Credit by Menak Amir Hamzah © British Library
The Story of Prophet Muhammad's Uncle Written in Javanese Language is the World's Thickest Single Manuscript
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The Story of Prophet Muhammad's Uncle Written in Javanese Language is the World's Thickest Single Manuscript

The British Library stores an old Javanese manuscript written with Arabic Pegon (Arabic script with the addition of seven letters representing consonantal sounds needed for Javanese but not found in Arabic, and is thus read from right to left. ). This manuscript focuses on the story of the uncle of Prophet Muhammad. This ancient manuscript is titled “ Menak Amir Hamzah” contains stories of the adventures of Hamzah, one of the Prophet's uncles.

The story of the warlike and amorous exploits of Amir Hamza, as he and his companions fight against the enemies of Islam, was popular throughout the Muslim world. Many fine illuminated copies of the Persian version, Hamzanama, are known, and shown below is a detail from a large multi-volume copy commissioned in 1562 by the great Mughal emperor Akbar, a task which took 15 years to complete.

— BL Asian and African (@BLAsia_Africa) March 7, 2019

The story of Amir Hamza that was very more popular in Javanese literature. In Java, the hero Amir Hamza was granted the ancient Javanese title Menak, and this title is now applied to the whole cycle of Islamic epic tales, which were soon localised according to Javanese literary conventions. Thus in the Menak cycle Amir Hamza is accorded two panakawan companions, Marmaya (based on Amir Hamza's lifelong friend 'Umar Umayya in the Hamzanama) and Marmadi, who are mentors and cunning servants of the hero such as are always found in wayang shadow puppet dramas.

Menak Amir Hamza, in Javanese in Arabic script, dated 4 June 1808. British Library | bl.uk
Menak Amir Hamza, in Javanese in Arabic script, dated 4 June 1808. British Library | bl.uk

In the introduction she is called Prabu Wanodeya / Kang jumeneng Ratu Agung / kang ngedhaton Tegalreja /, 'the female monarch / who reigns as Ratu Agung / and has her palace in Tegalreja'. Ratu Ageng was a daughter of an Islamic scholar and was known as a devout Muslim. Niemann, 1861, p. 480, says that the government of Abdul Mutalib in Mecca is discussed at the beginning; later stories concerning Amir Hamza are told. In Javanese in Arabic script (pegon).

From the introduction it is clear that this book was written for Ratu Ageng (c. 1730-1803), a wife of Sultan Hamengku Buwana I and the mother of Hamengku Buwana II, some time after 1792. This manuscript is perhaps the largest single volume Javanese manuscript known, consisting of over 3000 pages written in pegon script.

Two copies of Menak Amir Hamza, the Javanese story of Amir Hamza, the uncle of the prophet Muhammad, are now available online through the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project.

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