Preserving Heritage: Exploring the Jawi Script of Malaysia

The Jawi script, a character system based on Arabic characters or alphabets, plays a significant role in the history of the growth of Islam in Malaysia.

The Jawi script, a character system based on Arabic characters or alphabets, plays a significant role in the history of the growth of Islam in Malaysia.

The History of the Origin of Jawi Script

The Jawi script, a character system based on Arabic characters or alphabets, plays a significant role in the history of the growth of Islam in Malaysia.

During the 14th century, trade interactions with Arab and Muslim traders led to the introduction of Jawi into this region. The development of Jawi script throughout the islands of Malaya was in line with the advent of Islam, which was the religion of the Malays at the time.

Although the Arabs at that time came from various countries that brought several types of languages, such as Persian, the Arabic language was more dominant considering that it is the language of the Quran. Arab preachers of the era had to write and translate the Quran and other religious texts from Arabic to Malay for the sake of dissemination and teaching. As a result, manuscripts in the Jawi script are known as Kitab Kuning. 

The Melaka Sultanate period (15th to 16th centuries) saw an acceleration in the development of Jawi script, though, since it was being used for literature, religion, and official documents, such as letters sent to foreign governments, including those in England and Portugal written in Jawi script. Since Jawi is widely used in Malaya, knowledge, religion, and culture have all developed along with it due to the strong influence of Islam. The Sultanate of Aceh and the Sultanate of Johor became the centres of the spread of Jawi. 

When European immigrants arrived during the colonial era, they brought with them innovative writing systems, and the Rumi script replaced the Jawi script. Even if its use may have decreased recently, the Jawi script remained an integral part of Malaysia’s cultural identity and educational system – even after the country’s independence in 1957. 

Issues Related to the Jawi Script

Many concerns have been brought up in the community about widely debated Jawi works that are claimed to touch on racial and religious matters.

The fact that there is little usage of Jawi writing in today’s society, numerous points of view are raising concerns about the status of Jawi writing in Malaysia. The usage of Jawi script on signboards and the introduction and teaching of Jawi writing in vernacular schools are among the current hot topics.

The Jawi Script is Perceived as an Attempt at Islamization

The President of the Dominic Movement (Gerakan Dominic), Lau Hoe Chai, filed a lawsuit over the subject of Jawi writings perceived as attempts at Islamization. However, the argument made by the court that Jawi writing can persuade students to convert to Islam was deemed invalid. The court further decided that learning a language whose letters also happen to be the letters of any religion’s scriptures is not prohibited by the Constitution.

Arabic writing and Jawi writing are identical forms of writing that are used by both Muslims and non-Muslims. For instance, there are also Christians in Egypt who use Arabic as their first language, but this does not imply that they are all Muslims. 

If the general public is aware of the nation’s fundamental principles and policies, this problem should not come up. A prolonged procedure with roots in Malaya was used to construct Malaysia. The Constitution’s enshrinement of the Yang di-Pertua Agong (YDPA) as the head of the religion of Islam and the status of the Malays, Islam, and the Malay language form a firm foundation. 

The Utilization of Jawi Script in Vernacular Schools

The Ministry of Education has received a memorandum from the Malaysian Chinese School Management Board Association (Dong Zong), objecting to the adoption of Jawi script in vernacular schools and opposing its teaching.

They contend that since learning Jawi writing is viewed as coercion and raises concerns in the Chinese and Indian populations, both the Parents and Teachers Association (PIBG) and the children must commit to it voluntarily. According to  Dong Zong, the majority of schools have resisted teaching Jawi as a subject and do not view it as a part of variety.  

This issue gives rise to concern since, if the syllabus is cancelled, some Malay students attending vernacular schools will not have the opportunity to acquire Islamic Education Subjects in Jawi script.

This Jawi writing has nothing to do with politics or religion. However, it is a component of the Malay language and cultural heritage. The majority of parents and students do not hold the same opinions as these few parties with specific interests, who are the actual source of this issue. 

Even when this topic is brought up, some schools openly indicate their willingness to learn Jawi writing, emphasizing that it is not an automatic decision for all institutions. Racism issue has been raised by this problem, which also threatens national unity. Thus, everyone is recommended to avoid engaging in small-minded disputes on the Jawi writing issues and to respect the government’s decision. 

The Significance of Preserving the Jawi Script

Apart from that, preserving Jawi writing is a challenge because the use of Jawi writing is decreasing in Malaysia. But it is also a great responsibility for Malaysians, especially the Malays, to preserve it from being swallowed up by the times.

Writing and reading Jawi literature has declined among the current generation of Malay Muslims. This has an impact on both young and old generations’ reading of the Qur’an. Several studies have been conducted to confirm the problem. The adoption of the Rumi script as the country’s official script has also contributed to a decrease in Jawi script usage. The younger generation’s lack of interest in Jawi script is also a challenge. 

In order to conquer these obstacles, there is a need to raise awareness of the Jawi script’s significance as a cultural asset.

The government can help promote the use of Jawi script by enacting policies that support the use of Jawi script in schools and public spaces. The media can also help promote the usage of Jawi script by featuring stories and programs that emphasize the relevance of Jawi script. Afterward, the community can help preserve Jawi script by organizing events and activities that promote the usage of Jawi script and its cultural relevance.

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