The Changing Fates of the Cambodian Islamic Manuscript Tradition

In: Journal of Islamic Manuscripts
Philipp Bruckmayr University of Vienna Oriental Studies Department

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Predominantly Buddhist Cambodia is home to a distinctive Islamic manuscript tradition, introduced into the country by Cham settlers from Champa in present-day Vietnam, and further developed in the Khmer kingdom. Commonly written in Cham script (akhar srak) or in a combination of the latter and Arabic, it has largely fallen into disuse among the majority of Cambodian Muslims since the mid-19th century, as the community increasingly turned towards Islamic scholarship and printed books in jawi (i.e. Arabic-script-based) Malay. Among the side effects of this development was the adoption of jawi also for the Cham language, which has, however, only been employed in a modest number of manuscripts. A minority of akhar srak users and discontents of growing Malay religious and cultural influence, based mainly in central and northwestern Cambodia, have, however, kept the local Islamic manuscript tradition alive. Recognized by the Cambodian state as a distinct Islamic religious community in 1998, this group now known as the Islamic Community of Imam San, has made the physical preservation of, and engagement with, their manuscripts a central pillar of identity and community formation. The present article provides insight into the changing fates of the Islamic manuscript tradition in Cambodia as well as an overview of content, distribution and usage of Islamic manuscripts in the country.

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