Sunday, June 27, 2010


“The fact that the Malay-Muslim political treatise Taj-us Salatin existed nearly half a century before Hobbes’ Leviathan would make it difficult for anyone to suggest that the Malays were in need of instruction in matters political, historical or economics”.
[Farish A. Noor, The Other Malaysia: Writing on Malaysia’s Subaltern History, Kuala Lumpur: Silverfish Books, 2005, p. 39]

Arabic script/alphabet/harf was adapted by the Malays as the medium of writings (later known as jawi writings). Five new letters were added in order to make suit with certain Malay words and pronunciations; these five give a sound as ca – nga – pa – ga – nya (i.e.for usage like ca for cawan, means cup). The adaptation of Arabic scripts later enriched the vocabulary of Malay language itself, thus it is not uncommon that Malay language have a similarity in words and meanings that originally from Arabic (i.e. kitab, wakaf, kubur, etc.).
It was believed that the earliest writings produced in the Malay language/jawi writings were in the form of religious books called kitab or risalah. Kitab or risalah have purposes as a religious instruction, and the earliest amongst them related with the basic teachings of Islam as shahadah, pilgrimage to Makkah, arkan al-Iman, etc. By time, advanced writings on various Islamic studies were produced by Muslims scholars on topics of Islamic laws, Al-Qur’an, hadith, theology and Sufism.

Together with this production, Malay language stands as a standard medium of communication, standard language to propagate Islamic teachings as well as a lingua franca that used throughout the Archipelago. The advent of Islam with its teaching to spread the message of Islam simultaneously helps to consolidate the using of this language in the region.

The adaptation and the influence of Arabic and Persian literatures contributed to the enrichment of classical Malay literature. Apart from the adaptation of vocabulary, Malay World also imported the forms and styles of poetry; for example the Arabic shi’ir (in Arabs tradition, shi’ir=poetry, sha’ir=people who read that poetry, qasidah=a whole complete poetry, bait=line from poetry). From Arabic shi’ir later emerge the Malay World ‘syair’.

By 18th century, Malay syair were transmuted into all categories of Malay literatures such as religious works, Malay historiography and hikayat. With method of syair, it offers an alternative other than just plain story to deliver the message of Islam. In 17th century, Malay syair employed to describe the historical events (Malay historiography). Malay hikayat such as Kalilah wa Dimnah and Hikayat Bakhtiyar also appeared as a reproduction of Persian literatures Kalilah wa Dimnah and Bakhtiyar Namah.

Some other forms of Malay classical literature that were inspired by the Arabs, Persian and Indian literatures encapsulated in various themes. One of it is a story of romances that told stories about Muslim kings and queens, together with their princess and princesses. This theme usually storied adventurous of love, war and struggle for the establishment of justice. Examples could be seen in Hikayat Mahmud Ghaznawi and Hikayat Sultan Moghul.

Besides, there are two well-known works which were written as the instruction to the Malay Sultans; there are Taj al-Salatin and Bustan al-Salatin. Taj al-Salatin (The Crown of Kings) was produced by Bukhari al-Jauhari in 1603 AD. Although its title was written in Arabic but the contents of this ‘political guide’ was written in Malay language. Taj al-Salatin contains examples of Muslim kings and pious man of olden time. Author added the Islamic preaching and values to his writing as a warning to his readers about the painful punishment in the Day of the Judgement for those who against Allah’s command.

While in Bustan al-Salatin (The Garden of Kings), it’s served as the instruction to the kings. This work that was written by Shaykh Nur al-Din al-Raniri was divided into seven chapters that dealing with the creation, prophets and kings, just kings and clever ministers, heroes, all kinds of sciences etc.. Shaykh Nur al-Din al-Raniri based most of his subject matter on Islamic teachings.