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34 posts categorized "Islam"

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. 

‘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.

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. 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

23 January 2017

The Seal of Prophethood: Malay prayers for protection

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Malay manuscripts are generally written in conventional ‘book’ form, but a few scrolls are also encountered. Malay manuscript scrolls are primarily associated with sermons, to be read in the congregational mosque at the Friday prayers, but occasionally small scrolls are found containing prayers and amulets which appear to have been compiled by individuals for their own personal use and protection. The British Library holds one such Malay scroll (Or. 16875), which contains a variety of prayers and talismanic symbols in Arabic, with explanations in Malay about their efficacy and directions for use. The scroll, which measures nearly three metres long when unrolled, is very finely written in black and purple ink. The manuscript has been fully digitised and can be read by clicking on the hyperlinks below the images.

Decorative presentation of the shahadah, ‘There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God’, from a Malay prayer scroll. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The main contents of the scroll is a series of depictions of the ‘Seal of Prophethood’ (in Persian muhr-i nubuvvat, in Arabic khātam al-nubuwwah, and in Malay mohor nubuat). The Seal refers to a special mark borne by Muhammad described by all who knew him as a type of mole or fleshy protruberance located between his shoulder blades (Savage-Smith 1997: 1.106). All over the Islamic world, manuscripts are known depicting the Seal of Prophethood, usually in the form of circular diagrams containing prayers or letters and numbers believed to have magical significance, which acted as talismans whose protective power could be activated by gazing upon them.

The Malay prayer scroll Or. 16875 contains seven diagrams of the ‘Seal of Prophethood’, each said to be found on a different part of Muhammad’s body, and each carrying different protective powers if viewed morning and evening, or written on a piece of paper and carried around. Gazing on the Seal on the Prophet's forehead (dahi) will ensure such success in business that it will feel like entering heaven (pelaris segala jualan seperti masuk syurga); that on his face (muka) will bring happiness (kesukaan); that on his left side (lambung kiri) will bring honour and long life; gazing at that on his right [side] (kanan) is a service (khidmat) to the Prophet and will be rewarded with God's safekeeping; and carrying an amulet (azimat) of the Seal on his mouth (mulut) will ensure that kings and great men will grant the bearer's request. Show below is the Seal of Prophethood said to found on Muhammad’s cheek: ‘This is the Seal of Prophethood on the cheek of the messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, according to ‘Abd al-Raḥman, may God be pleased with him, whoever looks upon this [mark of] Prophethood, his sins will be forgiven by God the Glorious and Exalted, or whoever writes it down and takes it to war will be safe wherever he goes, and whatever he wishes for will be granted by God, it will not be denied to him through the grace of God the Glorious and Exalted’ (Ini mohor al-nubuat pada pipi rasul Allāh ṣallā Allāh ‘alayhi wa-sallam, cetera daripada ‘Abd al-Raḥman raḍī Allāh ‘anhu, barang siapa melihat dia nubuat ini diampun Allāh subḥānahu wa-ta‘ālā sekalian dosanya atau disurat bawa berperang barang ke mana perginya selamat dengan barang hajatnya dikabulkan Allāh tiada tertolak orang itu dengan berkat kurnia Allāh subḥānahu wa-ta‘ālā akan dia).

Or_16875_f001e~r-crop pipi
The circular diagram depicts the Seal of Prophethood said to be on the cheek of the prophet. In the centre is the name of God, and in the border are the names of the four first Caliphs of Islam. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The scroll also contains a series of repeated esoteric letters and formulae said to be associated with early figures of Islam, including the Prophet, his grandsons Hasan and Husayn, his uncle Hamzah, Husayn’s son Zayn al-‘Abidin, and the prophets Sulayman, Yaqub and Adam. Each sequence is introduced by the phrase bab ini pakaian, ‘these are the letters used by’, followed by the appropriate name.

The letters associated with the Prophet Sulaymān (Solomon). British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The scroll also contains a few magical symbols which are often encountered in Malay manuscripts. These include the five-pointed star, the pentagram, which can be ‘strengthened’ further by the addition of loops or 'lunettes' to its tips, and the angka sangga Siti Fatimah (seen below), which in another Malay manuscript in believed to have the power to make a thief return an item he had stolen to the rightful owner (Farouk 2016: 198).

Magical signs include the pentagram, with looped tips or 'lunettes', and in the lower right corner the angka sangga Siti Fatimah. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

In the writing of Islamic talismans, it is believed that letters will exert a greater power if they are written in certain ways. Thus diacritical dots are often missing, in emulation of the antique angular script. A particularly notable feature is a preference for the stretched-out form of the letter kaf, as can be seen to very striking effect in the amulet below.

Horizontally elongated kaf, believe to enhance efficacy of this prayer. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The scroll ends with a Qur’anic verse (Q. 61:13) very often found in amulets, ‘Help from God and a speedy victory, so give the Glad Tidings to the Believers.’

Or_16875_f001jr-crop 2
Qur’anic quotation from Sura 61, al-Saff, v.13, at the end of the scroll. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

The Malay language is used in all parts of maritime Southeast Asia, and as there is no information on the scribe, date or place of writing of this scroll, or any evident linguistic localisms, it is very difficult to ascertain where it comes from. A very cautious guess, based partly on the use of purple ink, suggests a possible origin from the Malay peninsula in the late 19th or early 20th century.

The manuscript was photographed in the British Library by senior photographer Elizabeth Hunter, who in addition to detailed images of each section, also managed to capture the entire scroll – measuring 2850 x 80 mm, made up of five piece of paper glued together – in a single shot. British Library, Or. 16875  noc

Further reading:
Farouk Yahya, Magic and divination in Malay illustrated manuscripts. Leiden: Brill, 2016. (Arts and archaeology of the Islamic world; Vol. 6).
Francesca Leoni, Power and protection: Islamic art and the supernatural. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2016.
Emilie Savage-Smith, Science, tools & magic. Part One. Body and spirit, mapping the universe, Francis Maddison and Emilie Savage-Smith. Part Two. Mundane worlds, Emilie Savage-Smith, with contributions from Francis Maddison, Ralph Pinder-Wilson and Tim Stanley. London: Nour Foundation, 1997. (The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art; Vol.12).

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

16 January 2017

The curious tale of Solomon and the Phoenix

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One of the more enigmatic manuscripts now in the British Library (IO Islamic 1255) from the rich library of Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore (d. 1213/1799), is the untitled qiṣṣah or tale featuring a figure popular across the range of Persian literature, the Prophet Sulaymān (the biblical Solomon, son of David). In this tale, the prophet-king is confronted by the head of the ranks of birds, the Sīmurgh (Phoenix), expressing its disbelief in the doctrine of predestination (qaz̤āʾ va qadr). Having angered Allāh, Jibrāʾīl (the archangel Gabriel) is sent to inform Sulaymān of a prophecy foretelling the birth of the Prince of the East (Malikzādah-′i Mashriq) and the Princess of the West, daughter of the Malik-i Maghrib, who together bear a child out of wedlock. The Sīmurgh believes it can prevent this outcome. Sulaymān and the Sīmurgh conclude an agreement (qawl) to reassess the situation after fifteen years, by which time the accuracy of the prophecy would be apparent.

The Prophet Solomon and the Phoenix’s agreement is witnessed by members of his court; the two yogis in the foreground represent the assembled jinns. Untitled tale of Solomon and the Phoenix from the Tipu Library. British Library, IO Islamic 1255, f. 2v. Noc

The tale additionally interweaves several digressive subplots focussing on the adventures of the Prince of the East from his minority to adolescence. In the process, his development into a pious youth is mapped through a succession of episodes where he interacts with magical beasts, Satan, kings, courtiers, merchants, and sages. This didactic tale may be part of the ‘mirror for princes’ tradition, but as we shall later discover, there is more to it than appears at first glance.

The Prince of the East (not shown) overhears a king’s angry exchanges with his courtiers while seated amid special trees. Note the lengthy jamahs and sweeping turbans that indicate eighteenth-century courtly fashions, while the patterned floorcoverings attempt to capture the rich texture of contemporary embroidered and brocaded soft furnishings. Untitled tale of Solomon and the Phoenix from the Tipu Library. British Library, IO Islamic 1255, f. 8r. Noc

Profusely illustrated, the manuscript IO Islamic 1255 has surprisingly eluded scholarly attention. Although it ends without a dated colophon, the distinctive style and details of its 63 illustrations on 26 folios offer sufficient evidence to locate its origins in mid-eighteenth-century Deccan, possibly even the Carnatic, ruled by the Nawabs of Arcot. On the other hand, the coarse nastaʿlīq script tending toward taʿlīq makes it clear that this is not the product of an élite or royal workshop. The absence of gold illumination and the use of a muted colour palette further strengthen this impression. The unusually tall and narrow format underscores the peculiarity of the volume as a whole. Though the paintings have oxidised in areas, the manuscript must have been a valued item in Tipu’s library, as the work was bound in a contemporary finely-tooled, gilded, and painted leather binding.

The Prince of the East is discovered by his two Arabian horses while sheltering under the hide of a horse at the foot an isolated tree. This image shows the increased levels of pigment oxidation in paintings towards the end of the manuscript. Untitled tale of Solomon and the Phoenix from the Tipu Library, British Library, IO Islamic 1255, f. 22r. Noc

The tale’s literary significance is heightened when considering the version in another British Library manuscript catalogued recently, entitled Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr (IO Islamic 4806). We encounter the familiar characters of the Prophet Sulaymān, the Sīmurgh, the Prince of the East and Princess of the West, with the narrative sharing the same basic structure. Like the version in the Tipu manuscript, the tale’s author is not named. Differences lie in the laconic style of the substantially abridged account, with some passages and episodes rearranged, and others omitted. Occasionally, the simplicity of prose is abandoned in favour of a more formal style and additional poems, while adjectives and titles take on a distinctly courtly flavour. Notwithstanding, the overall feel is that of a relatively faithful retelling of the Tipu version.

The most original feature of the Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr is its introductory matter (ff. 1v-3r), which elevates it to the status of pseudo-history and prophetic tradition. Accordingly, when the Prophet Muḥammad was troubled by Meccan groups, Jibrāʾīl appears and gives him the seal of Sulaymān, a gift from Allāh. Jibrāʾīl is asked if it prevents death. He clarifies that there are two kinds of death, qaz̤ā-′i muḥkam or conspicuous (avoidable?) death and qaz̤ā-′i mubram or certain death. After a few days, Jibrāʾīl reappears and narrates the tale of Sulaymān and the Sīmurgh to demonstrate how nothing escapes the certainty of fate. The tale begins from this point forward in much the same way as the Tipu manuscript.

Illuminated sarlawḥ and opening passage of the Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr. British Library, IO Islamic 4806, f. 1v. Noc

The tale’s connection with the Prophet Muḥammad is established on the authority of a tenuous chain of transmission, mentioning the names of Ibn Saʿd (d. ca. 66/686), who heard it from Ḥasan Baṣrī (d. 110/728), who heard it from one of the unidentified muʿtamadān or confidants of the Prophet. Whether or not the chain of transmission is authentic, such details are unnecessary for the purpose of a mere adventure tale, indicating the intention to emphasise its moral and pious message. While subsequent details correspond closely with the Tipu manuscript, these extraordinary passages do not appear in that version.

The Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr manuscript is not dated and owners’ marks have been erased. It consists of 26 folios commencing with a gilded and painted sarlawḥ or headpiece, and has gold rulings throughout, with scribal nastaʿlīq on thin burnished paper. The nine brightly coloured illustrations are painted with sparsely populated simplistic compositions. Only the King of the West and the Prince of the East are depicted wearing Persian (Safavid) costume, while the remaining characters are dressed in eighteenth-century Hindustani attire. Neither manuscript has chapter or section headings, making it difficult to follow the programme of illustration in both manuscripts without closely reading adjacent text. A comparative list of illustrations in both manuscripts can be found here: Download Solomon and the Phoenix illustrations.

The King of the West’s men shoot at the Phoenix stealing the Princess’s cradle. Note the differentiation in status between figures reflected in their costume. Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr, British Library, IO Islamic 4806, f. 3v. Noc

The Princess of the West falls in love with the Prince of the East, who finds his way to the foot of the isolated tree where she is held captive by the Phoenix. The Princess here is dressed in the Hindustani peshvaz and dupattah, while the Prince sports a turban in a distinctly Safavid style with the ends of the qamarband always tucked in. Qiṣṣah-′i qaz̤āʾ va qadr, British Library, IO Islamic 4806, f. 19r. Noc

Given that both manuscripts discussed here are associated with South Asia, one might be forgiven for taking this as an indication of the tale’s origins, perhaps traceable to some obscure Sufi source of moralistic parables. Evidence to counter this regional association is found in a fragile Judaeo-Persian manuscript from the British Library’s Gaster Collection (Or 10195). Although the fragmentary volume has several compositions in poetry and prose, one of these comprises yet another prose rendition of the same tale of Sulaymān and the Sīmurgh. While the work needs to be studied in detail, it would be particularly revealing if it could be verified that this version commences with or without the prophetic tradition, and whether it consists of the lengthier or abridged version. The systematic comparison of all texts may form the basis of future research to identify a common Urtext, which might not even be in Persian at all. It is hoped this article may mark the start of the process.

Bibliographical note on IO Islamic 1255
Charles Stewart, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the Late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore, Cambridge, 1809, p. 84, where it is listed as the third of the Persian fables. Hermann Ethé, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the India Office, Oxford, 1903, vol. 1, coll. 544, no. 854. Another undated manuscript (IO Islamic 1627), also from Tipu Sultan’s library, reproduces over ff. 106v-111v an independent work based on a fragment of the same tale comprising episodes 14-28 (Ethé, no. 853).

Dr Sâqib Bâburî
Curator, Persian Manuscripts Digitisation Project Ccownwork

I am grateful to Ursula Sims-Williams for referring me to IO Islamic 1255. I would also like to thank Ilana Tahan and Zsofia Buda for their research and help with Judeo-Persian.

07 April 2016

The British Library’s oldest Qur’an manuscript now online

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The British Library’s oldest Qur’ān manuscript, Or.2165, dating from the eighth century, has now been fully digitised and is available on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site. Among the most ancient copies of the Qurʼān, it comprises 121 folios containing over two-thirds of the complete text and is one of the largest of known fragments of an early Qurʼān written in the māʼil script.

The end of Sūrah 7 (Sūrat al-A‘rāf, ‘The Heights’) and the beginning of Sūrah 8 (Sūrat al-Anfāl, ‘The Spoils of War’). The heading in red ink gives the title of the Sūrah and says that it contains 77 verses (British Library Or.2165, folio 7v)  noc

This manuscript was purchased by the British Museum in 1879 from the Reverend Greville John Chester (1830-1892) as noted on a fly leaf at the back of the manuscript. Chester was an ordained clergyman interested in archaeology, Egyptology and natural history and made numerous trips to Egypt and the Near East, where he acquired objects and manuscripts, which are now in the collections of major UK cultural and library institutions. It is very likely he acquired this Qur’ān when he was in Egypt.

Acquisition details recorded at the end of the manuscript (British Library Or.2165, endpaper)  noc

The earliest Qur’ān manuscripts were produced in the mid-to-late seventh century, and ancient copies from this period have not survived intact and exist only in fragments. Or.2165 contains three series of consecutive leaves (Sūrah 7:40 – Sūrah 9:96; Sūrah 10:9 – Sūrah 39:48; Sūrah 40:63 – Sūrah 43:71) from the so-called mā’il Qur’ān, which is about two-thirds of the Qur’ān text and is one of the oldest Qur’āns in the world. It probably dates from the eighth century, and as far as can be ascertained, was produced in the Hijaz region of the Arabian Peninsula.

The Arabic word mā’il (by which this Qur’ān is known) means ‘sloping’ and refers to the sloping style of the script – one of a number of early Arabic scripts collectively named ‘Hijazi’ after the region in which they were developed. The main characteristic of mā’il is its pronounced slant to the right. It can also be recognised by the distinctive traits of some of its letters, for example, the letter alif does not curve at the bottom but is rigid, and the letter yā’, occurring at the end of a word, turns and extends backwards frequently underlying the preceding words.

   Fig 1               Fig2
Left: the letter alif; six small dashes mark the end of the verse
Right: the letter yā’; the Sūrah heading in red ink was added later

In early Qur’āns there are no vowel signs, and this early style of script is also notable for its lack of diacritical marks to distinguish between letters of similar shape. Verse numbering had also not yet been established; the end of each verse was indicated by six small dashes in two stacks of three. The sūrah headings were added much later in red ink in the recognisable space purposely left blank to distinguish between the end and the beginning of chapters. Red circles surrounded by red dots to mark the end of every ten verses were also added later.

The beginning of Sūrah 12 (Sūrat Yūsuf, ‘Joseph’) showing the verse markers and also the red headings and circles which were added later (British Library Or.2165, folios 23v-24r)  noc

As with all early Qur’āns, the text is written on vellum and would have been bound into a codex or muṣḥaf – originally a collection of sheets of vellum placed between two boards. Each double sheet was folded into two leaves, which were assembled into gatherings then sewn together and bound as quires into a codex.

The importance of Or.2165, in addition to all other known early Qur’ān fragments, cannot be overestimated. They provide the only available evidence for the early development of the written recording of the Qur’ān text and help towards our understanding of how early Qur’ān codices were produced.        

Further reading

Rieu, Charles, Supplement to the Catalogue of the Arabic Manuscripts, London, The British Museum 1894, Item 56, pp. 37-38.
Déroche, François and Noseda, Sergio Noja, Sources de la transmission manuscrite du texte coranique I, Les manuscrits de style ḥiǧāzi, Volume 2, tome 1, Le manuscrit Or.2165 (f. 1 à 61) de la British Library, Lesa, 2001.
Baker, Colin F., Qur'an manuscripts: Calligraphy, Illumination, Design, London, 2007, pp.15-18.

Colin F. Baker, Head of Middle Eastern and Central Asian Collections


03 December 2015

The Twenty Attributes of God in Malay: Sifat Dua Puluh

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Sifat Dua Puluh, the ‘Twenty Attributes’ of God, is a popular subject of Malay texts on Islamic instruction. Ultimately deriving from the exposition in the famous work Umm al-Barāhīn, ‘Mother of all Proofs’, by Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muḥammad b. Yūsuf al-Sanūsī (d. 1490), there are many different Malay compositions on the attributes of God, both lengthy and abbreviated, and written in both prose and in verse. Manuscript copies mostly date from the 19th century but there are also many early printed editions, and the text is still commonly taught, read and sold today.

1995-Lorong Kulit-a
Islamic works on sale in Lorong Kulit market, Penang, with two copies of Sifat 20 visible. Photograph by A.Gallop, 1995.

Among the recently digitised Malay manuscripts in the British Library are three texts on Sifat Dua Puluh, which illustrate well how this subject can be treated either very succinctly or in more detail. The first example occupies just one page in a compendium of tracts on religious subjects in a manuscript from Aceh (Or. 16767), and comprises a list of the twenty attributes with one- or two-word Malay translations; thus the first attribute, wujūd, ‘existence’, is simply explained by the Malay word ada. The second example, also in a composite volume from Aceh (Or. 14194), gives a little more information, translating each attribute and giving its opposite or inadmissible (mustahil) attribute: wujūd ada artinya ada lawannya tiada, ‘wujūd means existence, and it has an opposite, non-existence’. The third text is much longer and fills the whole manuscript (Or. 13716), giving a full paragraph on each attribute and its opposite, and providing proof (dālīl) from the Qur’an. The text is written in fully vocalised Malay, strongly suggesting an origin in Java, because Javanese in Arabic script (Pegon) is always vowelled, whereas Malay in Arabic script (Jawi) is rarely written in this way. According to the colophon, this manuscript was completed on 10 Maulud [ie. Rabiulawal] 1301 (9 January 1884), and at the top  of the right-hand page below is the name 'Ujang', probably of an owner of the manuscript.  A later owner was G.A.J. Hazeu (1870-1929), who was based in Batavia from 1898 to 1915, in 1907 succeeding Snouck Hurgronje as Adviser for Native and Arab Affairs.

List of the Twenty Attributes (Sifat Dua Puluh), with Malay translations, in a manuscript from Aceh, 19th century. British Library, Or. 16767, f.103v  noc

Twenty Attributes (Sifat Dua Puluh) of God, together with their opposites, in a manuscript belonging to Abdullah, son of Abdul Rashid, of Tanoh Abee, Aceh, 19th century. British Library, Or. 14194, ff. 80v-81r  noc

Sifat Dua Puluh, Malay manuscript from Java, 1884. On the right hand page, a classification of the attributes into two groups; on the left-hand page, explanations and proofs of the first three attibutes, wujūd, ‘existence’; qidam, ‘state of non-origination’ and baqā’, ‘permanence’. British Library, Or. 13716, ff. 2v-3r   noc

In addition to original manuscripts held in the British Library which have now been digitised, the Endangered Archives Programme provides online access to a number of important collections of Islamic manuscripts held throughout maritime Southeast Asia. The project EAP153, ‘Riau Manuscripts: the gateway to the Malay intellectual world’, led by Jan van der Putten and Aswandi Syahri in 2007, surveyed private collections of manuscripts held in the Riau archipelago. These islands, located between Singapore, Sumatra and Borneo, are widely regarded as a cradle of Malay-Islamic culture and learning. 13 collections of manuscripts from the islands of Penyengat, Bintan and Lingga were digitised, including three copies of Sifat Dua Puluh.

Kitab Sifat Duapuluh, from a collection of manuscripts, printed books and correspondence assembled by historian, journalist and author Aswandi Syahri, Tanjung Pinang, Riau. British Library, EAP153/3/14, images 12-13

Sifat Dua Puluh, from a collection of manuscripts temporarily held by the dealer Khairullah, Kampung Ladi, Pulau Penyengat, Riau. British Library, EAP153/5/1, images 55-56

Sifat Dua Puluh, another manuscript copy from the Khairullah collection, Penyengat, Riau. British Library, EAP153/5/1, image 13

Also digitised through the EAP is a lithographed copy of Sifat Dua Puluh, composed in 1884 by the well-known Batavia scholar Sayyid Uthman (1822-1914). The British Library holds several early printed copies of different compositions on this subject, including one in verse (syair) form by the eminent Johor writer Captain (later Major) Haji Muhammad Said, published in 1920.  The first quatrain reads: Ujud artinya ada / sifat wajib Tuhan yang esa /tiada permulaan adanya Dia / tiada kesudahan kekal dan sedia, 'Ujud means 'existence' / a necessary attribute of the One God / no beginning has He / nor end, eternal and ever-there'.

EAP153_8_13-EAP_153_TPI_RAJA_FAHRUL_13_001_L Scan0002
(Left) Kitab Sifat Dua Puluh, by Uthman bin Abdullah bin Yahya, composed in Batavia in 1304 (1886/7), this undated lithographed copy printed in Bombay. British Library, EAP153/8/13
(Right) Syair simpulan iman, iaitu meringkaskan pelajaran sifat dua puluh, by Kapitan Haji Muhammad Said bin Haji Sulaiman. Singapore, 1920. British Library, 14653.d.24


Mohd. Nor bin Ngah,  Kitab Jawi: Islamic thought of the Malay Muslim scholars.  Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1983.
Martin van Bruinessen, Kitab kuning: books in Arabic script used in the Pesantren milieuBijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 1990, 146(2-3): 226-269.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, British Library  ccownwork

22 October 2015

Marking the Aftermath of the Massacre at Karbala: New manuscripts of the Mukhtarnamah

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Muḥarram is the first month of the Islamic lunar Hijrī calendar and considered, along with Ramaz̤ān (the ninth month) and others, to be one of the sacred months marked for pious observances. Culminating with the day of ʿāshūrāʾ (literally, the ‘tenth’ day – this year falling on Friday, 23 October 2015), the first ten days of Muḥarram hold particular significance. This period coincides with remembrances of the military confrontation between two rival factions claiming legitimacy over the political succession and moral leadership of the early Islamic community.

Muharram festival. Gouache on mica. Benares or Patna style, 1830-40 (British Library Add.Or.401)

Two important figures in the Arabian peninsula, 1) Imām Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī, the grandson of the Prophet Muḥammad, and 2) ʿAbd Allāh ibn al-Zubayr (d. 73/692), a distant relative, refused to submit to the authority of Yazīd ibn Muʿāviyah (d. 64/683), the newly succeeding Umayyad caliph ruling in Damascus. Angered by this, Yazīd dispatched southward a large force to eliminate all rebels. Invited to take power in Kufa in place of Yazīd’s appointed governor, Ḥusayn, his extended family, and a small military contingent departed Medina via Mecca, but were confronted en route at Karbala, then a desolate and arid desert location. On the tenth day of Muḥarram or ʿāshūrāʾ, Ḥusayn and his companions were massacred (10 Muḥarram 61/10 October 680), leaving only a few survivors.

Celebrating the exploits of Amīr Abū Isḥāq Mukhtār ibn Abū ʿUbaydah ibn Masʿūd al-Thaqafī (d. 67/687), an early rebel leader of the southern Iraqi city of Kufa, a previously unknown version of the Mukhtārnāmah has recently come to light. Read for its narrative of events connecting to ʿāshūrāʾ commemorations, the Mukhtārnāmah’s importance extends beyond pure biography to encompass political, religious, and ethical themes of perennial interest to Muslim communities across the world.

The Mukhtārnāmah records how, learning of the atrocities while in Kufa, Mukhtār joined the wave of revulsion reverberating through the region. He later came to challenge competing Umayyad and Zubayrid claims for the caliphate by ruling Kufa and other parts of Iraq as an independent emirate, while pursuing revenge against the named perpetrators of atrocities against Ḥusayn and his family. Although his rebellion did not last long, Mukhtār’s doomed stand against tyranny and reverence for the Prophet Muḥammad’s family were admired by contemporaries and preserved in various literary forms for later generations to honour as part of annual ʿāshūrāʾ commemorations.

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Opening page from the recently discovered Mukhtārnāmah  dating from the early nineteenth century. Though decorated with an illuminated headpiece and interlinear gilding, the slightly awkward scribal quality of the nastaʿlīq hand continues throughout (British Library IO Islamic 3716, f. 1v)

The recently discovered manuscript of the Mukhtārnāmah (IO Islamic 3716) is an anonymous version in simple prose, completed by Aṣghar ʿAlī Bayg known as Sangī Bayg for Mirzā Khudā Bakhsh Bayg Khān, 19 Muḥarram 1228/22 January 1813. Though it lacks a preface or introduction, the narrative is arranged into several majālis or gatherings, which help contextualise the work’s recitation in ʿāshūrāʾ-related gatherings in mosques and imāmbārahs.

The British Library holds another older copy (Or.10948), also in prose, dated 1[0]96/1684-5, the text of which is similarly arranged into majālis. Crucially, its narrative differs from IO Islamic 3716 in style and occasionally in points of detail, as well as unsatisfactorily beginning without the first complete majlis (singular of majālis). The later Mukhtārnāmah (IO Islamic 3716) presents a more complete narrative and deserves to be studied closely.

BL Or 10948 ff1v2r_1500
Opening from the earlier Mukhtārnāmah , showing the original late-seventeenth-century illuminated text transcribed in naskh on the left (f. 2r), and a simpler near-contemporary replacement folio, also in naskh, on the right (f. 1v). Though both versions are in prose, the content of this version differs from the recently discovered Mukhtārnāmah (above) (British Library Or.10948, ff. 1v-2r)

Sâqib Bâburî, Asian and African Studies


05 June 2015

British Library loans to Sultans of Deccan exhibition in New York

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A superlative exhibition Sultans of Deccan India opened at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in April with an important accompanying catalogue (Haidar and Sardar 2015).  The arts of the Deccan (upland peninsular India) are among the rarest survivals from Muslim India and the exhibition concentrated on its greatest period, namely 1500-1700, so that the quality of the exhibits was uniformly high.  The three major sultanates emerged from the earlier Bahmanid kingdom around 1490 and survived until conquered by the Mughals in the 17th century, when most of their paintings and manuscripts seem to have perished. The British Library has an outstanding collection of this rare material and several of the key pieces from it were lent to the exhibition.

Chief among them perhaps is that rarest of all survivals, an illustrated Deccani manuscript from the 16th century (Add. 16880).  This is the Pem-nem, a Sufi romance in Dakhni Urdu written by Hasan Manju Khalji under the pen name of Hans, and dedicated to that great patron of the arts, Sultan Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II of Bijapur (r. 1580-1627) in 999/1590-91 (an unfortunate typo in the New York catalogue (no. 29) gives the date as 990/1590-91).   This seems to be both the autograph and the only known copy of the text.   Three campaigns of illustration can be discerned in the manuscript in three varying styles over perhaps a period of 20 years.

Add 16880 f.49v
Shahji wanders in search of his beloved Mahji, whose image is ingrained on his heart.  Hand A, Bijapur 1591.  British Library, Add. 16880, f.49v.  noc

The story concerns Prince Shahji of Kuldip and his love for Mahji, a princess from Sangaldip, a love so ingrained in the prince that in a striking visual metaphor the beloved’s portrait is always present painted on his heart.

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Shahji weeps streams of tears on realising that Mahji is only a reflection of the image in his heart. Hand B, Bijapur c. 1610.  British Library, Add. 16880, f.90v.  noc

Having found his beloved, he believes that she is only a reflection of the ideal image that he has borne on his heart and he rejects her.

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Flames of unrequited passion arise from Mahji  as she mourns for her lost beloved.  Hand C, Bijapur c. 1600.   British Library, Add. 16880, f.138.  noc

They separate each to a year of mourning and reflection, but eventually Shahji comes to realise that she is the true beloved not an idealised image and the two are reunited in wedlock.

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Shahi lifts Mahji into the bridal palanquin.  Hand A, Bijapur 1591.   British Library, Add. 16880, f.213v.  noc

A full account of the story and its meaning along with illustrations of all the miniatures is given in a paper by Deborah Hutton (2011).  The tale is typical of the Prem kahani variety of Indian Sufi literature in being a metaphorical account of the search of the adept for God and in this instance not realising it when he has found it.

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A royal picnic possibly of Burhan II Nizam Shah of Ahmadnagar (r. 1591-95).  Ahmadnagar, 1590-95.  British Library, Add.Or.3004  noc

Among the greatest rarities of Deccani art are drawings or paintings from the third of the successor states to the Bahmanid kingdom, that of Ahmadnagar.  The British Library is fortunate in possessing a masterful drawing of an enthroned ruler in a garden enjoying an al fresco picnic (Add.Or.3004, Haidar and Sarkar no. 17).  The sultan is gazing fixedly at the musicians to his right, while abstractedly accepting pan from one of his pages.  Others listen to the music or supervise the preparation of food and wine.  The hawk and the bow seem more pictorial accessories than employed on a hunting expedition, suggesting perhaps the drawing is a study of different groupings rather than a finished composition.  The central grouping of the ruler and the page is closely linked to the great contemporary painting in the Bibliothèque Nationale showing an Ahmadnagar ruler again possibly Burhan II being offered pan by a page (ibid., no. 14).  This artist’s technique is wonderfully fluent in his calligraphic, expressive lines and his use of stippling and shading.  Influence from Mughal art has been suggested as a key element in his style, perhaps when Burhan was a refugee at the Mughal court from 1585.   The influence however comes from the early Akbari style of the early portraits and the Hamzanama (in train 1564-77).  More remarkable still are the pronounced Hindu elements of the style such as the vestiges of the projecting further eye of mediaeval Indian painting, the eyelashes protruding into space, the continued use of the Hindu full-profile portraiture tradition and the totally Hindu pose of the Sultan whose legs are arranged on his throne in the classic padmasana posture.   All of this suggests an artist tradition plucked from Vijayanagar after the fall of that Hindu empire to the combined Deccan sultans in 1564.
A Mullah.  Bijapur, c. 1610.  British Library, J.25, 14.  noc

More paintings survive from Bijapur at this time than from Ahmadnagar and Golconda, all commissioned under the cultured rule of Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah.  One of his major artists, his name unknown, was a superlative portraitist.  He was responsible for another of the Library’s loans to New York, a portrait of a mullah wearing a distinctive turban wrapped round a red cap and an undyed shawl over this shoulders (ibid., no. 41).  The mullah’s upright bearing, staff and book seem the very embodiments of rigid orthodoxy but his keen and engaged gaze suggests an intelligent and enquiring mind.   He would have needed it in Ibrahim’s court, as the Sultan’s writings and images indicate an open mind towards Hinduism being devoted to Sarasvati, the goddess of music and learning.   The sternness of the portrait is relieved by the delightful touches of magical, all blue irises rising near his feet and two partridges busy hunting for food.

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The colophon pages of a Qasida written by Mullah Nusrati in praise of ‘Abdallah Qutb Shah of Golconda (r. 1626-72).  Calligraphy by the son of Naqi al-Din Husaini.  Bijapur,  mid-17th century.  British Library, Or. 13533, ff. 28v, 29  noc

Finally also lent to New York were four folios of a spectacularly illuminated manuscript (Or. 13533, ibid., no. 61) of a qasida or panaegyric by Mullah Nusrati, the court poet of Bijapur under Sultan ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah II (r. 1656-72).  The qasida is in praise of Sultan ‘Abdallah Qutb Shah of Golconda (r. 1626-72).  Although Bijapur and Golconda were often inimically disposed towards each other, amity descended for a while after the marriage in 1633 of the Golconda Sultan’s sister, Khadija Sultana, to Sultan Muhammad ‘Adil Shah of Bijapur (r. 1627-56), and this apparently early work of Nusrati may reflect this state of affairs.  Every page is elegantly calligraphed by ‘Ali ibn Naqi al-Din Husaini against a gold ground and illuminated with cartouches, lozenges or boldly drawn flowers in brilliant colours in the typically Deccani palette of chocolate, lilac, pink and green.   Naqi al-Din was the famous calligrapher whose name is signed several times on the Ibrahim Rauza, the exquisite tomb of Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah built ca. 1627-35.

Further reading:
Haidar, N., and Sardar, M., Sultans of Deccan India 1500-1700s: Opulence and Fantasy, Metropolitan Museum, New York, 2015

Hutton, D., ‘The Pem-Nem:  a Sixteenth-Century Illustrated Romance from Bijapur’ in Haidar, N., and Sardar, M., eds., Sultans of the South: Arts of India’s Deccan Courts, 1323-1687, Metropolitan Museum, New York, 2011, pp. 44-63

Additional blogs of interest:
Rare portrait of Iklas Khan, the African Prime Minister of Bijapur, acquired by the British Library

An Album of Maratha and Deccani Paintings


J.P. Losty, Curator of Visual Arts (Emeritus)  ccownwork

16 April 2015

Malay manuscripts from south Sumatra

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Think ‘Malay manuscript’, think ‘Jawi’ – the modified form of the Arabic script used in Southeast Asia – but this is not invariably the case. Manuscripts in the Malay language from the interior regions of south Sumatra are often written in local incung scripts of Indian origin, which read from left to right. Apart from the rare Kerinci script, the two main variants of incung script encountered in manuscripts from south Sumatra are Lampung and Rejang (or rencong). In addition to paper, manuscripts are written on pieces of bamboo and strips of tree bark folded in concertina form. Most such manuscripts probably date from the late 18th and 19th centuries, but a bark book in Lampung script was given to the Bodleian Library in Oxford by Jo. Trefusis in 1630, making it by far the earliest dateable south Sumatran manuscript known (reproduced in Gallop & Arps 1991: 71).

Syair perahu, ‘The poem of the boat’, Sufi poem in Malay in rencong script. British Library, MSS Malay A 2  noc

Among the Malay manuscripts in the British Library that have recently been digitised are four manuscripts from south Sumatra. Shown above is a folded tree bark manuscript of Syair perahu, ‘The poem of the boat’, written in Malay in rencong script (MSS Malay A 2). This Sufi poem comparing the mystical path to a voyage in a boat, based on the system of the ‘seven grades of being’ (wahdat al-wujud), was formerly attributed to the Sumatran mystic Hamzah Fansuri. However, Braginsky (2004: 676) has distinguished two distinct Syair perahu, neither of which is by Hamzah; the first - as in the present manuscript - which has only survived today in rencong script, and was probably composed in the second half of the 17th century by Syamsuddin of Pasai or one of his disciples; and a second, better-known, version, currently preserved in Jawi manuscripts.

A brief unidentified text, perhaps an incantation, with drawings, at the end of the manuscript of Syair perahu. MSS Malay A 2  noc

Two other manuscripts are both written on bamboo. One incomplete text in rencong script, comprising 31 strips of bamboo, contains a tembai (myth of origins) and teremba (genealogy), in the form of a metrical litany narrating the descent of the soul from its prenatal state in the land of the souls (MSS Malay D 11). According to the Dutch linguist and authority on Sumatran langauges, Petrus Voorhoeve, ‘It is a curious document of the syncretism of animistic and Muslim ideas that is characteristic for South Sumatra in the period of transition from the old religion to Islam. In such a composition one cannot expect a strick adherence to the rules of logic.’  Voorhoeve further notes that the last part of the text 'refers to the reluctance of the soul to be born, caused by the premonitions of death that it feels during the last nine days before birth. On each of these days it entreats its parents to avert this threatening danger. Reflection on its eternal origin, purification with citrus-juice, sacrificial meals and prayers are the means to reach this end. Their effect is that the soul feels "a little better", and though the text ends abruptly in the middle of the last day we may suppose that the soul is at last persuaded to take its abode in this world of "time" and "death". Perhaps this litany was recited during the ceremonies which were performed in the last days before the birth of a child.'

Tembai and teremba, Malay manuscript in rencong script on bamboo. The first lines of the text have been read by Voorhoeve: Anjut parahu dari ulu / pisang rukama kanan pari / tambai kutahu dari guru / taraba kapun barahi. British Library, MSS Malay D 11, f. 1r  noc

The second manuscript on bamboo is Seribu maksa (Or. 12986) concerning a conversation between the Prophet (Nebi Rasululah) and Sayih Wali Mahemat. The text is in south-Sumatran literary Malay in Lampung script, which can be distinguished from rencong script by the presence of a symbol for the vowel ĕ pĕpĕt (like the initial 'a' of 'alone'). Digitised together with the manuscript is a typed sheet containing Voorhoeve's revision of the order of the bamboo strips, based upon the same text as found in the National Library of Indonesia, Jakarta, MS E 86.

Seribu maksa, in Malay in Lampung script. British Library, Or. 12986  noc

The fourth manuscript (MSS Malay A 4), and the only one on paper, is a collection of pantun or quatrains entitled Surat pantun cara Lampung, written in parallel columns of the Lampung dialect in Lampung script and Malay in Jawi script. The manuscript, which is dated 1812, contains poems used by young people in courtship. It was probably written for a European, perhaps in Bengkulu, where the East India Company had a base.

Surat pantun cara Lampung, courtship poems, 1812. British Library, MSS Malay A 4, ff. 2v-3r  noc

To this small collection of four Malay manuscripts from South Sumatra in the British Library, we are very pleased to have added a fifth, thanks to the generosity of Christopher and Zissa Davidson. Chris worked in Lampung in the 1980s, and when he and Zissa left in 1988 they were given a bark book as a leaving present by very close Dutch friends. The book had earlier been acquired by these friends in a small tourist shop selling some local artefacts in a hotel beside Danau Ranau, a volcanic lake in the northwest of the province. Zissa first contacted the British Library in 2002 to find out some information about the manuscript. After some discussions, earlier this month she and Chris most kindly came up from their home in Hampshire to donate the manuscript to the British Library, where it has been given the shelfmark Or. 16936. The contents have not yet been identified (alas, Dr Voorhoeve passed away in 1996), but the ruled lines dividing the pages suggest that this may be a compendium of short texts. We hope to be able to digitise the manuscript soon so that it can be studied by the few people still able to read Lampung script.

Lampung manuscript on folded tree bark. British Library, Or. 16936

The Lampung manuscript (Or. 16936) donated to the British Library by Chris and Zissa Davidson, 1 April 2015

Further reading:

Vladimir Braginsky, The heritage of traditional Malay literature. Leiden: KITLV Press, 2004; on 'Sufi poems of the boat' see pp. 676-688.
Mark Durie, ‘Ancient links: the mystery of South Sumatra’ in: Illuminations: the writing traditions of Indonesia, ed. by Ann Kumar and John H. McGlynn. New York: Weatherhill; Jakarta: Lontar, 1996, pp. 247-52.
Annabel Teh Gallop with Bernard Arps, Golden Letters: writing traditions of Indonesia / Surat Emas: budaya tulis di Indonesia. London: British Library; Jakarta: Yayasan Lontar, 1991
P. Voorhoeve, Critical survey of studies on the languages of Sumatra. ‘s-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff, 1955.  

Download MSS.Eur.C.214 contains a synoptic romanized text of MSS Malay A.2 by P.Voorhoeve.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia   ccownwork