Q is for Quran

Muhammad Azam Adnan (author), Afidah Rahim (translator)

This article is a translation of an essay written in Malay by Muhammad Azam Adnan and first published in Muzings 2021. You can read the original (in the Malay language) here.

Translator’s Note: There are two copies of the Quran on display in Gallery B. My previous blog article ‘The Quran and the Sunnah’ refers to these artefacts but does not examine the manuscripts in detail. Considering that the Muzings 2021 article ‘Manuskrip Al-Quran Melayu Terengganu’ written by the curator of Gallery B details one of the manuscripts, I have translated the said article below. I would like to express our sincere gratitude to En. Azam for kindly permitting this translation. and for allowing us to use his images. – Afidah Rahim

Terengganu Quran Manuscript

Al-Quran is the Muslim Holy Book, revealed by God through angel Gabriel to prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) during the 7th century CE in Arabia. The revelations occurred gradually over 23 years, since prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was chosen as the messenger of God, responsible for proselytising to his people. The writing of Al-Quran amongst his companions began when prophet Muhammad appointed them to record his revelations and continued up to the rule of Rashidun Caliphs by the followers of the prophet’s companions.

The arrival of Islam in the Malay world as early as the 13th century not only resulted in the conversion of the local population but also placed Al-Quran as an important material culture of the Malays. According to the article written by Annabel Gallop (2007), ‘The Art of the Quran in Southeast Asia’, the writing of Malay Quran manuscripts began at the end of the 13th century CE when the Sultan of Pasai of northern Sumatra embraced Islam. Most 19th century Malay Quran manuscripts are currently held in museum or library collections such as the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM), Malay Manuscripts Centre, Muzium Negara and state museums of Terengganu, Kelantan and Melaka. There are also manuscripts in personal collections.

Left: The red cover of this Terengganu Quran is made from goatskin. This cover is no longer in good condition – most of its gold leaf decorations are damaged or missing. Right: Central illuminations of the Terengganu Quran manuscript. The handwritings in black ink on both these pages are damaged. Image credits: Muhammad Azam Adnan

Muzium Negara has owned the copy of Terengganu Quran manuscript on display in gallery B: Malay Kingdoms since the National History Museum closed in 2007. It was registered in 1992 as MSN32.1992. According to Riswadi Azmi (2020) in his book ‘Manuskrip Al-Quran Emas: Warisan Kesultanan Terengganu’ (Golden Quran Manuscripts: Terengganu Sultanate Heritage), the contents of this manuscript has been repeatedly researched by Malay Quran manuscript researchers. Measuring 40cm x 30cm, this is the second largest after Terengganu Quran manuscript IAMM1998.1.3.3427 (43cm x 28cm) kept at the IAMM. Manuscript MSN32.1992 excludes a colophon i.e. a directory at the back listing the scribe, year and location of writing. This is because Quran manuscript scribes believe that these verses are revealed by God and so their role is merely to copy the holy Quranic verses.

Initial pages of the Terengganu Quran manuscript. Image credit: Muhammad Azam Adnan

Manuscript MSN32.1992 is categorised as a Terengganu Quran manuscript since its features reveal its origin. This can be seen by the illumination or decorations on its pages. According to Annabel Gallop (2012) in her article ‘The Art of the Malay Quran’, the Terengganu Quran manuscript was prized by other Malay kingdoms for its exquisite workmanship – shaped like a shining jewel, embellished with fine artwork and gold leaf. In addition, several pages contain double decorated frames, usually only found at the opening pages of Surah Al-Fatihah and initial verses of Surah Al-Baqarah. The decoration of Terengganu Quran manuscripts would also include double decorated frames at its end pages and sometimes, in the central pages. Red, blue and green on manuscript MSN32.1992 also reflect the special colours synonymous with the decorations of Terengganu Qurans.

The gunungan motif used in manuscript MSN32.1992 is also a special decorative feature of Terengganu Quran manuscripts. This motif originally has Hindu influence, symbolising the mountains of the Malay archipelago in Java, Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. Even with the arrival of Islam, the gunungan motif remains in Malay artistic culture, including in decorations of Quran manuscripts and woodcarving.

Gold leaf illumination of the gunungan motif on the manuscript. Image credit: Muhammad Azam Adnan

Gold leaf is a special element in Terengganu Quran manuscripts, considering that it is not found in any other Malay Quran manuscripts. Riswadi Azmi (2020) in ‘Manuskrip Al-Quran Emas: Warisan Kesultanan Terengganu’ says that the use of gold leaf is a special decorative feature. The golden yellow colour does not come from turmeric but instead comes from pure gold pressings, which function as ‘finishing touches’ to the beautiful Terengganu Quran manuscripts. Hasnira Hassan (2013) in ‘The Second International Archaeological Seminar, History and Culture in the Malay World’, wrote that gold symbolises the supremacy and might of the Creator.

Several surah (chapters) towards the end of the Quran manuscript. Each surah heading is written in red ink whereas gold leaf is used at the end of each verse within the surah. Image credit: Muhammad Azam Adnan

The paper of manuscript MSN32.1992 is European-made, identified by its two watermarks. The first watermark is a lotus flower symbol above the words ’N Pannekoek’, whereas the second watermark is the Roman numeral symbol ‘VI’. Jelle Samshuijzen (2017) in his book ‘A unique collection of watermarks from the Smoorenburg collection: 165 watermarks on 143 blank paper sheets’  wrote that both these symbols are watermarks from 19th century CE Dutch paper mills.

Watermarks on manuscript MSN32.1992 paper. Image credits: Muhammad Azam Adnan

The Terengganu Quran Manuscript (MSN32.1992) displayed at Muzium Negara is evidence of invaluable legacy from previous Malay society. It needs constant care so that current and future generations may continue to value the artistic legacy of Malay material culture forever more.

In this Series

Click HERE for a list of articles in the ‘A-Z at Muzium Negara’ series.

Author: Museum Volunteers, JMM

Museum Volunteers, JMM Taking the Mystery out of History

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