Click here to watch some videos on manuscripts digitizationBy. Muhammad Nida’ Fadlan

Islamic Manuscript Unit (ILMU) of the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM) Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) Jakarta in cooperation with Rumah Kitab Foundation and the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) organized the Digitalization and Catalogization of Nusantara Manuscripts training on February 21-22th, 2012 in PPIM UIN Jakarta. This is the second training conducted by ILMU PPIM after the first training in 2010.

The training was supported by the Indonesian Association for Nusantara Manuscripts (Masyarakat Pernaskahan Nusantara [Manassa]), a professional association focuses on Nusantara manuscripts. Manassa lent their digitalization equipments obtained from Leipzig Univerity, Germany to be used during the training.

Participants include fifteen manuscript owners from two oldest traditional pesantrens: Babakan Ciwaringin and Buntet in Cirebon, West Java. They obtained the knowledge and the skills to digitalize manuscripts under the guidance of Dr. Oman Fathurahman (the Coordinator of ILMU-PPIM), Lies Marcoes-Natsir, MA. (the Director of Rumah Kitab Foundation), and Munawar Holil, M.Hum. (Manassa).

The training was opened by the Secretary of General Directorate of Islamic Education of MORA Dr. Affandi Mochtar, followed by the speech from Dr. Dick van der Meij on “the Phenomenon of Islamic Manuscripts in Java”. At the training sessions, trainers discussed theories and practices on manuscript digitalization including the strategy of digitalizing and cataloging manuscripts, introduction and installation of digitalization equipments, techniques of formulating and filling the metadata of manuscripts, and the techniques to process the photos of digitalizing results.

Islamic Manuscripts in Pesantren

Pesantren is the oldest Islamic educational institution in Indonesia that survives until today. The existence of pesantren has inspired many Muslims to establish other Islamic educational institutions. In addition, pesantren has also become an object of research from many local and international researchers. They study many aspects of pesantren including its system and methods of education, santri-kyai relations, and the materials of pesantren curricula such as Islamic manuscripts.

Pesantren has become a vehicle for the ulama to spread Islam. Most importantly, in the past, their purpose was to use pesantren to propagate Islam and use kitabs as teaching materials to their students. The ulama had written various subjects they taught at pesantren on the diverse materials, such as paper, bark, bamboo, palmyra, and so on. Then, they instructed their students to copy the manuscripts so that the Islamic teachings containing on the manuscripts could be read by other Muslims. This process had been part of Islamization in Nusantara through santri-kyai relation and the production of manuscripts.

Until recently, the contents of Islamic heritages preserved in pesantren. One of its way to preserve the heritages is for students at pesantren to studying manuscript contents such as baḥth al-masā’il forum (discussing religious affairs by using kitabs and manuscripts as primary sources). Some pesantren preserves the writing tradition of religious manuscripts through copying their textbook. The copying process has been carried out by handwriting using dye ink. This is the continuation of manuscripts tradition in pesantren.

Starting from Cirebon

Based on the preliminary study on Islamic manuscripts in the two pesantrens, Babakan Ciwaringin and Buntet, in Cirebon, the two pesantrens have preserved a number of manuscripts written by Indonesian ulama. These manuscripts are not only written in Javanese and Arabic, but also in Malay.

One of the manuscripts found in the pesantren is Sabīl al-muhtadīn is a Malay fiqh written by Muhammad Arsyad al-Banjari, an ulama of South Kalimantan in the eighteenth century. Pesantren Buntet has a collection of about 40 manuscripts. Unfortunately, they are in a very poor condition. Those manuscripts are Pesantren Buntet’s heritages that are now become the object of this digitalization program.

Since the manuscripts in these two pesantrens are not well preserved, the pesantrens’ students could not access the manuscripts and read its content. this is very unfortunate since the manuscripts are both cultural heritage of pesantren that has to be preserved and they also contain Islamic knowledge that can contribute to the reconstruction of Islamic socio-intellectual history in Cirebon and even in Nusantara.

Various efforts then need to be done to facilitate the studying of manuscripts. One of these efforts is to digitalize the manuscripts. This method would be a worthy contribution to students and scholars who want to study the vulnerable old manuscripts.

Digitalizing Pesantren’s Manuscripts

Digitalization of manuscripts is one of the best methods to both preserve Islamic cultural heritages and disseminate the ideas of older ulamas. Without digitalizing, manuscripts will be decayed by age and its content will vanish. Therefore digitalization is necessary for manuscripts preservation and their contents.

Until recently, there are rarely efforts to preserve Islamic manuscripts in pesantrens. It is a serious concern that the collection of Islamic manuscripts in pesantren will be destroyed by their age and its content will disappear. Therefore, digital preservation to the classical manuscripts of pesantren is an urgent need.

This program expect that pesantren’s students will increasingly become aware to preserve their writing traditions in the form of manuscripts. At the same time they need to understand the use of technology as a medium to preserve manuscript by digitalization. At last, in digital and online form, the manuscripts could be studied by a wider audience so that they could be accessed internationally.


  1. Muhammad Nida’ Fadlan is researcher at PPIM UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta.
  2. This article has been published in journal Studia Islamika, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2012.
  3. Click here to watch some videos on the digitization of manuscripts.