Jawi Manuscripts and National Muslim Narrative

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MINDAVIEWS > MARGINALIA: Jawi manuscripts and national Muslim narrative

Mansoor L. Limba on October 22, 2016

(A modified transcript of 20-minute presentation of the paper “Jawi Documents in Mindanao: Their Significance in Shaping National Muslim Narrative” at the 2016 Philippine National Historical Society’s National Conference, Almont Resort Hotel, Butuan City, October 20, 2016.)

Salamun ‘alaykum and good afternoon to all of you!

Before laying down my paper’s Statement of the Problem, let me first make some introductory remarks about the Jawi script and its manuscripts as well as its state of affairs through the years. I shall also clarify the operational meaning of “narrative” as it is used in “national Muslim narrative” in the paper. After stating the Statement of the Problem, I shall make some arguments and finally make a conclusion.

Jawi

“Jawi” is an Arabic relative noun which literally means “that which pertains to Java (Indonesia).” It is actually a catch-all term for the entire Malay world. In other words, it means “that which pertains to the entire Malay world; Jawi script means Malay script. Why not “Javi” (from the word “Java”) instead of “Jawi”? The simple reason is that there is no letter “v” in Arabic. (That’s why the Arabs would say “batatas” for “patatas” (potato);, and “babaya” for “papaya”.)

As part of Islamic legacy to the region, Jawi script is an Arabic-based one adapted by Southeast Asian Muslims, including the Muslims in the Philippines. In Mindanao and Sulu, the script had been used predominantly by Muslim ethno-linguistic groups such as the Tausug, Maguindanaon, Maranao, Iranun, Sama’, Yakan, and Sangil, among others, for putting into writing their languages.

Linguistically, Jawi manuscripts are of two types: Batang-a Arab (literally, ‘Arabic letter’) and Kirim. Batang-a Arab is the kind of Jawi that refers to the Arabic script used in any type of document, while Kirim refers to a written text of local dialect literature that uses the Arabic-based script.

The Jawi was used to record both non-religious and religious literary materials. Non-religious literature includes epic, stories, short love poems, love fest, sayings, drama, puzzles and riddles, rhymes, and literature for children. Religious literature includes dekir/dhikr (incantations), khutbah (sermons), Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir), explicatory statements about Islam, du‘a (supplications), religious songs, and kisa (Islamic stories), among others.

Jawi through the years

What happened to the Jawi script and manuscripts through the years?

Since the Philippine independence after the Second World War, there had been a decrease in the use of Jawi script due to the upsurge in the nationwide promotion and use of the English language in the formal educational system. This has been exacerbated further since the 1970s due to increase in the influence of strict interpretation of Islam that denounces many local Muslim beliefs and practices, and brought by local Muslim graduates from Middle Eastern universities.

No doubt, the coming of this new set of Muslim scholars has created tension between their tendency to homogenize the interpretation and practice of Islam, and the local Muslim populace’s inclination to cling to the indigenous practices of their religion, as also reflected several times in Thomas McKenna’s Muslim Rulers and Rebels: Everyday Politics and Armed Separatism in the Southern Philippines (2002).

You may add to this state of affairs the fact that there have been no extensive studies about the Jawi ever made in the country. An exception to this, to my knowledge, is the study series made of Dr. Samuel K. Tan, the most known of which are Surat Sug in two volumes and The Surat Maguindanao, and the journal articles by a Japanese scholar, Prof. Midori Kawashima, about the Jawi in the Ranao region.

Statement of the problem

This paper argues that the preservation and promotion of the Jawi script and documents can contribute to shaping national Muslim narrative.

Narrative

By “narrative” here we mean some kind of retelling, often in words, of something that happened (a story). It is not the story itself but rather the telling of the story. A story is just a sequence of events while narrative is the recounting of those events, perhaps leaving some occurrences out as they are from some perspective insignificant, and perhaps emphasizing others.  In short, narrative is a point of view on a story. In this paper, it is limited to the Muslims’ narrative of their story or stories of themselves and the narrative of their story or stories of others.

Shaping Muslim narrative

Going back to the Statement of the Problem, it is humbly argued that the preservation and promotion of the Jawi can contribute to shaping national Muslim narrative in three fundamental ways: (1) a culturally integrative understanding of Islamic principles, (2) tolerance of diverse Muslim practices, and (3) emulation of chivalry in dealing with perceived enemies.

(1) a culturally integrative understanding of Islamic principles: In Jawi khutbahs, dhikr and other religious documents, there is a clear affirmation of an understanding of Islamic principles (for example, tawhid  or Islamic monotheism) which is integrative of indigenous cultural elements, as embodied in the pandita figure and rituals. (Pandita is etymologically Sanskrit for “learned” and “knowledgeable” and it refers to the Muslim traditional spiritual guide.)

(2) tolerance of diverse Muslim practices: Jawi epics and stories would introduce us to indigenous dresses such as malung (female lower-body dress) and tubaw (male headgear) as well as the kanduli (traditional food offering) which have been tolerated and even accommodated as native expression of Muslim code of attire and charity-giving, respectively.

(3) emulation of chivalry in dealing with perceived enemies: Among the most famous Islamic stories (kisa) is Beraparangan Muhammad ‘Ali Hanafiyyah, which is a local rendition of a popular kisa known as Hikayat Muhammad al-Hanafiyyah to Muslims in many parts of Southeast Asia. Found in different versions in the region, it is a narration of martyrdom of Amir Husayn, the second grandson of Prophet Muhammad. As the epic story graphically touches on such themes as the identity of combatants and non-combatants, rules of engagement in war, and giving water not only to the enemies but even to their riding animals, it illustriously depicts an epitome of Muslim chivalry.

Conclusion

As the conclusion, let me give the following observations: First, there has been insufficient study being conducted on the Jawi script and documents in Mindanao, much less any move to preserve and promote the same. Secondly, due to this lack of attention, they run the risk of being relegated to the dustbin of oblivion and extinction. Thirdly, the preservation and promotion of the Jawi script and documents can contribute to shaping national Muslim narrative in three fundamental ways: (1) a culturally integrative understanding of Islamic principles, (2) tolerance of diverse Muslim practices, and (3) emulation of chivalry in dealing with perceived enemies – something which is quite remote from terrorist acts associated with some violent groups in the country.

Thank you!

(Also published in http://www.mindanews.com/mindaviews/2016/10/marginalia-jawi-manuscripts-and-national-muslim-narrative)

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