing in the United Kingdom. At last count, the average home price in Great Britain was £220 000. For roughly the same price, however, you could also acquire a book on the history of the Americas. This would be no ordinary history, however: İbrahim Müteferrika’s edition of the Tarīkh al-Hind al-Gharbī ul-müsemma bi-Hadis-i nev, or The History of the Western Indies, also known as the New Hadith is the first book by a Muslim about the Americas, and among the first Ottoman Turkish books printed in Istanbul. The Tarīkh is an exceedingly rare item. Of the 500 copies that were produced by İbrahim Müteferrika in 1730, only 17 are known to exist around the world. The British Library is lucky enough to be one of only a handful of institutions in Europe and North America to have two copies of the work. One, at shelfmark Or.80.b.11, contains twelve of the thirteen original black and white woodcut illustrations, as well as the two colour woodcut maps of the world. The other, at shelfmark Or.80.b.7, contains all thirteen black and white illustrations, but neither of the two maps. Both copies are lacking the celestial chart and the chart that are contained in the copy at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris.

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On the left (BL Or.80.b.7), flora and fauna of Hispaniola, including the mermen and their splendid pearls, brought back to Europe by a man named Castellón, as well as the tree with fruit like women (BL Or.80.b.11)
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The Tarīkh is a unique publication for reasons that are far more profound than the paucity of surviving copies. It is not an original creation, but rather based upon the 16th century manuscript of the same name believed to have been authored by Emir Mehmet ibn Emir Hasan el-Suudi in 1591. Nevertheless, the fact that it was a printed work, rather than a handwritten one, established İbrahim Müteferrika as a pioneer in Ottoman Turkish cultural history. Between the issuance of an imperial ferman on commercial activities related to “certain of printed Arabic, Persian and Turkish books and writings” (Neumann, p. 229) and the 1720s, printing was conducted only by the Jewish and Christian communities, whose works were in non-Arabic scripts. The 17th century saw the importation of Ottoman Turkish works printed in Europe, but both the typography and the language of the content itself were the subjects of derision. The Arabic script requires that some – but not all – letters be attached to those that follow them (to their left), and this characteristic bedevilled European typesetters and those who sought to sell presses to Ottoman clients. At best, the technology created comical mistakes or miscomprehension. At worst, the resulting errors in holy texts led to charges of blasphemy and the befouling of God’s word (Sabev, pp. 107-9).

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The first page and the end of the chapter on the History of the Western Indies. The text begins in Persian, with an explanation of the real nature of these fantastical images and descriptions, and ends in Ottoman Turkish with information about the culinary delights of the islands (BL Or.80.b.7)  noc

The man who appears to have broken this deadlock was known as İbrahim Müteferrika. He is believed to have been a Transylvanian Christian who converted to Islam and migrated to the Imperial capital of Istanbul at the end of 17th century, possibly to escape religious persecution at the hands of the Hapsburgs (Erginbaş, pp.63-4). His personal history is an apt analogy for the printing press that he popularized: a Christian European invention that was imported and nativized to the Ottoman Empire, ultimately serving to further, rather than harm, the cultural development of the Well-Guarded Domains. İbrahim Müteferrika printed numerous different titles at his workshop in Istanbul, many of which are currently held in the British Library. Apart from the Tarīkh al-Hind al-Gharbī, the Library also holds copies of his Tarih-i seyyah der beyan zuhur-i Agvanian (758.e.9), Tercüme-yi sɪhah-ɪ Cevheri (758.k.7), Takvim üt-tevarih li-Kâtip Çelebi (Or.80.a.8) and Usul ül-hikem fi nizam ül-ümem (758.e.1). Many of these are secular histories or manuals of geography. They demonstrate a concern for steering clear of religious and moral controversy regarding the content of his works and the effect of typography on the text. Some were even presented as serving in the interests of Islam, because of the importance of education holy warriors on the geography of neighbouring regions (Sabev, p. 109). In spite of this, the mere presence of depictions of flora and fauna was enough to raise the ire of some zealots, who sought to destroy his books.

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On the left, the famed Chagos tree, the juice of whose fruits is reputed to cure illnesses. On the right, images of native agriculture in South America, including the usage of oxen-like animals to plough fields (BL Or.80.b.7) 
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Why would someone want to destroy a history book of the Americas? One particular reason might be the sheer number of woodcut illustrations of the people, animals and plants of the Western Hemisphere. Some of these images feature semi-nude members of indigenous communities, while others provide readers with an idea of the wondrous plants and animals to be found in the Americas. Much like Dürer’s rhinoceros, these illustrations are as much representations of Europeans’ imaginations as they are accurate depictions of the flora and fauna they claim to be. Whether or not graven images are permissible under Islamic law, and, if not, how strictly this prohibition was enforced, are issues of great debate among scholarly communities. What is clear from the Tarīkh, however, is that they did appear in the first Ottoman Turkish-language printed publications; and that they likely made the works more controversial than they would have otherwise been.

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A map of the world, including California as a green island in the top left quadrant of the map. The “Sea of Peru” is also listed as being along the coast of Central America, while the Gulf of Mexico is labelled the “Sea of Mashigho”. (BL Or.80.b.11)  noc

Even more spectacular than the illustrations, however, is the world map included in one of the copies held at the British Library (Or.80.b.11). One of its most striking features is the depiction of California as an island separated from the mainland of North America by a channel of water. Given that the southern tip of this “island” extends to the middle of Mexico’s Pacific coastline, it is fair to assume that İbrahim Müteferrika’s mapmaker did not know that the Gulf of California had only one outlet to the Pacific Ocean. The map is plagued by various inaccuracies: the St. Lawrence River is too deep and the Gulf of Mexico too shallow; the Great Lakes are merged into one, while North America seems to be in various pieces. Nevertheless, it is difficult to contain one’s awe at the manner in which the world as we now picture it – thanks to satellite imagery and enhanced modeling – came together in the minds of cartographers and dreamers from 1492 onwards.

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The varied history of the books as items of pleasure and prestige are recorded through the ownership stamps and marginalia of their readers. On the left (BL Or.80.b.7) is a poetic exhortation to readers about the content of the books, while the right-hand image (BL Or.80.b.11) is the ex libris of Shaykh Tirabi (1210 AH/1795 CE)
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It should also not be a surprise that these maps are of particular interest to collectors: a reason why so many copies of the Tarīkh are incomplete, including one of those held at the British Library (Or.80.b.7). The Tarīkh al-Hind al-Gharbī ul-müsemma bi-Hadis-i nev is not a roof over your head, or a little corner to call your own, but, just like a home, it has served as a symbol of identity and personality for various owners. The presence of various signs in the works held at the Library – marginalia, ownership stamps and the like – bears witness to this fact. The names of individuals and libraries through whose hands these volumes passed tell as much of a story as the text itself. So too, do the poetic messages scrawled on the opening pages of the work; a testament to the way the written word, in whatever its form, has given rise to dreams and imagination for centuries on end.


Further reading
Neumann, Christoph K. “Book and Newspaper Printing in Turkish”, in ed. Eva Hanebutt-Benz, Dagmar Glass and Geoffrey Roper, Middle Eastern Languages and the Print Revolution: A Cross-Cultural Encounter (Mainz: Gutenburg Museum, 2002), pp. 227-248
Sabev, Orlin, “Waiting for Godot: The Formation of Ottoman Print Culture,” in ed. Geoffrey Roper, Historical Aspects of Printing and Publishing in the Languages of the Middle East (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 101-120.
Erginbaş, Vefa, “Enlightenment in the Ottoman Context: İbrahim Müteferrika and his Intellectual Landscape,” in Roper, Historical Aspects, pp. 53-100.

Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Curator
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09 March 2017

The Book of Esther and the Jewish Festival Purim

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Purim is undoubtedly one of the most boisterous, cheerful and joyous festivals in the Jewish calendar. It takes place in early spring on 14th of Adar which this year starts at sundown on March 11th. Purim celebrates the salvation of the Jews of Persia during the reign of King Ahasuerus. The moving and dramatic story of Esther and her uncle Mordecai is told in the Book of Esther, known in Hebrew as Megilat Ester (Scroll of Esther).

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Exotic animals in an illustrated Esther Scroll. Holland, c. 1630 or 1640  (BL Or.1047)  noc

The Book of Esther belongs to Ketuvim (Writings), which is the third division of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible). Haman, the conniving chief minister at Ahasuerus’ court, decreed to kill all the Jews in the King's vast empire that stretched from India to Ethiopia and included 127 provinces. Lots (in Hebrew purim) were cast to determine the date when the Jews would be exterminated, hence the festival’s appellation. Esther, the King's Jewish consort, was warned in time by Mordecai, and they both managed to thwart the annihilation of their people. The King punished Haman and rewarded Mordecai who sent letters throughout the kingdom, urging Jews to observe Purim every year with merrymaking and gift offerings.

The historic origin of the Book of Esther and its authenticity have been the subject of much debate and conjecture over the years. There have been chronological difficulties with King Ahasuerus, even though some researchers have claimed that he was in fact the Persian king Xerxes I, who ruled 485 - 465 BCE. The Septuagint (Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) and Josephus (Jewish scholar and historian who lived 37-100 CE), maintained that the king in the story was actually Artaxerxes I (465-424 BCE).

According to recent research the Book of Esther was written in the middle of the 4th century BCE during the reign of Artaxerxes III (359-338 BCE), however the absence in Persian sources of any references to a king that had a Jewish consort created a new problem. Some scholars have contended that given the striking resemblance between the names Esther and Mordecai to the Babylonian deities Marduk and Ishtar, the story was rooted in Babylonian worship practices, which the Jews would have adapted and transformed into the story of Esther. The well-known German Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz (1817-1891) for example, argued that the Book of Esther was written at the time of the Maccabean struggle (167-160 BCE) against Antiochus IV Epiphanes, in order to boost the spirit of the Jews at that critical time, and to show that God does not abandon its people.

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Esther Scroll with floral decorations. Europe, 16th century (BL Egerton MS 67A)  noc

As a matter of interest, the Book of Esther does not feature among the Dead Sea Scrolls (spanning 150 BCE – 70 CE) and references to Purim do not feature in the Jewish literature before the 1st century CE. What can be said with some certainty is that since the Talmudic period (c. 500 CE) the Book of Esther has been customarily written on parchment in the form of a scroll, and that the festival had long been established by the 2nd century CE as evidenced in the tractate Megilah of the Mishnah (corpus of the oral tradition of Jewish law). The tractate contains details on the festival’s observance and the rules governing the reading of the Scroll of Esther.

As God’s name is not explicitly mentioned in the Book of Esther, it was considered permissible to illustrate it. Scrolls of Esther read in the synagogue during the festival services had to be plain, however, scrolls intended for personal use could be illustrated with scenes from the narrative or ornamented with other motifs.

Esther Scroll decoration flourished particularly in the 17th, and especially in the 18th century, in Italy, Holland and to a lesser extent in Germany. The tradition of decorating and illustrating the Scroll of Esther continued in the centuries that followed, with fine specimens being produced in Europe as well as the Middle East and North Africa. In Italy, especially, Esther Scrolls were lavishly decorated. In fact, the earliest surviving embellished Esther Scrolls were created in the second half of 16th century Italy.

The Marelli Scroll held in the British Library’s Hebrew manuscript collection, is a beautiful and rare example of Esther Scroll ornamentation from that period. Its decoration consists of eight different types of copperplate engraved borders that frame the handwritten text of the Book of Esther. The borders bear no relation whatsoever to the story, featuring instead a lavish array of putti, grotesque telamons and pagan goddesses holding heraldic shields, and real and fabulous animals hand-coloured in bright hues. The creator of those impressive borders was Andrea Marelli, a book illustrator and printmaker who was active in Rome and Sienna around 1567-1572.

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Segment of The Marelli Scroll, Italy c. 1573 (BL Or.13028)  noc

Finely engraved specimens from 17th and 18th century Holland have also survived. Some of these have grand arched portals encasing the text. The portals are supported by columns on high pedestals between which stand the principal characters of the Esther tale: Ahasuerus, Mordecai, Esther and Haman. Episodes of the Esther narrative are confined to the lower borders, whereas the upper borders are populated by female figures bearing palm leaves. These specific pictorial schemes typify scrolls created by Salom d’Italia (1619-1655). A native of Italy as suggested by his name, he most probably acquired his drawing and engraving skills from his uncle, the Mantuan printer Eliezer d’Italia. In 1641 Salom moved to Amsterdam and worked there until about 1648, creating some exquisite pieces among them portraits of prominent figures and Esther Scrolls.

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Esther Scroll with engraved borders by Salom d’Italia, Holland, 17th century (BL Or.4786)  noc

Often, embellished special cylindrical containers in silver, gold or ivory, were made to hold and protect the scrolls. We do not know exactly when special cases were first used, however, a brief mention to a case can be found in Bernard Picart’s Ceremonies and Religious Customs (Amsterdam, 1723). That might not be the earliest reference to a Scroll of Esther case, yet it is the only one I have managed to find.

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Esther Scroll enclosed in an ivory case with an ivory puller. Europe, 17th century (BL Add MS 11831)  noc

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Minute Esther Scroll (50 x 94 mm) written on a single strip of vellum wound on a silver-plated roller. Europe, 18th century (BL Or.4670)  noc

Throughout the generations, the story of Esther has been cherished by Jews everywhere for its message of bravery, resolve and faith. The eventful and theatrical narrative which is reminiscent of an Arabian Nights story, and the exuberance and merriment associated with the Purim celebrations, have lent themselves to an outburst of literary activity. The carnival spirit of the festival and the Book of Esther’s striking protagonists have been captured and immortalised in drama, poetry and prose, with virtually hundreds of surviving works in English, Hebrew, Yiddish and other Jewish languages, spanning many centuries. The British Library’s Hebrew collection abounds in printed material dedicated exclusively to the festival. This is just a small cluster of some noteworthy pieces:

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Left: Shir na’eh ba-hadurim. A Purim poem in Judeo-Italian. Mantua, 1619 (BL 1979.d.36)  noc
Right: Akta Ester mit Ahashverosh. A Purim play in Yiddish.  Prague, 1774. (BL 1980.c.39)  noc


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Left: Pizmonim. Purim songs in Judeo-Greek according to the custom of the Jews of Yanina. Salonica, 1875 (BL 1977.bb.27(2))  nocRight: Cantares y elevasiyones  para alavar ah el Diyo en la festividad de Purim. Poems for Purim in Judeo-Spanish [Ladino].
[Leghorn?], 1850 (BL 1979.d.8)  noc


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Left: Esterace pustaka=Megilat Ester. The Scroll of Esther in Hebrew and Marathi. Mumbai, 1886. (BL 1946.d.45)  noc
Right: Esther (The story of Purim) in five acts, by Abraham Levinson. London, 1938. 11782.bb.75  noc

 

Ilana Tahan, Lead Curator Hebrew & Christian Orient Studies
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27 February 2017

Armenian Diaspora Publications at the British Library

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During my time at the British Library working on the Asian and African Collection backlog cataloguing project I have come across a number of thought-provoking printed works in the Armenian Collection. The following post describes three examples which for me highlight the fascinating adaptability and ever changing nature of diasporas. They describe Armenian communities which reached their zenith long ago, and are now seldom remembered, but at the same time they exemplify a willingness to embrace the host culture while remembering and respecting their own cultural roots.

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The title page and portrait of Doctor Sarkis Tateosian Avedumiants in Ardi Hndkahay Bzhiskner: Masn A. Vienna: Mkhit’arean Tparan, 1896 (BL 17033.d.23(7))

Ardi Hndkahay Bzhiskner ‘Modern Armenian Doctors’ by Doctor Vahram Y. Torgomian (BL 17033.d.23(7)) printed in 1896 by the Mkhitarian Press, Vienna, describes the lives of Armenian Indian doctors. One of the more interesting life stories in the book is that of Doctor Sarkis Avedumiants, who was born in 1854 in Calcutta and baptised in Saint Nazareth Armenian church of Calcutta. He attended the La Martinière School, Calcutta — where there were many Armenian students — and was awarded a gold medal for excellence. He subsequently graduated from St. Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1879 before training with the military in Britain and then returning to India as a British army doctor. contributing to campaigns in Afghanistan and Baluchistan. He achieved high ranks within the army becoming the Commander in Chief of the Bombay Army and Surgeon Major in addition to receiving many awards. He afterwards continued his medical studies, studying at Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital and publishing research on combatting dysentery in the British Medical Journal. Dr Avedumiants’ career is described in detail in the book but, published at a time of growing political consciousness, is interpreted from a nationalistic point of view in terms of an achievement of an Armenian in India that Armenians should be proud of.

Dr Avedumiants’ record can also be found in the India Office Records at the British Library under the name Sarkies Thaddeus Avetoom ( L/MIL/9/408 f.129).

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The coat of arms on the left is Diana Apcar’s rendition of a potential coat of arms for an independent Armenian nation. Notice the elements of Armenian culture she highlights in the drawing compared with the coat of arms of the modern Armenian Republic and the 1918 Armenian Republic. The Japanese text gives the publication details: printed 15 May in year 43 in the Meiji period (1910) by the Japan Gazette in Yokohama (BL 08028.ddd.24)

My second title is ‘Betrayed Armenia’, a pamphlet by Diana Apcar published in 1910 by the Japan Gazette in Yokohama (BL 08028.ddd.24). Having married into the famous Apcar trading dynasty the author lived in Yokohama, Japan and spent a lot of her time trying to raise awareness of the conditions of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Subsequently she did humanitarian work before becoming the Armenian ambassador to Japan in 1920 after Armenia’s independence. The author specifies that this second edition was intended for circulation in the United States in consequence of the massacre of Armenians in 1909 in Adana. Linking events closely to Armenia’s ancient Christian tradition, she writes, for example, ‘that Armenians may be led again “as sheep to the slaughter” and the work of extermination may be completed’, a prophecy which would become an unfortunate reality in 1915 and subsequent years. My fascination with this text, however, is less concerned with the content than the context. Publishing in Japan, Apcar demonstrated an ability to adapt to the local environment despite being so far from her homeland. The distance from Armenia did not deter her ‘diaspora nationalism’ and appreciation for her ancient culture.[1] It is the passion of this Japanese-Armenian author which makes this printed work so special.

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The Lise Teferi Magoneni School students and their Armenian teachers. The teacher on the left is Kevork Nalbandian, a prominent Armeno-Ethiopian musician who taught at the school and wrote the music for the Imperial Ethiopian National Anthem[2]. From Ardi Et’ovpian ew Hay Gaghut’ ě. Venice: S.Ghazar, 1930 (BL HEC.1994.a.509)

My final choice is Ardi Et’ovpian ew Hay Gaghut’ ě ‘Modern Ethiopia and the Armenian Community’ (BL HEC.1994.a.509). Like many works in the Armenian collection, it was printed in 1930 in Venice in the famous Saint Ghazar printing press. The first half of the book describes in detail Ethopia’s politics, society, economics, culture and religion. The second half explores the Armenian community in Ethiopia detailing the lives of prominent Ethiopian-Armenians in fields as diverse as religion, economics, government, education, the military, artists, musicians and commerce.

The book includes a brief Armenian-Ethiopian dictionary of 1300 words. Here the Armenian word is given on the left followed by the Ethiopian word in Ethiopian script in the middle, and a phonetic transcription of the Ethiopian word in Armenian script on the right.

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An Armenian-Ethiopian wordlist (BL HEC.1994.a.509)

Armenian emigration is much older than the exodus following the Armenian Genocide of 1915 as is shown by two of the examples above. In time the communities adapted to modern political-economic circumstances and either assimilated or emigrated once again. This has led to the near extinction of long established communities in India and Ethiopia and the Armenian presence in Japan is hardly remembered at all. Nonetheless, new diaspora communities have arisen in many more locations globally. Tragic as it is that many prestigious communities have been forgotten, their achievements and existence survive through their literary works preserved, for example, at the British Library and are available for anyone who wishes to remember them.

I am grateful to Momoko Sekido and Eyob Derillo for their assistance in translating Japanese and Amharic script respectively.


Vahe Boghosian, Curatorial Intern, Armenian Books
 ccownwork


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[1] For more on diaspora nationalism see Smith, Anthony et al., The Call Of The Homeland. Leiden: Brill, 2010 and Anderson, Benedict R. O'G., Imagined Communities. London: Verso, 1991.

[2] For more on Kevork Nalbandian and the Royal Imperial Brass Band formed of Armenian orphans ‘Arba Lijoch’ see ‘In The Company of Emperors: The Story of Ethiopian Armenians’.

24 February 2017

Arabic manuscripts of al-Ghazālī

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In a recent post I wrote about Malay translations of works of Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (450-505 AH/1058-1111 AD) by ‘Abd al-Samad al-Jawi al-Palimbani, a Malay scholar from Palembang in south Sumatra who spent most of his adult life writing and teaching in the Arabian peninsula in the 18th century. According to Azyumardi Azra (2004: 131), ‘the immense popularity of the Ghazalian taṣawwuf in the [Malay] archipelago can to a great extent be attributed to al-Palimbani’. The British Library holds manuscripts of two of al-Palimbani’s works transmitting Ghazalian thought to the Malay world: Hidāyat al-sālikīn fī sulūk maslak al-muttaqīn, ‘A guide for travellers on the path of those who fear God’ (Or. 16604), completed in 1778, based on al-Ghazālī’s Bidāyat al-hidāya, ‘Beginning of guidance’, and Sayr al-sālikīn ilā ‘ibādat rabb al-‘ālamīn (Or 15646), in four books, completed in 1789, based on Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, ‘The Revival of Religious Sciences’. This short post aims simply  to highlight a few manuscripts of these original sources in the Arabic collection in the British Library. 

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Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, title from a 13th c. manuscript. British Library, Or 4268, f. 20v (detail)  noc

The collection of Arabic manuscripts in the British Library numbers some 14,000 volumes containing around 15,000 works, dating from the early 8th to the 19th centuries. It unites two historic collections from the British Museum and the India Office Library, with many of the manuscripts in the latter originating from the Indian subcontinent. There are a number of detailed  catalogues but the only published listing covering the entire collection is the Subject-guide to the Arabic manuscripts in the British Library, compiled by Peter Stocks and published in 2001. According to the Subject-guide, the British Library holds over thirty titles by al-Ghazālī, some in multiple copies, including two manuscripts of Bidāyat al-hidāya and no fewer than 27 manuscripts of Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, listed below in chronological order (Stocks 2001: 62-63):

Manuscripts of Bidāyat al-hidāya in the British Library:
14th c: Add 9517/1 (AH 800/ AD 1397); 17th c: Add 9495/2

Manuscripts of Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn in the British Library:
13th c.: Or 4268, Or 8347; 13th-15th c.: Bij 381; 14th c.: Or 5937, Or 6431, Add 9486 (AH 763/ AD 1362); 15th c: Or 6430, Or 14889, Or 13003 A-E (AH 846/ AD 1442), Add 23479 (AH 890/ AD 1485); 16th c.: Or 4374, Or 14883, Add 16644 (AH 917/ AD 1511), IO Islamic 2021 (AH 952/AD 1545); 17th c.: Bij 377-80, Add 16641-43, Add 18402, IO Islamic 2145 (AH 1098/ AD 1687), IO Islamic 2046 (AH 1111/ AD 1698); 18th c.: IO Islamic 749, Delhi Arabic 1750, 1763, 1764, 1768, 1769, 1798; 19th c: Or 13003 F-G (AH 1296/ AD 1879)

Reproduced below is a selection of these manuscripts, dating from the 13th to the 18th centuries.

Add 9517  (1)
Bidāyat al-hidāya, dated AH 800 (AD 1397). British Library, Add 9517/1, ff. 1v-2r  noc

Or 8347
Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, 13th century.  British Library, Or 8347, ff. 67v-68r  noc

Or 4268 (1)
Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, Book 3, in a Persian hand, 13th century (Rieu 1894, no. 173). The name of the owner (and possibly scribe) is given on f. 89r as Ḍiyā al-Dīn Abu al-Fakhr ‘Abd al-Raḥīm b. Muḥammad al-Karsafi. British Library, Or 4268, ff. 20v-21r  noc

Add 18402  (1)
Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, dated AH 1098 (AD 1687), from the Fort William library. British Library, IO Islamic 2145  noc

Add 18402  (3)
Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, 17th century. This MS formerly belonged to William Yule and bears his bookplate dated 1805. British Library, Add. 18402, ff. 9v-10r  noc

Del Ar 1769  (1)
Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, in poor condition, 18th century. British Library, Delhi Arabic 1769  noc

Further reading:
Subject-guide to the Arabic manuscripts in the British Library, compiled by Peter Stocks, edited by Colin F. Baker. London: The British Library, 2001.
Azyumardi Azra, The origins of Islamic reformism in Southeast Asia: networks of Malay-Indonesian and Middle Eastern 'ulama in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2004.

Find Arabic manuscripts in the British Library

ghazali.org: a virtual online library

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

14 February 2017

Romancing the Tome: Love in Illustrated Persian Manuscripts

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For anyone inspired by celebrations of St Valentine’s day, Persian literature has much to offer. Whether it be platonic adoration, romantic affection, or star-crossed disappointment, Persian poetry in particular has something to say about it. With a written tradition stretching over a millennium, much of it still preserved in manuscripts, we explore here a few select examples of epic and romantic compositions from the British Library’s growing collection of digitised Persian manuscripts available online to observe wonderful and alternative responses to love, physical and spiritual.

BL Grenville_xli_f066v_detail
Illustration to a ghazal celebrating love and music from an undated Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ. The painting is unsigned (BL Grenville XLI, f. 66v noc

We begin with a painting (Grenville XLI, f. 66v) illustrating a lyric poem or ghazal (rhyming a-a, b-a, c-a, and so on) by one the genre’s most distinguished exponents, Ḥāfiẓ of Shīrāz (d. circa 1202). Although its tone is initially celebratory, the composition continues by examining different aspects of the lover’s condition, gradually moving toward the melancholic. Couplets 1, 2, and 6 illustrate this shift:

Love's musician possesses an amazing instrument and sound / every air composed strikes a chord.
May the world never empty of lovers’ laments / their sound possesses a delightful harmony.
Showing tears of blood, doctors commented / it is the disease of love, requiring heartrending medication.

The painting is broadly consistent with the ghazal’s narrative arc, showing seated musicians in the foreground facing several figures on a canopied stone platform. The mature male on the left is presumably Ḥāfiẓ addressing his patron, seated on the right, notionally depicted here as a youth absorbed in love’s sorrows.

Although the manuscript is not dated, it is thought to have been transcribed around 1600-1605 in Timurid/Mughal India, and illustrated very soon after. Some of the damage caused to other figures in the same scene is due to the partial obliteration of faces and strategic overpainting (now partially removed), ordered by later owners. Another Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ (Or 14139, f. 47r) refurbished with decorated margins just a few years earlier at the same court isolates the celebratory theme of the first couplet interpreted more straightforwardly as a European musical entertainer playing a fiddle-like instrument while dancing on the spot, and enclosed within an ornamental cartouche.

BL Or_14139_f047r_detail
Ghazal celebrating love and music from a Dīvān of Ḥāfiẓ dateable to circa 1470, with illumination added in the margins as part of later refurbishment (BL Or 14139, f. 47r)  noc

Epic poetry and romances play an important role in distilling specific personal traits and emotional states in the characters of the heroes, heroines, and lovers they seek to celebrate, and thereby humanising the ghazal’s expressive and frequently abstract repertoire of conceits and metaphors. The exploits of the archetypal hero, Sasanian ruler Bahrām Gūr (Bahrām V, d. 438), are the subject of several works of epic poetry, notably the Haft Paykar, part of the Khamsah or Quintet of poems by Niẓāmī of Ganjah (d. 599/1203). In one of the finest manuscript treasures at the British Library, the interpretation of a distinctly amorous scene has been the source of some confusion (Or 2265, f. 221r).

BL Or_2265_f221v_detail
Scene from the tale of King Turktāzī and Turktāz, queen of the faeries, as told by the Princess of India in the Haft Paykar from Shāh Ṭahmāsp Ṣafavī's Khamsah of Niẓāmī. Signed by Muḥammad Zamān, dated 1086/1675-76. For more on this painting see Some paintings by the 17th century Safavid artist Muhammad Zaman (BL Or 2265, f. 221v)  noc

The Haft Paykar’s allegorical narrative describes Bahrām Gūr’s encounters with seven princesses over the period of seven evenings. An illustration close to the beginning of the narrative appears at first to depict the first of the seven encounters, specifically, with the Princess of India dressed in black, representing Saturn. A closer reading of the text indicates the painting is an illustration from an edifying tale told by the Indian princess of King Turktāzī entertained by Turktāz, queen of the faeries.

After a lengthy description of Turktāzī awaking in an enchanted garden, the mas̲navī (couplets rhyming a-a, b-b, c-c, and so forth) gradually recounts the impression made be the queen’s magical arrival and unveiling to expose her European (literally Rūmī or Byzantine) features and complexion. Following tender exchanges, the romantically-charged feast of duck (replaced in the painting by pomegranates) and wine takes on a renewed intensity. It is at this point the surge of passion is delicately summarised by the use of familiar musical metaphors establishing the convivial mood:

The musician entered and cup bearers departed / joyousness hardly needed an excuse.
Every imperforate pearl was pierced (in sequence) / every song followed another.
Dance opened the field to form a circle / entering on foot, skipping and gesturing.

BL Or_12208_f123r_detail
Zayd revives the fainting Laylá and Majnūn (Qays) in the wilderness in Laylá va Majnūn from the Khamsah of Niẓāmī written for  the Timurid/Mughal Emperor Akbar I. Ascribed to Farrukh Chelah (BL Or 12208, f. 123r)  noc

In another mas̲navī from the same work, but a different illustrated manuscript (Or 12208, f. 122v), Niẓāmī records with particular sensitivity the doomed relationship of two pre-Islamic lovers, Laylá and Majnūn (originally known as Qays). Qays, distracted with love’s ardour for his beloved since childhood, Laylá, is driven to the wilderness where he is reduced to rags. It is at this point he is given the epithet majnūn, Arabic for ‘possessed by jinns’ or ‘maniac.’ Later, a mutual friend, Zayd, momentarily reunites Majnūn with Laylá in the vicinity of her tents. The scene of their dramatic meeting is evoked in the following selection of couplets:

Majnūn, upon seeing his beloved / glimpsing his soul in a dark veil.
He, alive, though spiritless / she, withholding her life, yet dead.
The two lovers collapsed, senseless / worldly sounds evade their ears.
Bloodthirsty beasts encircle / sharpening their claws in the dead.
The two fallen lovers remained / until midday on the path.

We see in the exquisitely detailed painting by Farrukh Chelah (ascribed in the lower border) that Laylá and Majnūn are being revived by Zayd with a bottle of perfume, just as the text specifies. However, Farrukh Chelah has used this illustration as an opportunity to fill his composition with an array of vegetal, animal, and topographical features that go beyond the text, to make a visually stimulating whole.

Returning to the ghazal genre, a perennial concern to literary critics is the degree to which poets and their audiences, including later illustrators of their works, interpret meaning. Insofar as the Persian language is essentially gender neutral, that is, you cannot automatically infer from a text whether the subject is male or female in the absence of a gendered attribute, poets have in the past been able to encode into their compositions both heterosexual and homosexual references. Such constructive ambiguity, to borrow a recent term, has in turn been exploited by illustrators to respond to the demands of their patrons, in determining the male or female gender of the beloved as described.

BL IO_Islamic_843_f322r_detail
An older man clasps the hand of a departing adolescent boy, based on a ghazal from the Kullīyāt of Saʿdī, dated 1624 (BL IO Islamic 843, f. 322r)  noc

In a painting from a lavishly illustrated copy of the Kullīyāt or compendium of collected works by Saʿdī (d. 690/1291), dated 1624 and made in Safavid Shīrāz, the poet’s place of birth (IO Islamic 843, f. 322r), we witness the interplay between words and the painted image. The scene shows men seated around a pool, several of them with books in hand, indicating a genial poetic gathering. The bearded man seated in a recess clasps the hand of an adolescent boy about to depart. The relevant couplet illustrated here does not, however, mention either the gathering of men, the reading of poetry, or the detention of a boy specifically, except for the daring khvājah, who is in this context a mature man. It is evident from the range of certain visual interpretations of gender in illustrated manuscripts of poetry that patrons and readers generally approached such nuanced subjects with latitude.


Sâqib Bâburî

Curator, Persian Manuscripts Digitisation Project
 ccownwork

10 February 2017

Some British ‘Islamic’ style seals in Persian manuscripts from India

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The history of manuscript movements, usage and ownership in the Islamicate world is a comparatively underdeveloped subject. Happily, however, paratextual studies especially of seals and ownership inscriptions are now becoming increasingly important in research on the early-modern period. In an earlier post, my colleague Daniel Lowe (Performing Authority: the ‘Islamic’ Seals of British Colonial Officers) gave examples of ‘Islamic’ style seals used by British colonial officers in the Gulf well into the 19th and 20th centuries. I thought I would parallel this with some examples of Europeans’ seals found in our Persian manuscripts from India. These can reflect the official status of the owner of the seal or more simply act as a personal statement of ownership. The list is arranged chronologically and is by no means exhaustive, reflecting very much current work in progress!

Or2839_f1r
Seal of Archibald Swinton (1731-1804) dated 1174 in the 2nd regnal year of Shah ʻAlam II (1760/61): Archībāld Svīntan Bahādur Rustam Jang, 1174 [year] 2. From a copy of the poem Sūz va Gudāz ‘Burning and Melting’ by Nawʻī Khabūshānī (BL Or.2839, f.1r
 noc

Originally trained as a surgeon Archibald Swinton (1731-1804) began his career in India in 1752 serving under Robert Clive in the Carnatic. From the end of 1759 he participated in the Company’s campaigns against Shah ʻAlam II and at the beginning of 1761 after the battle of Gaya was sent by Major Carnac to negotiate terms with him. Presumably this was when Swinton was awarded the Mughal title Rustam Jang. One hundred and twenty of Swinton's mostly Persian manuscripts were sold after his death by Christie’s on June 6th 1810, however this by no means included all his manuscripts of which the British Library has several.

Or1271_f11r_seal
Seal of Major James Browne dated 1191 (1777/78): Muʻīn al-Dawlah Naṣīr al-Mulk Jīms Brawn Bahādur Ṣalābat Jang, 1191. From a history of the Kachwaha Rajas of Dhundhar commissioned by Browne in 1784 (BL Or.1271, f.11r)
 noc

James Browne had joined the East India Company in 1765 and in 1782 was chosen to be Warren Hastings representative at the Mughal Court in Delhi on a mission to supplant the Marathas in Shah ‘Alam's loyalties. Due to delays he was not however presented until 5 Feb 1784. It was during his time in Delhi that Browne wrote his History of the origin and progress of the Sicks which he translated from an especially commissioned Persian manuscript. After Warren Hastings’ resignation and return to England in 1785, Browne was withdrawn from Delhi due to policy changes. The British Library has several of his manuscripts, two of which subsequently belonged to the Marquess of Hastings, Governor-General 1813–1823.

IO Isl 1518_bookplate
Bookplate of Richard Johnson (1753-1807) based on his seal dated 1780: Mumtāz al-Dawlah Mufakhkhar al-Mulk Richārd Jānsan Bahādur Ḥusām Jang, 1194. (BL IO Islamic 1518)
 noc

Richard Johnson (See ʻWhite Mughal’ Richard Johnson and Mir Qamar al-Din Minnat) arrived in Calcutta as a writer for the East India Company in 1770. In 1780 he was nominated for an embassy to the Mughal Emperor but for some reason this mission did not materialise[1]. This must have been the occasion of his being awarded the titles Mumtāz al-Dawlah (ʻChosen of the Dynastyʼ), Mufakhkhar al-Mulk (ʻExalted of the Kingdomʼ), Bahādur (ʻValiantʼ) and Ḥusām Jang (ʻSharp Blade in Warʼ) by Shāh ʻĀlam II on 4 Rabīʻ I 1194 (10 March 1780). The titles carried with them the rank (mansab) of 6,000 and insignia of a fish and two balls, a kettle-drum and fringed palankeen[2]. Johnson’s 716 manuscripts and 64 albums of paintings were acquired by the East India Company Library in 1807 and today form one of the most important of the British Library Persian and Arabic manuscript collections.

Add6574_f4r
Seal of James Grant dated 1193 in the Bengali era (1786/7): Jams Grānṭ Ṣadr-i Sarrishtahdār va Mulāḥiz̤-i Kull-i Dafātir az ṭaraf-i Dīvān-i Ṣūbahjāt-i Bangālah va Bahār va ghayrih Madār al-Mahām Sipahsālār Angrīz Kampanī, sannah Bangalah 1193. Unlike the seals above which included Mughal titles, this is an official Company seal though it seems to have been used here in a private capacity. Note the early typographical use of a retroflex <ṭ> in Grant's name, as is also found twice in Richard Rotton's seal below (BL Add. 6574, f.4r)
 noc

James Grant (1750-1808) was from 1782 to 1784 the East India Company’s Resident at the Court of the Nizam at Hyderabad and while there had several important historical works transcribed for him from the library of Ṣamṣām al-Mulk Shāhnavāz Khān (d.1781), minister of the Nizam. After his return to Bengal, in 1785 he was appointed Chief Sarrishtahdār (‘Account Keeper’) of the Board of Revenue and continued his research into the system of land tenure publishing several important works on the subject. The post was abolished in 1789 and Grant returned to Scotland. Several of his manuscripts were acquired by the British Museum in 1825 as part of a bequest of the Rev. John Fowler Hull.

IMG_4445
Seal of Richard Whytell Rotton dated in the 32nd regnal year of Shah ʻAlam II (1790-91): Rawshan al-Dawlah Mubāriz al-Mulk Richārd Vial Rāin Asʻad Bahādur Sābit Jang, [year] 32. The seal is accompanied by Rotton's signature: ʻR.W. Rotton 14 April 1791ʼ (BL Egerton 1016, f.3v)

 noc

Major Richard Rotton (b. 1770[3]) was an English mercenary who, unsuccessful in joining the East India Company in 1801, for economic reasons joined the Marathas. He became one of Richard Wellesley’s most highly prized spies before being discharged and transferring to the Company in 1803 at the beginning of the Second Anglo-Maratha War (Cooper, pp. 241; 264-6). Rotton had obviously been active in India for a long time before this to judge from the date of his seal which presumably corresponded with the date of his being awarded his titles. One of his sons with an Indian mother, Felix, was employed by successive nawabs of Awadh for twenty years or so, commanding part of their artillery, and reaching the rank of captain in 1856 [4].

IMG_4448 IMG_4425
Seal of William Yule dated 1213 (1798/99), an example of musanná calligraphy in which the letters of his name are written on each side as mirror images. Yule subsequently developed this design to form a cat-shaped bookplate dated 1805 (BL Add.16802, f3r and flyleaf)
 noc

William Yule  (1764-1839) went to India as a cadet in 1781, returning to Scotland in 1806. During the latter part of his career he was Assistant Resident in Lucknow under Lieut.-Col. William Scott, and afterwards in Delhi under Lieut.-Col. David Ochterlony. His collection of 267 Arabic, Persian, and Urdu manuscripts were given to the British Museum by his sons in 1847 and 1850. It includes many very important works partly derived from the libraries of the Safavid prince Abuʼl-Fath Mirza, the Dīwān of Awadh Maharaja Tikait Rai Bahadur (1760–1808), and of the French General Claude Martin (d.1800), all of whom were his contemporaries in Lucknow.

Or.1271, f2r,
Seal of William Price, dated 1811/12: Vilyam Prāʼīs, 1226. This seal occurs on the same manuscript, mentioned above, which was previously owned by James Browne (BL Or.1271, f.2r)
 noc

Although there were several people with this name active in India at the time, this is likely to be William Price (1788-1888) who taught Sanskrit, Bengali and Hindi at the College of Fort William Calcutta between 1813 and 1831.

Add27254_f3v.
Seal of James Skinner (1778–1841): Nāṣir al-Dawlah Karnīl Jams Iskinar Bahādur Ghālib Jang, 1830 (BL Add.27254, f.3v)
 noc

James Skinner (for more on him see James Skinner's Tazkirat al-Umara now digitised) the son of a Scottish soldier father and Rajput mother, like William Rotton above was a mercenary working for the Marathas. When war broke out between the East India Company and the Marathas in 1803, he took advantage of the Company’s offer to come over to its side. He founded the famous regiment of irregular cavalry, Skinner’s Horse, known as the ‘Yellow Boys’. The manuscript in which this seal occurs was Skinner's own copy of his Tazkirat al-Umarāʼ (‘Biographies of Nobles’) which he presented to his friend Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833) who had just retired as Governor of Bombay. The titles Nāṣir al-Dawlah (‘Defender of the Stateʼ) and Ghālib Jang (ʻVictorious in War’) were  granted to him on 3 May 1830 by the Mughal Emperor Akbar II.

There are doubtless many more examples of similar seals waiting to be recorded. Apart from telling us more about the individual seal owners and their taste in reading matter, the dates and titles granted demonstrate the increasing assimilation and integration of the British into the Indo-Persian culture of pre-modern India.


Further reading:
Annabel Teh Gallop, Venetia Porter, and Heba Nayel Barakat, Lasting impressions: seals from the Islamic world. Kuala Lumpur  Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2012.
S.A.I. Tirmizi, Index to titles (1798–1885). Delhi: National Archives of India, 1979.
Lucian Harris,
 “Archibald Swinton, A New Source for Albums of Indian Miniatures in William Beckford's Collection”, The Burlington Magazine 143, no. 1179 (June 2001): 360-366.
Sir Evan Cotton, “The Journals of Archibald Swinton”, Bengal Past and Present 31/1 (Jan-Mar 1926): 13-38.
Krishna Dayal Bhargava, Browne Correspondence. Delhi: National Archives of India, 1960.
Randolph G.S. Cooper, The Anglo-Maratha Campaigns and the Contest for India. Cambridge UP, 2003.


Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian Collections
 ccownwork

------------------------
[1] Richard Johnson, (1753-1807): nabob, collector and scholar…. London, 1973.
[2] BL IO Islamic 4749, f.13r-v.
[3] MyHeritage
[4] Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, The great uprising in India, 1857-58: untold stories, Indian and British. Woodbridge, 2007, p.60.

06 February 2017

Abdul Samad of Palembang, Malay guide to the writings of al-Ghazālī

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Abdul Samad (ca. 1704-1791) from Palembang in south Sumatra (‘Abd al-Ṣamad al-Falimbānī) was  the most prominent and influential Malay religious scholar of the 18th century, who spent most of his life studying, teaching and writing in the Arabian peninsula. From references in his own works we know he was living in Mecca and Taif between 1764 and 1789. According to al-Nafas al-Yamānī by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Sulaymān al-Ahda, in AH 1206 (AD 1791) Abdul Samad arrived in Zabid, Yemen, to teach. This is the last firm date that we have in his biography, and he probably died in the Hijaz without ever returning to Sumatra. Abdul Samad wrote in Malay and Arabic on the Sammaniyya Sufi brotherhood and on jihād or holy war, but his most important contribution is undoubtedly his Malay translations of the great 12th-century theologian, Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (ca. 1058-1111), who was born in Tus in Khorasan, Iran. Al-Ghazālī earned from his contemporaries the sobriquet Hujjat al-Islam, ‘Proof of Islam’, and is credited for reconciling in his writings both legal and mystical aspects of Islam. 

Abdulsamad
‘Abd al-Ṣamad al-Jāwī al-Falimbānī, ‘Abdul Samad, the Jawi [i.e. Muslim from Southeast Asia], from Palembang’: the name of the author as given in a manuscript of his work Hidāyat al-sālikīn . British Library, Or. 16604, f. 2r (detail)  noc

In 1778 Abdul Samad completed Hidāyat al-sālikīn fī sulūk maslak al-muttaqīn, ‘A guide for travellers on the path of those who fear God’, a Malay adaptation of al-Ghazālī’s Bidāyat al-hidāya, ‘Beginning of guidance’, which deals with a number of subjects pertaining to dogmatics, sharī‘a and other matters in a somewhat mystical way. According to the colophon the work was completed in Mecca on  5 Muharram 1192  (3 February 1778).  This work was extremely popular throughout the Malay world: over 82 manuscripts have been documented from published catalogues alone, held in Leiden, Paris, Jakarta, Palembang, Aceh and Malaysia, including 50 in the National Library of Malaysia. Hidāyat al-sālikīn was one of the first Malay works to be published in the 19th century in Cairo, Mecca, Bombay and Singapore, and it is still in print in Malaysia and Indonesia today.

MNA 07-0002
Hidāyat al-sālikīn, a copy from Aceh, 19th c. Museum Negeri Aceh, 07-0002. Source of image: Portal Naskah Nusantara

The British Library holds one manuscript of Hidāyat al-sālikīn from Aceh which appears to be the earliest dated copy known (Or. 16604). According to the colophon, the manuscript belonged to Teungku Busangan who had married the daughter of Teungku Abdul Rahman, who was of Ottoman extraction (saudara bani ‘Uthmaniyyah), and it was copied by Teungku Haji Hasyim ibn Abdul Rahman Patani in negeri l.m.s.y.n (Lamsayun in Aceh?), on 4 Rabiulawal 1197 (9 February 1783). The manuscript thus dates from just five years after the composition of the work, at a time when Abdul Samad was still actively writing. Another manuscript – one of ten copies of this text now held in the famous Islamic madrasah at Tanoh Abee in Aceh – is dated just a few months later, as it was copied in Mecca by Lebai Malim from Lam Bait in Aceh on 19 Jumadilakhir 1197 (22 May 1783) (Fathurahman 2010: 196). The presence of two manuscripts of this work copied thousands of miles apart, within five years of the work’s composition, illustrates well the impact of Abdul Samad’s writings within his own lifetime.

BL Or.16604, ff.1v-2r
Initial pages of Hidāyat al-sālikīn by Abdul Samad of Palembang, a translation of Bidāyat al-hidāya by al-Ghazālī. British Library, Or. 16604, ff. 1v-2r  noc

BL Or.16604, ff.147v-148r (1)
Final pages with colophon of Abdul Samad al-Palembani’s Hidāyat al-sālikīn, copied in Aceh in 1783. British Library, Or. 16604, ff. 147v-148r  noc

A year after completing Hidāyat al-sālikīn, Abdul Samad started on his final and most ambitious project, a rendering into Malay of an abbreviated version of the most influential of al-Ghazālī's works, Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, ‘The Revival of Religious Sciences’.  The Iḥyāʾ is presented in four sections, each containing ten chapters. 'Acts of worship' (Rub‘ al-‘ibadāt), deals with knowledge and the requirements of faith; 'Norms of daily life' (Rub‘ al-‘adat), concentrates on people and society; 'The ways to perdition' (Rub‘  al-muhlikāt) discusses vices to be overcome, while the final book, 'The Ways to Salvation' (Rub‘  al-munjiyāt), focusses on the virtues to be strived for.

Abdul Samad’s Malay work, entitled Sayr al-sālikīn ilā ‘ibādat rabb al-‘ālamīn, was likewise presented in four parts (bahagi), each comprising ten chapters (bab). The first, Pada menyatakan ilmu usuluddin, on prescriptions for ritual purity, prayer, charity, fasting, pilgrimage, recitation of the Qur’an, and so forth, was started in 1779 and completed in Mecca in 1780. The second, Pada menyatakan adat, on manners related to eating, marriage, earning a living, friendship and other societal matters, was finished in Taif in Ramadan 1195 (August-September 1781). The third book, Pada menyatakan muhlikat yakni yang membinasakan, discusses the destructive impact of vices, and was completed in Mecca on 19  Safar 1197 (24 January 1783). The fourth and final book, Pada menyatakan munjiyat yakni yang melepaskan dari pada yang membinasakan akan agama ini, focusses on virtues which overcome threats to faith, and was completed on 20 Ramadhan 1203 (14 June 1789). Sayr al-sālikīn was also extremely popular throughout Southeast Asia, with over 60 manuscripts known today (often containing just one part), including 14 manuscripts in Dayah Tanoh Abee and 36 in the National Library of Malaysia, with the majority originating from Aceh.

MSS 2399
A beautifully written and decorated copy of the third book of Sayr al-sālikīn, a copy from Aceh, probably 19th c. National Library of Malaysia, MSS 2399, ff. 2v-3r.

The British Library holds a manuscript which contains only the final two-thirds of the third book of Sayr al-sālikīn , in two stitched bundles of quires, enclosed in a loose leather wrapper (Or. 15646). The text begins in the middle of the third chapter, on crushing the two desires, of the stomach and the genitals (pada menyatakan memecahkan syahwat), with the section on curbing the appetite for food (pasal pada menyatakan bersalah-salahan hukum lapar). The manuscript continues through the chapters on defects of the tongue (kebinasaan lidah), and condemnations (kecelaan) of anger (marah), worldly mores (dunia), love of wealth (orang yang kasih akan arta), ostentation (kasih kemegahan), pride and conceit (kejahilan) and self-delusion (orang yang terpedaya).  According to a note on the leather wrapper, this manuscript was owned by Muhammad Yusuf from Tanoh Abee in Aceh.

 Or.15646-col
Colophon to the third part of Abdul Samad's Sayr al-sālikīn, composed in Mecca in 1783; this undated manuscript was probably copied in the 19th century in Aceh. British Library, Or. 15646, ff. 136v-137r  noc

Public institutions in the UK hold some of the most important Malay literary and historical manuscripts extant, in line with the interests and preoccupations of their mainly 19th-century British collectors, but these collections are equally characterised by a marked absence of works reflecting Islamic thought and practice in Southeast Asia. It is remarkable that these two manuscripts in the British Library of works by Abdul Samad of Palembang, found in such large numbers throughout Southeast Asia, are the only known copies in British collections. Both have now been fully digitised, and can be read through the hyperlinks or on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website.

Further reading:
Azyumardi Azra, The origins of Islamic reformism in Southeast Asia: networks of Malay-Indonesian and Middle Eastern 'ulama in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2004. [See pp. 112-117, 130-136.]
G.W.J. Drewes, Directions for travellers on the mystic path. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977. [See pp. 222-224.]
Oman Fathurahman, Katalog naskah Dayah Tanoh Abee Aceh Besar: Aceh manuscripts, Dayah Tanoh Abee collection. Jakarta: Komunitas Bambu, 2010.
R. Michael Feener, ‘Abd al-Samad in Arabia: the Yemeni years of a Shaykh from Sumatra.  Southeast Asian Studies, 4(2), 2015.
Sair as-salikin
. Banda Aceh: Museum Negeri Aceh, 1985/1986. [Transliteration of MS no. 923 in the MNA by A. Muin Umar, with a biographical note by Henri Chambert-Loir, ‘Abdussamad al-Falimbani sebagai ulama Jawi’.]
Hidayatus salikin: Syeikh Abdus Shamad al-Falimbani, ed. Hj. Wan Mohd. Shaghir Abdullah. Kuala Lumpur: Khazanah Fathaniyah, 1997-2000. 3 vols.

ghazali.org: a virtual online library on al-Ghazali, including a page in Malay

This blog was updated on 11 February 2017 to incorporate new biographical information from Feener 2015.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork