Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Nice Kind of JAWI

The 67-year-old Utusan Melayu Mingguan, a Malaysian weekly newspaper, published in the Jawi script started publication on 29 May 1939 but came to a stop with its final print on 28 January 2006. The reason? Plain economics due to declining advertising revenue and operational losses.

Jawi is the Malay written language that uses the Arabic script, hence it is written/read from right to left. It has its own innovations too. Where Malay sounds couldn’t be represented by any letter of the Arabic alphabet with its assigned Arabic sound, the founding Jawi masters, probably from the 13th Century kingdom of Samudera-Pasai (also known as Samudera Darussalam) in Northern Sumatra, cleverly devised their own, such as ‘nya’ as in 'nyonya'.

Nyonya eh? ;-) ya-lah, mate, on some issues I must confess that KTemoc's mind can be quite uni-directional, wakakaka.

my aunties and late mum used to dress like so when going out or on auspicious occasions like attending weddings and birthday parties 

However, to my beginner's eye, the Jawi ‘nya’ looks suspiciously like the Arabic letter ‘tha’, which sound, if I may be so bold as to say, doesn’t exist in Malay. If the letter ث is indeed the same for both, it may explain the convenient ‘Malay-isation’ of an existing Arabic letter for a local sound/use but which won't invited confusing Arabic pronunciation. Hmmm, then what about ‘Thalatha’ or ‘Selasa’? Well, I suppose I have answered my own question because ‘Selasa’ proves that ‘tha’ is not needed. But alas, please ignore my ignorance as I am just a student of Jawi rambling like a Jawi professor, wakakaka.

Utusan Melayu in the Jawi script was first published as a daily, with even a Sunday edition coming out 1 year after it started, but sadly 3 years ago, in January 2003, it reduced its publishing into a weekly that circulated only in the Klang Valley.

Tell me, friends, did its plummeting readership have anything to do with local politics, namely PAS followers, especially those in the East Coast and Northern States refusing to subscribe to or read the UMNO controlled newspaper?

The Jawi-script Utusan Melayu had a glorious past, where it played a significant role shaping the minds of Malay nationalists before Malayan independence in 1957.

I feel terribly sad, that while the Malay language continues to be vigorous in its English alphabetical form, the closing of the Jawi newspaper could well spell the beginning of the end of the unique Arabic-based script, at least in Malaysia. It's surprising the Malaysian government hasn't done much to promote its continuous usage and availability in schools, newspapers and magazines, or am I incorrect here?

However, I heard Jawi is still strongly promoted in Aceh and Brunei. People in the southern provinces of Thailand could well be still using Jawi.

Let’s keep it running strong too in Malaysia. BTW, does anyone know of a society that promotes the use of Jawi?
I find that the best self-study book on Jawi (so far) is ‘Belajar Tulisan Jawi’ or ‘Learn Jawi’ written by Haji Abdul Razak Hamid and Haji Mokhtar Mohd. Dom, published in 1977.

Notwithstanding the incredible fact that it was published 30 years ago, it’s a truly marvellous book, amazingly and conveniently bi-lingual (Malay and English explanations/instructions) with the Jawi script big enough for the self-study student to see clearly how and where the curves, curls and dots of the script would go. I just hate those books where the Arabic or Jawi letters are so small that one needs a microscope to discern their shapes and formations. Those daunting Lilliputian script really discourages self-study.

But this ‘Learn Jawi’ book is truly fantastic, as the way it teaches a reader is well thought out with wonderful lucid step by step explanations, structured exercises and regular revisions.

The only fault is that in some reading exercises one comes across letters not yet learned, thus requiring some ‘fast forwarding’ of pages to discover what those new letters are. But it's just a minor problem that's more than compensated by its excellent structure, explanations and print quality.

There are also some spelling mistakes - words in Jawi that don't tally with the explanations or translation in either English or Malay - which, when spotted, actually tells one delightfully that he/she has grasped the fundamentals to be able to say “Hey, that’s not what the explanation said.”

In case anyone is interested in the book, the 30-year old ISBN is 0 19 580928 9. If you're looking for a book to self-study Jawi, this, thus far, would be the best book for you. You won't regret purchasing it. If anyone knows of a latter edition than 1977 please leave a message for me. Thanks!

Oh, I have also heard of a Chinese bloke from Kelantan who promised a revolutionary way of learning Jawi, that will quicken the process. I look forward to the publication of his book.

NOTE: I prepared this article one week ago, but am glad that I haven't published it then, because I now can include latest news from the Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Dr Rais Yatim. First he bemoaned that no one cried or mourned the loss of the Jawi-script newspaper. However, he directed his disappointment at the Malay community, whom he criticised for not caring about their heritage in not supporting the Jawi script any longer.

Warta Malaya 1937

Warta Malaya was first published on 1 January 1930. It dominated the Malay newspaper scene, having the largest circulation. The paper’s content focused on issues that affected the Malays. Warta Malaya ceased publication in 1941 when it could no longer compete with Utusan Melayu

No worries, Minister, me and that bloke from Kelantan will keep Jawi alive. By the by, both of us are Malaysians, though not Malay. But an advice from me if you please - don't politicise the newspaper too much or the PAS followers may not want to support it. Hey, can anyone tell me whether Harakah has a Jawi version?

The Minister also talked about the Cabinet allocating some money to his ministry to revive the newspaper but in another form. He has my support. Hope it will be some kind of a weekly variety magazine a la Readers Digest size.


  1. Khir Johari? That's a long way back!

    Jawi is definitely an integral part of Malay culture, but today it should belong to all Malaysians. I hope the Minister's promise holds good, and I look forward to reading whatever he has in mind - hope I would have learn the intricacies of the entire script by then ;-)

  2. 'Tha' and 'nya' are different. All arabic alphabets are included in jawi. Nya is a modification of 'nun'. The letter nun is quite round and 'ba','ta' and 'tha'(i prefer to transliterate it to 'tsa' though) are flatter.

  3. Thanks Din,

    Am still a beginner.

    However, in Haji Abdul Razak Hamid and Haji Mokhtar Mohd. Dom's book, which I am using as a reference for self study [until I can catch hold of some Jawi expert] I haven't as yet come across 'tha'.

  4. Tahniah atas tulisan anda berhubung dengan tulisan jawi ini.Rasanya masyarakat Malaysia khususnya Kaum Melayu khasnya belia tidak lansung mempedulikan tulisan jawi. Mungkin kerana tidak mendapat pendedahan sewajarnya, kerana sukatan matapelajaran kita kini telah berubah dan lebih advanced dari dahulu. Bagaimanalah agaknya suatu hari nanti anak cucu kita nak melawat kekubur kita, kerana rata2 batu nisan masih lagi tertulis dalam tulisan Jawi. Atau bagaimana agaknya generasi akan datang nak mengaji Alquran kerana satu huruf arabic atau jawi ini tak dikenali lansung?