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Thesaurus of Indonesian Islamic Manuscripts (T2IM): An effort to develop a comprehensive database for academic purposes

Oman Fathurahman

(the short version of this paper has been presented at "the Fifth Islamic Manuscript Conference", held by The Islamic Manuscript Association or TIMA, at the University of Cambridge, UK, 25th July 2009)

Within the last two decades, there have been increasingly growing activities, including preservation, cataloguing, digitizing, and research of Indonesian manuscripts. Both national and international institutions dedicating to this field apparently strive themselves to lead and to gain access to the Indonesian manuscripts.

In the end of 1990s, the Ford Foundation is certainly considered as a leading international funding agency greatly contributing to the preservation of Indonesian manuscripts mainly through microfilm and microfiche projects and scholarship.

Since the early 2000s, a Japanese agency, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (TUFS) represented by the Center for Documentation of Area-Trans Cultural Studies (C-DATS), and supported by the Toyota Foundation, has involved in the digitizing and cataloguing projects of Indonesian manuscripts kept in such areas as Palembang (Ikram [ed.] 2004), Minangkabau (Yusuf [ed.] 2006), and Aceh (Fathurahman & Holil 2007). Their publications have undoubtedly a great contribution to the increasing research interests in the study of the local historical documents among Indonesian researchers and students. Prof. Dr. Toru Aoyama, Prof. Dr. Koji Miyazaki, Dr. Yumi Sugahara, and Dr. Kazuhiro Arai are among them who have dedicated his academic activities for the Project.

Since the early 2008, Leipzig University --collaborating with such institutions as Aceh State Museum, Ali Hasjmy Foundation, Research Centre for Education and Society (PKPM), and the Indonesian Association for Nusantara Manuscripts (Manassa)-- has conducted the digitising project and the development of online digital library of Indonesian, particularly the Acehnese, manuscripts. We have to thank to Dr. Thoralf Hanstein for his full support of this Project.

Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) in Jakarta, especially thanks to my respected teacher, Prof. Dr. Henri Chambert-Loir, also plays a vital role in facilitating the publication of research products on Indonesian manuscripts. Likewise, all of them have greatly motivated many researchers to do more research and to make old-local documents easily accessible to the public, an easy open access which is previously very difficult to find.

Considering the characteristics of Indonesian manuscripts, which are greatly influenced by Islam, the manuscripts studies have positively affected the development and trends of Indonesian Islamic studies. Previously, many researchers on Indonesian Islam merely relied on foreign ethnographies (Middle East and West/Europe). But now, they have other alternative sources which are even more authentic, important, and mostly untouchable.

What encouraging is the fact that some state institutions responsible for Islamic studies and religious affairs have recently made important initiatives. The Center for Research and Development of Religious Literatures (Puslitbang Lektur Keagamaan), Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA), for instance, is now standing on the top position in conducting variety of projects related to Indonesian manuscripts, including workshops, trainings, manuscripts inventory, research, etc. Prof. Dr. Atho Mudzhar and Prof. Dr. Maidir Harun are the key persons, who are responsible for this fascinating support.

It is also the case with higher Islamic education systems, including State Islamic University (UIN) Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta. Previously, we found the growing trend of research on Islam in global and contemporary issues. But now, there is an increasing number of academic works, in the forms of BA, MA, and Ph.D. theses, on local Islam, using manuscripts as primary sources. Moreover, UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta plans to open graduate studies of Indonesian Islamic philological studies.

Here, however, a big problem emerges. Imagine that large number of manuscript researchers entering a very rich “virgin forest” are lost due to its poor inventory management. Compared to the Middle East Islamic area studies --much older, where the existence of works such as ṭabaqāt, fah
āris and maʻājim have been extremely helpful in identifying books, authors, names of place, etc.-- the Southeast Asian studies is a nightmare. One can possibly spend weeks to find a clue of something mentioned in a manuscript with no success. This of course discourages researchers and students to go into Indonesian Islamic manuscripts.

Another problem is that up to now there is no comprehensive work considered as authoritative reference on any Indonesian Islamic manuscripts which have been, or being, studied by any scholars in any forms, both academic and non-academic. Accordingly, there has been no cross communication among researchers in the field. Sometimes it happens that two researchers working on the same manuscript without knowing each other.

The above problem certainly needs some solutions, one of which is making a database, which not only identifies all Indonesian Islamic texts produced since the 16th century, but also provides their author names, languages, scripts, places of collection, related catalogues, and relevant researches done so far. Hence, such a database would be certainly very useful for philologists, historians, and researchers in the field of Indonesian Islamic studies.

To make it more useful for broader academic communities, the database will be available in English version and called Thesaurus of Indonesian Islamic Manuscripts (T2IM). Although it uses the term “Indonesian”, the database includes not only Indonesian Islamic manuscripts but also Southeast Asian region (Nusantara) covering the areas of Pattani in South Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, and others. The word “Indonesian” is chosen on the ground that most of the manuscripts are actually produced in, and come from, Indonesia albeit the copies are now kept in diverse institutions and libraries abroad.

Thesaurus of Indonesian Islamic Manuscripts (T2IM)
Religious manuscripts [read: Islamic] constitute the major categories of the Indonesian manuscripts. Based on all catalogues compiled and researches conducted, Islamic manuscripts are very significance in number, containing the history of Southeast Asian Islam, including biographies of ulamas and/or prolific authors of religious texts in their lifetime periods.

These manuscripts are predominantly categorized as—using Braginsky’s words (1998: 275-276)—“Sastra Kitab,” religious texts which can be classified into Qur’anic exegesis (tafsīr), prophetic tradition (ḥadīth), Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), sufism, theology, etc.

The T2IM is a database designed by the Center for Research and Development of Religious Literatures (Puslitbang Lektur Keagamaan), Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA), and
the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM), Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) Jakarta. In its development, the T2IM get supports from experts and researchers specializing in Indonesian manuscripts officially affiliated with the Indonesian Association for Nusantara Manuscripts or MANASSA.

The T2IM is mainly intended to provide information for both public and academic community on Indonesian Islamic manuscripts as complete as possible, written both in Arabic and local languages like Acehnese, Buginese, Javanase, Madurese, Malay, Minangkabau, Sasak, Sundanese, Wolio and others used in a written literary tradition in Indonesia. The T2IM also provides some other useful information like the author names with their biographical accounts, number of copies kept in all libraries around the world, catalogues that list the related manuscripts including their pages and summaries, and all the articles and books about them.

The T2IM will show an even greater importance with the availability of information about the conducted, as well as the ongoing, philological works. If possible, these works are digitally available and could be downloaded. It is hoped that not only can it avoid unnecessary repetition in studying these texts but also fill the gaps found in the previous studies.

The Significance of T2IM in the Development of Intellectual Islamic Tradition in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asian Islamic Studies is certainly a very interesting and of course important field of study especially due to the large number of Moslems living in the region. To some extent, however, Islam in Southeast Asia is still considered as peripheral because it is very much different from Islam in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and Iran.

Referring to the existing databases for Islamic world, one is impressed that Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia are not yet considered as one of important Islamic regions in the world. In fact, rarely known is the fact that Southeast Asian Muslims inherited such a great writing tradition established since the 17th century that the region is called the cradle of Islam. The written treasury made by the ulamas and Muslim authors in the past are undoubtedly strong evident that Southeast Asia can definitely be considered as one of world centers for Islamic studies.

There are some factors that make Southeast Asian Islam less important in global Islamic discourse. Firstly, there is a dichotomy between central Islam developed in the Arab world and peripheral Islam which is frequently considered as pseudo Islam. Secondly, Southeast Asian Muslims have not much explored and provided information about their intensive research to the international community, without which Southeast Asian Islam would not be fully understood.

Some other factors of course might also be blamed as being responsible for discouraging scholars to study Southeast Asian intellectual heritage. But one thing is clear, there is no satisfactory research instrument available for scholars and researchers to go further to the realm of Indonesian religious manuscripts, the complicated and not stimulating realm.

From this perspective, the T2IM database will play an important role. The T2IM would be certainly a vital source for philologists, historians, and scholars of Southeast Asian Islamic Studies who are keen to see the characteristics of local Islam through the exploration of ulamas’ works in the past. It is due to the fact that T2IM provides related information, as complete as possible, about the existence of Indonesian religious manuscripts that it serves as a “gateway” for all scholars of Southeast Asian Islamic Studies before an actual research is started. The T2IM is not merely a catalogue. It constitutes a catalogue of catalogues of Indonesian Islamic manuscripts in a recent form, which is an open-access for the public anytime and anywhere.

Considering a huge number of Indonesian Islamic manuscripts kept around the world, mounting to hundred thousand manuscripts or even more, as it is thought, the T2IM is definitely a lifetime project in which all data will be continuously revised and completed in accordance with the research findings in the future.

The Logics and Organization of T2IM
As stated above, one of the main objectives of T2IM is to provide information and data as complete as possible concerning Indonesian religious manuscripts. In order to achieve this target, T2IM needs to be systematically improved.

Until now, Indonesian manuscripts are by and large kept in both private collections and public institutions including libraries, museums, and foundations, both in Indonesia and foreign countries. Some manuscripts collections have been catalogued. Yet, most of them have not.

In the initial establishment, the T2IM would be drawn upon printed catalogues as well as other manuscripts lists and documentations. All publications containing the lists of Indonesian religious manuscripts, whether they provide complete information or titles only, would be read and further developed and included in the T2IM database.

In this regard, the work entitled Khazanah Naskah: Panduan Koleksi Naskah- Indonesia Sedunia (World Guide to Indonesian Manuscript Collections) by Henri Chambert-Loir and Oman Fathurahman (1999) would be the first important reference since it is considered as the most recent catalogue of catalogues of Indonesian manuscripts ever compiled up to the present. Using this work, hundreds of manuscripts catalogues as well as manuscripts lists and documentations written since the 19th century can be easily traced.

It should be noted that after the publication of Khazanah Naskah, we still find a number of catalogues of Indonesian manuscripts kept in some collections, such as Katalog Naskah Buton Koleksi Abdul Mulku Zahari (Catalogue of Buton Manuscripts collected by Abdul Mulku Zahari) by Achadiati Ikram, (2002), Katalog Naskah Palembang (Catalogue of Palembang Manuscripts) by Achadiati Ikram, (ed.) (2004), Katalog Naskah-naskah Perpustakaan Pura Pakualaman (Catalogue of Pakualaman Manuscript Library) by Sri Ratna Saktimulya (ed.) (2005), Katalogus Manuskrip dan Skriptorium Minangkabau (Catalogue of Minangkabau Manuscripts and Scriptorium) by M. Yusuf (ed.) (2006), Katalog Naskah Ali Hasjmy Aceh (Catalogue of Aceh Manuscripts: Ali Hasjmy Collection) by Oman Fathurahman and Munawar Holil (eds.) (2007), Catalogue of Malay and Minangkabau Manuscripts in the Library of Leidein University and other collections in the Netherlands. Volume Two, comprising the H.N. van der Tuuk bequest acquired by the Leiden University in 1896 by Edwin Wieringa (2007), Katalog naskah: Koleksi Masyarakat Keturunan Indonesia di Afrika Selatan (Catalogue of Manuscripts collected by the Indonesian Descendents in South Africa) by Ahmad Rahman and Syahrial (2008), and Katalog Naskah Tanoh Abee Aceh Besar (Catalogue of Tanoh Abee Manuscripts in Aceh Besar) (forthcoming in 2010). All these new catalogues can be definitely used as authoritative and therefore important references for the making of T2IM.

The T2IM project will also trace academic works using Indonesian Islamic manuscripts as primary sources. The project will give the priority to the academic works, including B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. theses and other works using philological approach or philological research using interdisciplinary approaches. All these findings would be included in the description section of the related texts in the T2IM database. For this reason, all libraries in all Indonesian universities in particular, and around the world in general, would be certainly the main targeted locations for this tracing effort. Apart from this, the project will trace them through the publication of both national and international journals on related subjects.

A number of researches have identified the existence of Indonesian Islamic manuscripts in private collections. If possible, all information concerning the manuscripts kept in such collection would also be included in the T2IM database. In the long run their existence cannot be guaranteed since, badly kept, they are vulnerable to theft, lose or even destruction.

Last but not least, all these collected data will be an online database using well-designed software through which anyone will be able to access anytime and anywhere. It's expected that T2IM will be accessible for a public on early next year. So, please keep contact with us.

My Debt is to my colleagues, Ervan Nurtawab, M.A., who has translated the initial draft of this paper, and to Dr. Fuad Jabali, who has spent his busy time to review and give valuable comments of the draft.

Please look at also some pictures of the Conference, here.

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