Skip to main content Accessibility help

Citing as a Site: Translation and circulation in Muslim South and Southeast Asia*

  • RONIT RICCI (a1)


Networks of travel and trade have often been viewed as central to understanding interactions among Muslims across South and Southeast Asia. In this paper I suggest that we consider language and literature as an additional type of network, one that provided a powerful site of contact and exchange facilitated by, and drawing on, citation. I draw on textual sources written in Javanese, Malay, and Tamil between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries to argue that among Muslim communities in South and Southeast Asia, practices of reading, learning, translating, adapting, and transmitting contributed to the shaping of a cosmopolitan sphere that was both closely connected with the broader, universal Muslim community and rooted in local identities. I consider a series of ‘citation sites’ in an attempt to explore one among many modes of inter-Asian connections, highlighting how citations, simple or brief as they may often seem, are sites of shared memories, history, and narrative traditions and, in the case of Islamic literature, also sites of a common bond to a cosmopolitan and sanctified Arabic.



Hide All

1 For a discussion of the idea of an Arabic-centred cosmopolitanism in South and Southeast Asia, see Ricci, Ronit, Islam Translated: Literature, Conversion, and the Arabic Cosmopolis of South and Southeast Asia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

2 I refer here to textual citation, and do not address prayer and Qur'anic recitation, which could be analysed in a similar way.

3 Serat Pandhita Raib, Mangkunagaran Library, Surakarta, 1792, copied 1842. MS. MN 297.

4 van Ronkel, Ph. S., ‘Malay Tales About Conversion of Jews and Christians to Muhammedanism’, Acta Orientalia, 10, 1932, p. 59.

5 See, for example, Jones, Russel, ‘Ten Conversion Myths from Indonesia’, in Levtzion, Nehemia (ed.) Conversion to Islam (New York and London: Holmes and Meier, 1979), pp. 129–58.

6 Djamaris, Edwar (ed.), Hikayat Seribu Masalah (Jakarta: Pusat Pembinaan dan Pengembangan Bahasa Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan, 1994), p. 24.

7 The practice of interlinear translation of the Qur'an originated in the early translations from Arabic to Persian, which, according to the Hanafi school, were permitted only if the Persian was accompanied by the Arabic original, with a word-for-word translation (A. tarjamah musawiyah, equal translation). Later translations by Muslims into other languages tended to follow this pattern. See Tibawi, A. L, ‘Is the Qur'an Translatable?’, The Muslim World, 52, 1962, p. 16.

8 The question of ‘corrupt’ or false citation is a loaded one in general, and is also specifically relevant to the One Thousand Questions. There are at least two types of ‘corruption accusations’: those (mostly by Muslim scholars) discussing the relationship of the Prophet's words as presented in the text to his ‘real’ words, and those (mostly by Western scholars) discussing spelling, grammatical, and syntactical mistakes. See, respectively, Hamid, Ismail, The Malay Islamic Hikayat (Bangi: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 1983), and Pijper, Guillaume Frederic, Het boek der duizend vragen (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1924).

9 Serat Samud, Pura Pakualaman Library, Yogyakarta, 1884. MS. PP St. 80. 1.34.

10 Ramanujan, A. K., ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation’, in Richman, Paula (ed.), Many Ramayanas. The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asian (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), p. 45.

11 Vaṇṇapparimaḷappulavar, Āyira Macalā, 1572, (ed.) Muhammatu, Cayitu ‘Hassan’. (Madras: M.Itris Maraikkayar/Millat Press, 1984).

12 Vaṇṇapparimaḷappulavar, Āyira Macalā, Verse 254 for the angels; 1052 for the conversion.

13 Shulman, David, ‘Muslim Popular Literature in Tamil: The Tamīmancāri Mālai’, in Friedmann, Y. (ed.), Islam in Asia (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1984), Vol. 1, pp. 174207; p. 207, note 114.

14 Vaṇṇapparimaḷappulavar, Āyira Macalā, Introduction, p. 3.

15 Pijper, Het boek, p. 60.

16 Becker, A. L, Beyond Translation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995), p. 234.

17 Voorhoeve, Petrus (ed.) Handlist of Arabic Manuscripts in the Library of the University of Leiden and Other Collections in the Netherlands (Leiden: Leiden University Press, 1980), pp. 456–58.

18 I have used the Indonesian translation of this work, originally published in Dutch in 1899. van Ronkel, Ph. S., ‘Over de Invloed der Arabische Syntaxis op de Maleische’, Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal- Land- en Volkenkunde, 41, 1899, pp. 498528. Ikram, A. (trans.), Mengenai Pengaruh Tatakalimat Arab Terhadap Tatakalimat Melayu. Vol. 57 (Jakarta: Bhratara, 1977).

19 Van Ronkel, ‘Over de Invloed’, pp. 15–16.

20 These examples appear in Van Ronkel, ‘Over de Invloed’, pp. 25 and 37, respectively.

21 Ricklefs, M. C., Mystic Synthesis in Java. A History of Islamization from the Fourteenth to the Early Nineteenth Centuries (Norwalk: EastBridge, 2006), p. 12.

22 On the Kayalpattinam tombstones, see Shokoohy, M., Muslim Architecture of South India. The Sultanate of Ma'bar and the Traditions of Maritime Settlers on the Malabar and Coromandel Coasts (Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa) (London: Routledge, 2003), pp. 275–90.

23 Genette, Gerard, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, trans. Lewin, Jane E. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

24 A surah is a division of the Qur'an, sometimes referred to as ‘chapter.’ The Qur'an contains 114 surahs of varying lengths.

25 ‘Alim, Tayka Shu'ayb, Arabic, Arwi and Persian in Sarandib and Tamil Nadu (Madras: Imāmul ‘Arūs Trust, 1993), p. 671.

26 Tibrizi, Muhammad ibn Abd Allah al-Khatib, Mishkat Al-Masabih, trans. Robson, James D. (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1963), pp. 832–33 (4 vols).

27 Serat Samud, Pura Pakualaman Library, Yogyakarta, 1884. MS. St. 80.1.9.

28 Vaṇṇapparimaḷappulavar, Āyira Macalā, p. 14.

29 Vaṇṇapparimaḷappulavar, Āyira Macalā, p. 17.

30 Samud, Leiden University, Oriental manuscripts collection, late seventeenth century [?]. MS. LOr 4001.

31 Hussainmiya Collection, National Archives of Sri Lanka, Colombo, reel 182.

32 Hikayat Patani, Malay Concordance Project. See: <>, [accessed 17 December 2011].

33 The repetitive use of tamat in this citation is somewhat unusual. Its final appearance, tamat adanya, may emphasize that this is the end of the entire text rather than an end of a section. I am grateful to the late Ian Proudfoot for discussing the uses of tamat with me.

34 Genette, Paratexts, p. 2.

35 Brockett, A., ‘al-Munāfiḳūn’, in Bearman, P., Bianquis, Th., Bosworth, C. E., Donzel, E. van and Heinrichs, W. P. (eds) Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edition (Leiden: Brill, 2010) Vol. VII, p. 561.

36 Becker, Beyond Translation, pp. 285–93.

37 Florida, Nancy K., Writing the Past, Inscribing the Future: History as Prophecy in Colonial Java (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), p. 155.

38 Pijper discussed the use of Qur'anic quotes in the Malay One Thousand Questions and, noting their frequent ‘corruption,’ assumed they were cited from memory. The result was a form of Arabic that drew more heavily on sound—the way words were heard by a Malay ear—than on accurate spelling, as may be expected in the context of a predominantly oral literary culture. Also, frequent Qur'anic recitations in which Arabic was heard but not necessarily seen by many meant that attempts to recapture it in writing had to be made via aural memory. See Pijper, Het boek, p. 82.

* I dedicate this paper to the memory of my much-missed teacher and mentor A. L. (Pete) Becker (1932–2011).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Modern Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0026-749X
  • EISSN: 1469-8099
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-asian-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed