Penang mufti: Khat is not Islamic, strictly a form of calligraphic art

A woman walks past a piece of khat calligraphy in Balik Pulau, Penang August 6, 2019. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
A woman walks past a piece of khat calligraphy in Balik Pulau, Penang August 6, 2019. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, Aug 7 — Penang Mufti Datuk Seri Wan Salim Mohd Nor explained today that khat is a calligraphic style using the jawi script and is used purely for decorative and artistic purposes.

He added that while it was derived from the Arabic script, only writings in the latter were associated with Islam due to its use in the Quran, the Hadiths and religious texts.

Wan Salim said jawi also derived some of its characters from the Persian alphabet, such as the characters for “cha”, “nga” and “nya”.

“Khat is usually used as decoration on the walls of the mosques or on the covers of Islamic holy books,” he said to suggest why a connection was perceived.

“Khat is a form of calligraphy using jawi and there are actually several types of khat such as Nasakh, Raka’ah, Farsi, Dewan, Thulus and many more,” he said.

Not all forms of khat were comprehensible to those who knew jawi, he added when saying only the Nasakh style was easily understood by those familiar with the alphabet used for Bahasa Melayu before its romanisation.

The religious official pointed out that jawi was not unique to Malaysia and had been commonly used in South-east Asia and shared by then-Malaya, Indonesia, the Philippines, Southern Thailand and Cambodia.

“In the past, students in Malay schools were taught jawi until the early 1970s when the then education minister, the late Tan Sri Md Khir Johari, stopped the teaching of jawi in schools,” he said.

He said it was the British who introduced the Roman script to Malaya and replaced jawi.

Jawi was also used for everyday purposes not related to Islam, he added when recalling that Malay vernacular newspapers previously employed the script prior to the romanisation of Bahasa Melayu.

“Even Utusan Melayu, which used jawi at that time, was very popular among readers who went to Malay schools,” he said.

The Education Ministry recently announced the government’s decision to introduce khat as part of the Bahasa Melayu subject for Standard Four students starting next year.

This triggered objections, mostly by non-Malays, against the compulsory learning of khat as part of the national language subject, with many calling it an added burden to both teachers and students.

Political parties’ responses to the move has been mixed, with some supporting it and others telling the government to instead focus on teaching students more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

The government has said it will proceed with the proposal to introduce khat to primary four students but explained that they will not be tested on this.

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