By Amir Ashraf

The advent of Islam in the Malay Archipelago had a very significant impact on the development of the Malay language, including the writing system. As Islam is closely tied on the Quranic language, Arabic, in all parts of the Muslim world non-Arabs tended to adopt Arabic writing system together with borrowing the Arabic loanwords into their native languages.

In the Malay world particularly, the Arabic letters based writing system had been used for centuries, which is called the Jawi script. In addition to the original Arabic letters, 5 new symbols were systematically constructed to fit the phonemes not found in the Arabic but native to the Malay, which are چ /cha/, ڤ /pa/, ڬ /ga/, ڠ /nga/, and ڽ /nya/.

According to R.O Windstedt, the Jawi script was not directly descended from the Arabs, but the Malays adopted it from the Perso-Arabic script. He elaborates that the letterچ /cha/ is borrowed not from the Arabic but from the Persian, as also is the letter ڬ /ga/ from the Persian گ /gaf/. For ڤ /pa/ is just not Arabic, ڠ /nga/, and پ (or ڽ) /nya/ appear to have been constructed from غ and ن respectively.

However, according to Professor Dr. Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas, the Jawi script is directly descended from the Arabic script brought by the Arab missionaries without any intermediaries like Persians or Hindis. He pointed out that the Arab missionaries involved in the Malay world were of the Ḥaḍramī origin. In order to verify that the Arabs were responsible for the reproduction of sounds of the Malay phonemes in Arabic letters that confirms with the Arabic Alphabet, we have to consider the formation of the letter /p/ in Jawi.

The phoneme /p/ does not exists in Arabic, but to general Arabs the sound /p/ is between the letters /bā’/ and /fā’/, but closer to /bā’/. So the new letter for the sound /p/ is therefore will be constructed based on the letter ب /bā’/ as how the letter پ  was formed in Persian or Urdu.

But this is not the case in the Jawi script. Instead, the letter ڤ was invented for the sound /p/ which was based on the Arabic letter ف /fā’/. This was due to the practice of the Ḥaḍramī Arabs, who pronounced the sound /p/ closer to the letter /fā’/.

Likewise, to the letter ڬ /ga/, is of different form which the Malays constructed it from the Arabic letter ك /kāf/ without adopting it directly from the Persian گ /gaf/. Moreover, the letter ڠ for the sound /nga/ and ڽ for /nya/ were both distinctively unique in the Jawi script.

Ibn Khaldun in his Muqaddimah discussed the method of constructing a letter for the Berber sound /g/ whereby a dot from the letter ج /jīm/ is added on top of or below the letterك /kāf/, or by adding two dots from the letter ق /qāf/ on the letter ك /kaf/. By taking this method as an example, the details on how the Jawi letters were constructed, according to Al-Attas, could be presented as follows:

The letter ڤ:

  1. The form of the letter ڤ  was closer to ف, not پ  as in Farsi of Urdu, as it follows the practice of Ḥaḍramī Arabs who tended to pronounce the consonant /pa/ with /fā’/, which is a well-known, and not /bā’/ as in the pronunciation of other Arabs.
  2. A dot from the letter ب  /bā’/ is placed on top of the letter ف  /fā’/.

iii. To avoid confusion with the letter ق  /qāf/, another dot is added to construct the letter ڤ /pa/.


The letter چ:

  1. The sound /cha/ is closer to the letter ج  /jīm/.
  2. Two dots from the letter  ت /tā’/ is added to the letter ج /jīm/ to construct the letter چ /cha/.


The letter ڬ:

  1. The sound /ga/ is closer to the letter ك /kāf/.
  2. A dot from the letter ج /jīm/ is added to the letter ك /kāf/ to create the letter ڬ /ga/.


The letter ڠ:

  1. The sound /nga/ is closer to the letter غ /ghayn/.
  2. A combination of sounds from three letters, غ /ghayn/; ن /nūn/; and ڬ /ga/; creates the letter ڠ /nga/.


The letter ڽ:

  1. The sound /nya/ (or /ña/) is closer to the letter ن /nūn/.
  2. Two dots from the letter ي /yā’/, is added to the letter ن /nūn/ to construct the letter ڽ /nya/.


To conclude, the Jawi script is consisted of the original 28 Arabic letters with additional 5 letters representing the Malay phonemes absent in the Arabic. The script had its origin from the Arabs of Ḥaḍramawt origin, rather than through another languages such as the Persian or Hindi. The invention of 5 additional letters in the script through fusion of several Arabic letters indicates that it is directly founded on Arabic phonemes and sound system. In addition, the standard Malay script was written in Naskhi style, which is unmistakably different from the Persian or Urdu styles. This fact also indicates the exact origin of the Jawi script, which is Arabic.



  1. Kang Kyoung Seok & Muhammad Syukri Rosli, Pengantar ‘Ilmu Jawi, (Kuala Lumpur, Klasika Media dengan kerjasama Akademi Jawi Malaysia, 2015).
  2. Al Attas, Syed Muhammad Naquib, Historical Fact and Fiction, (Kuala Lumpur, UTM Press, 2011).
  3. Al Attas, Syed Muhammad Naquib, Islam dalam Sejarah dan Kebudayaan Melayu, (Kuala Lumpur, Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia, 1999).


Writer pursues his degree at the Department of Fiqh and Usul al-Fiqh, International Islamic University Malaysia