Fakes or Fancies? Some ‘problematic’ islamic manuscripts from South East Asia

« Fakes or Fancies? Some ‘problematic’ islamic manuscripts from South East Asia » by Annabel Teh Gallop in Manuscript Cultures 10 (2017)

This article focuses solely on ‘Islamic’ manuscripts from
South East Asia, namely those manuscripts written in Arabic
script, containing texts in Arabic and Malay, and occasionally
in Javanese. The indelible association between Islam and
the Arabic script – the vehicle for the word of God in the
Qur’an – lends itself to a widespread and convenient market
perception of all manuscripts written in forms of the Arabic
script as inherently ‘Islamic’, irrespective of their contents.
Thus a manuscript of the Hikayat Perang Pandawa Jaya –
the story of the final fight of the Pandawa brothers from the
Mahabharata – written on paper, in Malay in the extended
form of Arabic script known as Jawi, might easily appear

in an auction sale in London of Islamic manuscripts, while a manuscript of the Serat Yusup, the Muslim story of the

Prophet Joseph, written on palm leaf in Javanese language
and the Javanese script which is of Indic script, would attract
little interest in the international Islamic art market. And it
is indeed the rapid expansion of the international market in
Islamic art over the past three decades that has precipitated
the writing of this article.
This surge of interest in London was mirrored by a
simi lar flurry of activity on the other side of the world,
due to the collecting activities of two large institutions in
Malaysia. In the early 1980s, the Department for Islamic
Affairs (Bahagian Hal Ehwal Islam, BAHEIS) – now known
as the Department for the Propagation of Islam (Jabatan
Kemajuan Islam Malaysia, JAKIM) – in the Prime Minister’s
Department of Malaysia embarked on an ambitious project
to collect Islamic cultural artefacts including manuscripts.
More than 3,600 manuscripts in Arabic, Malay and other
languages were acquired in a relatively short period, in­
cluding over 300 Qur’ans, mainly from South East Asia.
Since 1998 the JAKIM collection has been on loan to the
Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM), Kuala Lumpur.
The second important event was the foundation in 1984 of
the Malay Manuscripts Centre (Pusat Manuskrip Melayu)
at the National Library of Malaysia (Perpustakaan Negara
Malaysia, PNM), whose collection now numbers over 4,700
manuscripts primarily in Malay, but including about 40
Qur’ans. Other smaller institutions in South East Asia, as
well as a number of private collectors, also actively began
to acquire Islamic manuscripts in the 1980s and 1990s. In
Indonesia, a major revival of interest can be traced to the
Festival Istiqlal held in Jakarta in 1991, which included
the first major exhibition of Qur’an manuscripts from the


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