THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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27 January 2015

A Malay spur to valour: the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah

The story of Muḥammad b. al-Ḥanafiyyah – a son of the caliph ‘Alī by a captive from the tribe of the Banū Ḥanīfah, and half-brother to the Prophet’s grandsons Ḥasan and Ḥusayn – was composed in Persian by an anonymous author in the fourteenth century, and very soon after that translated into Malay, probably around the court of Pasai in north Sumatra. In this tale the otherwise marginal figure of the historical Muḥammad b. al-Ḥanafiyyah is transformed into a quintessential Islamic hero, emerging victorious after numerous battles.   

MSS Malay B.6, ff.1v-2r
Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, with decorated initial frames, copied by Muhammad Kasim on 29 Jumadilakhir 1220 (25 August 1805), probably in Penang. British Library, MSS Malay B.6, ff.1v-2r.  noc

The Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah became popular throughout the Malay world, with its stature as a spur to valour cemented by an iconic episode in the most famous Malay chronicle. The Sulalat al-Salatin, popularly known as the Sejarah Melayu or ‘Malay Annals’, was composed sometime in the sixteenth century to record for posterity the glory of the great kingdom of Melaka, before its defeat by Portuguese forces under Afonso d’Albuquerque in 1511. In the Sejarah Melayu, the night before the Portuguese attack, the young knights of Melaka sent a message to the sultan requesting the recitation of the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah. The sultan tests their resolve by offering instead a tale of a lesser hero, the Hikayat Amir Hamzah. The nobles reply that as long as the sultan’s courage matches that of Muhammad Hanafiah, they will match that of his generals, whereupon the sultan accedes to their request. The full episode from the Sejarah Melayu is reproduced below, in C.C. Brown’s translation:

‘That night the war-chiefs and the young nobles were waiting in the hall of audience, and the young nobles said, “Why do we sit here idly? It would be well for us to read a tale of war that we may profit from it.” And Tun Muhammad Unta said, “That is very true, sir. Let us ask the Raja to give us the Story of Muhammad Hanafiah.” Then the young nobles said to Tun Aria, “Go, sir, and take this message to the Ruler, that all of us crave from his the Story of Muhammad Hanafiah, in the hope that we may obtain profit from it, for the Franks [i.e. Portuguese] are attacking tomorrrow.” Tun Aria accordingly went into the palace and presented himself before Sultan Ahmad, to whom he addressed the young nobles’ request. And Sultan Ahmad gave him the Story of Hamzah saying, “We would give you the Story of Muhammad Hanafiah did we not fear that the bravery of the gentlemen of our court falls short of the bravery of Muhammad Hanafiah! But it may be that their bravery is such as was the bravery of Hamzah and that is why we give you the Story of Hamzah.” Tun Aria then left the palace bearing the Story of Hamzah and he told the young nobles what Sultan Ahmad had said. At first they were silent, but presently Tun Isak Berakah replied to Tun Aria, “Represent humbly to the Ruler that he has spoken amiss. If he will be as Muhammad Hanafiah, we will be as war-chief Bania’ [i.e. of Beniar, the headquarters of the historical Muhammad al-Hannafiyyah]: if his bravery is that of Muhammad Hanafiah, ours will be that of war-chief Bania.” And when Tun Aria took this message from Tun Isak Berakah to Sultan Ahmad, the king smiled and gave them the story of Muhammad Hanafiah instead.’ (Brown 1970: 162-3).  

In fact, neither of the two manuscripts of the Sejarah Melayu in the British Library include this episode. Or. 14734, copied in Melaka in 1873, omits any mention of the nobles' request for Hikayat Muhammad Hanfiah on f.174v, perhaps part of a late tendency to erase any possible Shi'i tinges from Malay literature. In Or. 16214, copied in Singapore around 1832, the chapter on the Portuguese attack is missing.

Mss_malay_d_5_f080r-cropb
Final page of Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, copied by Mahmud ibn Husain on 14 Syaaban 1220 (7 November 1805): tamatlah Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah anakda cucuda nabi s.a.w. pada sanat 1220 tahun2 wau pada empat belas haribulan Syaaban pada malam Arba' wa-katibuhu Mahmud ibn Husain. British Library, MSS Malay D.5, f.80r.   noc

The Malay Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah was the subject of a detailed study by Lode Brakel (1975), who traced thirty manuscripts, including three in the British Library, which have now all been digitised. Two, from the John Leyden collection, were both copied in Penang or Kedah in 1805 (MSS Malay B.6 and MSS Malay D.5, Brakel’s source ‘F’). A third manuscript, from the collection of John Crawfurd (Add. 12377, Brakel’s source ‘G’), may have been acquired in Java but the use of the titles Teuku and Teungku sugggest a link with Aceh. The tale is also known in Acehnese, Bugis, Javanese, Makasarese, Madurese, Minangkabau and Sundanese versions.

Add_ms_12377_ff185v-186r
Final pages of Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, copied by Teungku Kecik and owned by Teuku Itam: tamat wa-katibuhu Teungku Kecik menyurat dia Teuku (t.a.’.k.w) Itam empunya {empunya} surat ini tamat. British Library, Add.12377, ff. 185v-186r.  noc

Brakel also documented two manuscripts of the Persian original, one – at the time thought to be unique – in the British Library (Add. 8149), and another in St. Petersburg. By comparing the Malay manuscripts with Add. 8149 (a copy from Murshidabad in Bengal, written in 1721), Brakel was able to show that the Malay text was a direct translation from the Persian original, in some cases even preserving the order of words (Brakel 1975: 12-13).

Add.8149 (1)
Opening page of the Persian Hikāyat Muḥammad Ḥanafiyyah, following on from a tale of Ḥasan and Ḥusayn, Murshidabad, 1721. British Library, Add. 8149, ff. 28v-29r.

Further reading:

L.F. Brakel, The Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiyyah: a medieval Muslim-Malay romance.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1975. (Bibliotheca Indonesica; 12).

L.F. Brakel, The story of Muhammad Hanafiyyah: a medieval Muslim romance.  Translated from the Malay by L.F. Brakel.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977. (Bibliotheca Indonesica; 16).

C.C. Brown, Sejarah Melayu or Malay Annals.  An annotated translation by C.C.Brown, with a new introduction by R.Roolvink.  Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

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