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Introduction

Our Asian and African Studies blog promotes the work of our curators, recent acquisitions, digitisation projects, and collaborative projects outside the Library. Our starting point was the British Library’s exhibition ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’, which ran 9 Nov 2012 to 2 Apr 2013 Read more

31 March 2015

What to give the English king who has everything?

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Today's post is by one of our readers, Dr. Shamma Boyarin, Assistant Teaching Professor in Religious Studies, Medieval Studies, and English at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. He specializes in medieval Hebrew and Arabic literatures, with focus on philosophical and astronomical texts and cross-cultural influences between Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities.

Last summer I had the chance to work with some Hebrew manuscripts at the British Library. While I had a few specific items I wanted to examine, I also took the opportunity to look at a variety of books beyond my specific expertise (medieval Hebrew romances and philosophical and astronomical texts). I wanted both to acquire broader exposure to Hebrew scripts of various centuries, regions, and manuscript types, and to see what I might discover by accident as it were. It is one of these “extra” manuscripts I will discuss here: MS Royal 16 A II, a Hebrew book made for King Henry VIII.

One might imagine a book for a king to be big, or lavishly ornamented with many illustrations, or to feature use of gold leaf and other expensive pigments, perhaps to include a depiction of the king’s arms or other decorative elements tying the codex to its royal owner. But this is not at all the case with Royal 16 A II, which is comparatively small (102mm x 66mm, with only 49 paper folios) and contains no images or adornment. It appears to be a rather humble gift for a king.

Spine Binding
Spine and eighteenth century binding with British Museum stamp (Museum Britannicum) of MS Royal 16 A II
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Two things make this little book very special, however. The first is a long Latin encomium of its recipient King Henry VIII (running from folio 2r-22r), and the second is the book’s gift to the king: Hebrew translations of two short books of the New Testament, the Epistle of St James (running from folio 23r-43v) and the Epistle of St Jude (folios 44r-49v).

F23v
F44r

“The Epistle of James [Yaakov] the Apostle” (f. 23r) and “The Epistle of Jude [Yehudah] the Apostle” (f. 44r)
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The codex, which reads right to left, begins with a Latin dedication page (folio 1v), which translated reads:

To the most invincible King of England and France, Lord of Ireland, Defender of the Catholic Faith, and in Earth Supreme Head, Henry, eighth of his name, John Shepreve wishes lasting happiness.

F1v
Dedication to Henry VIII (f. 1v)
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Henry was given the title fidei defensor by Pope Leo X in 1521, after his composition Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Martinum Lutherum (“Declaration of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther”), and it was officially removed by Pope Paul III in 1535, after Henry broke with the Catholic Church. Although later, in 1544, Parliament restored the title as an expression of the king’s role in the Church of England, this was after John Schepreve (our author and translator) died. We also know that the title “Supreme Head of the Church of England” was used commonly only after the 1534 Act of Supremacy, and that the Latin in terra supremum caput Anglicanae ecclesiae does not seem to appear in the style of the sovereign until 1534. (See J. Frank Henderson’s “Sovereign and Pope in English Bidding Prayers,” especially the “Appendix: Titles of Henry VIII,” collated from David Wilkins, Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae, vol. 3, London, 1737). The presence of the fidei defensor title, the odd use of the in terra supremum caput title without the Anglicanae ecclesiae qualification, and what we know of the author and translator’s biography, suggests a date for this manuscript, then, very close to 1534.

As the dedication indicates, the man who wrote the Latin encomium and translated the New Testament epistles into Hebrew was Johannes Scheprevus, that is, John Shepreve. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Shepreve was Professor of Hebrew at Corpus Christi College, Oxford by 1538. He also had an authoritative command of Greek (having read in Greek at Corpus Christi from 1528), and of course Latin. J. Andreas Löwe’s assessment in the DNB is that, while Shepreve had deep ties to the Roman Catholic Church (his nephew William Shepreve was a Roman Catholic priest), and later in his life  “described pre-Reformation religious practice with … affection” and doubtless remained religiously “conservative,” he nevertheless “probably subscribed to the royal supremacy.” Shepreve died in July 1542.

Shepreve’s Hebrew script in Royal 16 A II is very clear and easily readable, and he vowels words for pronunciation throughout. He does have one interesting characteristic that I have not seen before (perhaps common amongst Christian Hebraists of the time?): he adopts a final form of the letter ל, which traditionally does not have a distinct final form. See here:

Regular ל   Untitled  and “final”  ל   Untitled.

While most of the time Shepreve’s translation is understandable, sometimes it is not, or seems awkward, mainly due to incorrect (though never random) usage. So, for example he uses the word  23v  (f. 23v, in James 1:3-4), tikvah, which means “hope,” where the Douay-Rheims has “patience” (Vulgate patientia) and, likewise, a modern Hebrew translation has “סַבְלָנוּת” (savlanut, straightforwardly meaning “patience”). This suggests, perhaps, that Shepreve is working exclusively from the Greek, where the equivalent (hupomonē), as I understand it, connotes hopefulness as well as patience.

In one case, Shepreve seemingly misses an obvious biblical reference in translating a quotation from Leviticus 19:18 (“love thy neighbor as thyself” in James 2:8) semantically correctly (leaving out “as thyself”), but failing to use the actual corresponding phrase found in the  Hebrew Bible וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵֶעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ (this even though later on the same page he correctly identifies the references to the Ten Commandments in James 2:11):

29v “love thy neighbour” (29v).

However, occasionally he manages a poetic turn in Hebrew that is quite beautiful, such as, on f. 24r:
24r

That is, “A double minded man is inconstant in all his ways” (James 1:8). Shepreve’s Hebrew version rhymes the two clauses of the sentence, and his formulation of nod yanud, literally “wanders,” has a peculiarly biblical lilt (though this specific formulation does not actually appear in the Hebrew Bible). A more contemporary Hebrew translation reads:  בִּהְיוֹתוֹ אִישׁ הַפּוֹסֵחַ עַל שְׁתֵּי הַסְּעִפִּים הֲפַכְפַּךְ בְּכָל דְּרָכָיו (the modern Hebrew translation I am using for comparison can be found here).

Occasionally Shepreve’s translations make sense, but only if you know the original (presumably the Greek) source, for example (f. 47r):
47r

This word, ahavoteychem, means “your loves” or “your beloved things,” from Jude 1:12, and is rendered as “your feasts of charity” in the King James Version. It is, for Shepreve and for the King James translators, from Gk. agapē, which can mean “love” or “charity” but in this context “love-feasts.” Needless to say, the Hebrew word Shepreve chooses does not elsewhere denote feasting or fellowship.

Shepreve has a habit of writing to the end of the line, regardless of space available, but he will start a word over on the next line if he cannot fit it in. These incomplete words are never voweled, as illustrated, for example, by the unvowelled letters at the end of lines on folio 47r:

47r
Unvowelled letters at the end (on the left) of lines on folio 47r
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But Shepreve is clearly very careful about his work: on occasion, he skips a word and goes back to add it upon realizing the omission or checking his work, as here (f. 44v):
44v

It seems likely that further examination of this little codex will prove fruitful to both scholars of Henry VIII and scholars of Christian Hebraism in the sixteenth century, a time when Jewish scholars (still under the 1290 edict of expulsion) were almost certainly absent from England. What exactly was Shepreve translating from? Are the idiosyncrasies of his script and translation common among Christian Hebraicists of the era, or are they particular to English practice? Would Henry VIII have requested Hebrew translation of New Testament books? Why these two epistles, and could the king have used this book, or might he have wanted to learn, to pronounce Hebrew himself? Henry VIII established the Regius Professorship of Hebrew at Oxford in 1546 (four years after Shepreve’s death), so it is not impossible that the he held a longstanding intellectual and religious interest in the language. Perhaps John Shepreve and his book had a part in shaping that interest.

Because of current academic disciplinary divides and archival practices (for example, the separation of reading rooms for western manuscripts and manuscripts in “Asian and African” languages), experts on Henry VIII and the Reformation may not easily share or glean knowledge from experts in Hebrew (or Greek) manuscripts or scripts. Exploration of books like this, however, reminds me that pooling our expertise is often necessary in manuscript studies—and such scholarly collaboration will no doubt yield dividends for understanding this fascinating little gift, fit for an English king.

A fully digitized copy of MS Royal 16 A II can be explored here.

Those interested in Christian Hebraism might also like to peruse Sloane MS 237, a seventeenth-century translation into Hebrew of a small portion of the Book of Revelation; Harley MS 5239, a seventeenth-century Hebrew Book of Genesis with interlinear French translation; or Add MS 11659, an early-nineteenth-century translation of the gospels into Hebrew.

 

Shamma Boyarin,  University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada
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My thanks to Adrienne Williams Boyarin and Justine Semmens Ash for their help with Latin and with dating issues. 

27 March 2015

Britain’s ‘Interest’ in Bahrain

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In 1783, the Al Khalifa family – originally from the Nejd region of what is now Saudi Arabia – captured the islands of Bahrain from Shaikh Nasr Al Madhkur, who had ruled them on behalf of the Qajar dynasty of Persia. In 1926, over one hundred and fifty years later, the status of Bahrain’s sovereignty remained a contentious issue. In December of that year, G. R. Warner, a British diplomat in London, wrote to a colleague in India stating that ‘on political grounds it is of great importance to avoid any action which would result in the re-awakening of the controversy as to the sovereignty of Bahrein’.

Although Bahrain was nominally independent at this time, it was a British-protected state and Britain had controlled its foreign relations since the nineteenth century. The cause of Warner’s concern was the fact that the Persian Government refused to recognise Bahrain’s independence and instead claimed it as a province of Persia. The manner in which British officials in the region responded to this tension provides a revealing insight into the character of Britain’s role in Bahrain at this time.

Mohammerah
'Mohammerah' [‎20-b] (1/1), present-day Khorramshahr, photographed in May 1917 by the Rev. Edwin Aubrey Storrs-Fox (British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, Photo 496/6/40) in Qatar Digital Library

Avoiding Re-Awakening the Controversy
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Bahraini nationals resident in the city of Mohammerah (Khorramshahr) in Persia were subjected to harassment and intimidation by the local authorities. Many of these Bahrainis – the majority of whom were Baharna (the indigenous Shia Arab community of Bahrain) – were being forced to adopt Persian nationality. If they did not comply, the Baharna faced arrest, expulsion from the country and, in some cases, serious violence and even death. In response, the community appealed for help to the ruler of Bahrain, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and to the various British officials who served as Political Agent in Bahrain during this era. The British – wary of increasing tensions with Persia over Bahrain – were hesitant in their response to the Persian Government’s actions.

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First page of a letter to the India Office from G. R. Warner at the Foreign Office, 31 December 1926 (IOR/R/15/1/321, f. 97)
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‘Alleviating the lot of the Baharnah’
Despite their repeated petitions calling for assistance, the harassment of Bahraini nationals in Persia continued and Britain’s inability or unwillingness to offer more substantial help to citizens of a country ostensibly under its protection began to cause some consternation amongst the Baharna.

In 1923, the British had forced Bahrain’s ruler, Shaikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa, to abdicate and replaced him with his son, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Following this, the Political Agent in Bahrain, Clive Kirkpatrick Daly, enacted a series of wide-reaching reforms in the country. In this context, Cyril Charles Johnson Barrett, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, made a frank observation in a letter to the British Legation in Tehran in August 1929:

[I]t strikes the residents of Bahrain as remarkable that while Britain’s protection of their island runs to dethroning their ruler, carrying out a series of reforms and arranging to establish flying boat and aeroplane bases for herself, it is not of the least value in alleviating the lot of the Baharnah in Persia.

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Letter from Cyril Charles Johnson Barrett, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, to the British Legation in Tehran, 21 August 1929 (IOR/R/15/1/216/321, f. 259)
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Legal Fiction
In September 1929, Charles Geoffrey Prior, Britain’s Political Agent in Bahrain elaborated on this contradiction. In an extraordinarily frank passage in a letter to Barrett, his superior based in Bushire, Prior described the notion that Bahrain was an independent state as a ‘legal fiction’ and stated that he did not believe that ‘any Arab is deceived for a minute by a policy which, while manipulating the resources of Bahrain in our interests, declines to protect its subjects, to allow them to protect themselves or to ally themselves with other states who might do so’.

Prior suggested that if the British had intervened in any Indian state over the previous decade to the extent they had done so in Bahrain, it would have caused a ‘storm of protest’, observing that:

[W]e have deposed the Ruler, deported his relations, fixed the customs tariff to suit our interests, forced the state against its will to grant a customs rebate to our ally Bin Saud […] deprived the Ruler of jurisdiction over all foreigners, and decided what Europeans he may or may not employ.

Prior went on to state that ‘we have refused the state a free hand with their mineral resources, and have been guided in the matter almost entirely by our own interests’ and pointed out that the ruler of Bahrain was forbidden to correspond with the oil company working on his concession except through the intermediary of the Political Agent.

Image 3 IOR_R_15_1_322_0105
Second page of a letter from Charles Geoffrey Prior, the Political Agent in Bahrain, to Cyril Charles Johnson Barrett, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, 27 September 1929 (IOR/R/15/1/322, f. 47)
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Prior also made the astonishing admission that aside from a small contribution to charity, ‘which has political value’, the British Government had incurred no expenditure in Bahrain whatsoever.

Duty to Grant Protection
In this damning assessment of British policy in Bahrain, Prior asserted his belief that Britain should be fulfilling its obligations by doing more to assist the Baharna. Prior argued that ‘in no sense’ was Bahrain an independent state, and for the sake of Britain’s reputation for ‘fair dealing’ it should not default in its liabilities to its inhabitants. This argument was reiterated by Prior in a letter two years later in 1931.

In this letter, Prior outlined the extent of Britain’s involvement and explained how the British manipulated an oil company to suit their ‘Imperial interests’. He argued that since ‘we have interfered in the affairs of Bahrain to an extent unparalleled in British India [then] we should grant these people the same support and protection that we extend to inhabitants of British Indian States’.

Three years later however, the harassment of Bahrainis in Persia had not abated. In 1934, Charles Belgrave, Adviser to the Government of Bahrain, wrote that ‘the Persians destroy their [Bahraini] nationality papers, make them sign Persian papers yet the Baharna would rather die than become Persian subjects’.

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Extract of letter from Charles Geoffrey Prior, the Political Agent in Bahrain, 10 December 1931 (IOR/R/15/1/323, f. 115)
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Imperial Context
Prior’s remarkable candour when assessing the British Government’s activities in Bahrain starkly demonstrates the nature of its role in the country, a role that, according to his own account, was motivated by the logic of empire and – in his own words – Britain’s self-interest. The welfare of the country’s citizens was a concern of secondary importance, at best.

Curzon (2)
'His Excellency The Right Honourable George Nathaniel Baron Curzon, P. C., G. M. S. I., G. M. I. E. Viceroy and Governor-General of India.' Photographer: Bourne and Shepherd [‎10r] (1/1) (British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, Photo 430/78/3) in Qatar Digital Library


In 1898, George Curzon, then the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, infamously wrote:

Turkestan, Afghanistan, Transcaspia, Persia – to many these names breathe only a sense of utter remoteness or a memory of strange vicissitudes and or moribund romance. To me, I confess, they are pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a game for the dominion of the world.

Regardless of Prior’s own personal misgivings, Bahrain was no exception to Curzon’s imperial worldview, it was merely another piece on the ‘chessboard’, a means to safeguard Britain’s position in India and further the interests of its global empire.

Primary sources:
London, British Library, ‘File 19/109 IV (C 28) Shaikh's Relations with other Foreign Powers’ IOR/R/15/1/321
London, British Library, ‘File 19/109 V (C 32) Bahrain Relations with other Foreign Powers’ IOR/R/15/1/322
London, British Library, ‘File 19/109 VI (C 45) Bahrain Relations with Foreign Powers’ IOR/R/15/1/323
London, British Library, ‘File 12/2 Treatment of Bahraini subjects in Persia’ IOR/R/15/2/486

Secondary sources:
George Nathaniel Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question (London, New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1892)

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership
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24 March 2015

From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia

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The British Academy-funded research project Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean, which ran from 2009 to 2012 adminstered by ASEASUK (Association of Southeast Asian Studies in the UK) and the BIAA (British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara), set out to investigate all aspects of links between the greatest Middle Eastern power – the Ottoman empire – and the Muslim lands of the Malay archipelago in Southeast Asia over the past five centuries. The project culminated in a conference held in Banda Aceh in 2012, as well as a travelling photographic exhibition produced by the British Library which toured the UK, with a Turkish version which travelled to Istanbul and Ankara, while Indonesian versions were displayed in various venues in Aceh and in Jakarta at the Bayt al-Qur'an & Museum Istiqlal. Now one of two books arising from the project has just been published – From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia, edited by Andrew Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop – as the auspiciously-numbered 200th volume in the series 'Proceedings of the British Academy', published by Oxford University Press.

TJ-15076_From Anatolia to Aceh copy

The first direct political contact between Anatolia and the Malay world took place in the 16th century, when Ottoman records confirm that gunners and gunsmiths were sent to Aceh in Sumatra to help fight against Portuguese domination of the pepper trade across the Indian Ocean. In later years the main conduit for contact was the annual Hajj pilgrimage, and many Malay pilgrims from Southeast Asia spent long periods of study in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which were under Ottoman control from 1517 until the early 20th century. During the era of European colonial expansion in the 19th century, once again Malay states turned to Istanbul for help. It now appears that these demands for intervention from Southeast Asia may even have played an important role in the development of the Ottoman policy of Pan-Islamism, positioning the Ottoman emperor as Caliph and leader of Muslims worldwide and promoting Muslim solidarity.

The 14 papers in this volume represent the first attempt to bring together research on all aspects of the relationship between the Ottoman world and Southeast Asia, much of it based on documents newly discovered in archives in Istanbul. The book is presented in three sections, covering the political and economic relationship, interactions in the colonial era, and cultural and intellectual influences, with an introduction by the editors and a historiographical survey by Anthony Reid, whose seminal 1969 article, ‘Sixteenth century Turkish influence in western Indonesia’ (Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10 (3): 395-414), could be seen as the starting point for modern research on this topic. A full list of the contents of the volume can be found here: Download 00_Anatolia to Aceh_i-xvi.

2014-5-14 (17)
Mawlid sharaf al-anam, 19th c. Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2014.5.14.

The beautiful manuscript which adorns the front cover of the volume exemplifies well the myriad interactions documented in the volume: it was copied in Mecca by a Malay calligrapher from the 'Jawi' community of Southeast Asians resident in the Hijaz, and adorned with late Ottoman-style illumination. It is a copy of the Mawlid sharaf al-anam, ‘The birth of the noblest of mankind’, an anonymous compilation of devotional prayers on the Prophet, and the Arabic text is accompanied by a small interlinear translation in Malay. The scribe is named as Ibrahim al-Khulusi ibn Wudd al-Jawi al-Sambawi, his nisba indicating his origins on the island of Sumbawa in eastern Indonesia.

2014-5-14 (19)
Final pages of Mawlid sharaf al-anam, 19th c. Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2014.5.14.

Although the colophon gives the date (in thinly-inked numerals) of 1042 AH (1632/3 AD), this is most likely erroneous and numerous factors indicate that the manuscript was probably copied in the mid-19th century. By coincidence, among the documents in the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives ((Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi, BOA) in Istanbul relating to Southeast Asia discovered in the course of the research project was an Arabic letter of 1849/50 to Hasib Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of the Hijaz, thanking him for facilitating the Hajj pilgrimage, signed by ten Malay and Yemeni scholars (‘ulama) resident in Mecca. Among the signatories to this letter is one ‘Ibrahim bin Wudd al-Jawi’, whose seal impression reads Ibrahim al-Khulusi ibn Wuddin. Comparing the name ‘Ibrahim’ in the manuscript and the letter leaves little doubt that they were written by the same person.

İ_DH_211_12286 (7a)-ed
Letter in Arabic from Southeast Asian religious scholars in Mecca to Hasib Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of the Hijaz, 1849/50, with Ibrahim's signature and seal fourth from the left. BOA İ.DH 211/12286.

Ibrahim  P1030709-det
Detail of the signature of Ibrahim (left) in the letter of 1849/50, and (right) in the colophon of Mawlid sharaf al-anam, with the same concave-convex shape of ba-ra, and the letter alif bisecting the ha-ya ligature in both examples.

Further evidence locating this ‘Ibrahim’ as a master Malay calligrapher in the Hijaz in the mid 19th century is found in a letter in Malay and Arabic written in Mecca in 1866 by Abdul Rahman bin Muhammad Saman of Kelantan to Sultan Abdul Hamid of Pontianak on the west coast of Borneo (Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 1998.1.3680). In the letter, Abdul Rahman states that he had come to Mecca to study the ‘Istanbul style’ of writing (menyurat Istanbul), and that he is currently being considered the successor to his ‘late teacher Shaykh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi’ in teaching ‘Istanbul writing’ (patik ini … sudah dilatih? orang besar2 di Mekah akan bahwa patik inilah jadi ganti … al-marhum guru patik tuan Syaikh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi yang masyhur itu … pada pihak tolong mengajarkan segala muslimin menyurat Istanbulnya). Together, these sources suggest that Ibrahim al-Khulusi died in Mecca probably sometime in the early 1860s.

1998-1-3680 (1)-det-name

Detail from a letter written by Abdul Rahman of Kelantan in Mecca in 1866 giving the name of 'my late teacher the great Shaykh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi' (al-marhum guru patik Tuan Syaikh Ibrahim al-Khulusi al-Sanbawi yang masyhur). Reproduced courtesy of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 1998.1.3680.

Ironically, the Ottoman-Malay mawlid manuscript of Ibrahim al-Khulusi only came to light in 2014, well after the completion of the research project, and so is not discussed in the book itself.  (The manuscript is currently held in the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, and we are most grateful to the IAMM and its Director, Mr Syed Mohamad Albukhary, for permission to reproduce the manuscript on the front cover of the book).  But it is just such a discovery as this which raises hopes that, from time to time, yet more new evidence will emerge of the connections between the Ottoman empire and Southeast Asia, across the Indian Ocean from Anatolia to Aceh.

Annabel Teh Gallop
Lead Curator, Southeast Asia, British Library & Co-Director, 'Islam, Trade and Politics across the Indian Ocean'

With thanks to Tim Stanley for comments on the illumination.

From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks, and Southeast Asia
Edited by Andrew Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop
OUP/British Academy | Proceedings of the British Academy Vol. 200
300 pages | 22 illustrations | 234x156mm
978-0-19-726581-9 | Hardback | 05 February 2015
Price:  £70.00
Available from Oxford University Press