MAKATI CITY (5 September) – In the wake of the deadly blast in Davao City, I had attended – though mentally disturbed and almost reluctantly – the UNESCO-Memory of the World (MOW) Documentary Heritage Awareness and Nomination Seminar which was organized by the Philippine National Commission for UNESCO, in partnership with the University of the Philippines Mindanao and the Center for New Cinema (CNC), on September 3, 2016 at the Lorenzo Hall, University of the Philippines Mindanao.
As part of the nationwide awareness campaign as well as in response to UNESCO-MOW’s mandate to “increase awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of the documentary heritage and assist in its universal access and preservation,” similar seminars were also recently held in Quezon City and Baguio City.
Pertaining to records and documents that help preserve memories of our culture and society, “The documentary heritage,” as Prof. Nick Deocampo would explain us, “includes printed documents, recorded sound and music, motion pictures and photographs, ancient syllabary and cartography, and other forms of physical recordings.”
Reflecting on the significance of preserving documents, particularly those coming from Mindanao, Dr. Bernardita Churchill, President of the Philippine National Historical Society, chaired a panel that gave special focus on “Jawi Documents” in a bid to know their historical, cultural and scholarly significance.
“Jawi” is an Arabic relative noun which literally means “that which pertains to Java (Indonesia).” 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 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.
Among the most famous Islamic stories 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, thereby depicting it as an epitome of Muslim chivalry.
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 Islam.
No doubt, the preservation and promotion of 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 current radical groups in the country.