I mostly feel lucky to be a researcher on manuscripts (if I may to say as it), who graduated from madrasa and pesantren. Both, especially what is called as salaf pesantren, facilitate those who study there to be familiar with the exceedingly rich tradition of classical Islamic literatures and various Islamic living traditions, and of course educate them a reading skill of Arabic texts.
As the Arabic Archipelago’s manuscripts have been found in a huge number (look at here for an insight), in particular those relate to religious issues, the competence of this language will be highly functional to reveal the worth of knowledge kept within those manuscripts. Even the competence will help a philolog to read manuscripts written in any local languages, such as Malay, Javanese, Sundanese, Minangkabaunese, Acehnese, and others, for these languages typically use a modified Arabic script called Jawi or Pegon.
The composition of manuscripts stored in Ali Hasjmy’s collection in Banda Aceh could be a good example to show how large roughly the Arabic Indonesian manuscripts among the other categories of languages. As we discussed in our recently published catalogue, the 45 % of the manuscripts preserved here are in Arabic, 45 % of them are in Malay, and the rest (10 %) are in Acehnese. This is presumably a kind of composition of Indonesian religious manuscripts stretched in other regions in Indonesia.
Moreover, the experiences of learning classical Islamic literatures in madrasa and pesantren frequently make me easier to identify a non-complete manuscript in terms of classification, even title and authorship, something be usually tricky for those who are not familiar with the tradition and discourse of classical Islamic literatures.
In the case of Arabic grammatical (nahw and sarf) manuscripts, for instance, I repeatedly find some pages of spilled out anonym manuscripts, both in poem and prose form. Fortunately, I used to study, or even memorize, some kinds of those works, such as al-Ajurumiyya, Sarf al-Kaylani, Nazm al-Maqsud, and Alfiyya Ibn Malik. The later is a famous Arabic grammatical treatise composed in thousand-line poem by Jamal al-Din Ibn Malik (d.1274).
Another example, once a friend of mine, who was cataloguing manuscripts, found a fragmented only one page Arabic text, which, according to him, was too hard to identify. Then I tried to look at the page, and immediately recognized it as a prayer commonly recited by some Muslims in a night of Nisfu-Sha’ban, a Muslim festival, celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month, Sha’ban, of the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslims believe that on this night, God decides who will be born, who will die and how much provision is set aside for each person in the coming year. The knowledge of this kind of Islamic living traditions is so familiar, especially for those who used to be in madrasa or pesantren.
What I suppose to say with the illustrations above? I am thinking about how to encourage those who have experienced in studying classical Islamic literatures, especially in madrasa and pesantren, and of course are interested to involve in this ‘world’, to dedicate their knowledge to do research on old manuscripts.
Currently, there are only few persons, who have these qualifications, interested to engage in this field, even though we actually have great and potential resources in madrasas, pesantrens, and in Islamic higher education institutions, such as Islamic State Universities (UIN, IAIN, and STAIN) excessively found in Indonesia. I have mentioned about this phenomena here.
I am indebted to my kyais, ustadhs, and colleagues in Pesantren Cipasung Singaparna, Pesantren Miftahul Huda, and Pesantren Haurkuning Salopa, all are in Tasikmalaya, West Java, who have transferred their valuable knowledge during my ‘adventures’ there in 1984 until 1988…Jazakumullah khair al-jaza.
The writer is researcher at the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM) UIN Jakarta, and Chairperson of the Indonesian Association for Nusantara Manuscripts (Manassa).
M. Asrori Ardiansyah, M.Pd
Pendidik di Malang