Malay Islamic Artifact in "Memory of the World"

A replica of the Terengganu Inscription Stone at the National Historical Museum in Kuala Lumpur.
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 2, 2009 (AFP) - Malaysia said Wednesday that a stone artifact, which dates Islam's arrival over a century earlier than previously thought, has been put on a UN list of the world's most valuable documents.

The "Memory of the World" list includes 193 items including the diaries of Holocaust victim Anne Frank, the Gutenberg Bible and the archives of the Dutch East India Company.

Information and Culture Minister Rais Yatim said the "Inscribed Stone of Terengganu" was discovered over 100 years ago but fell into obscurity and its true significance was only recently discovered.

"This will cause a lot of interest and maybe even a revision of local history on the advent of Islam in this part of the world," he told reporters.

"In 1292 or 1242 Islam had penetrated to the tip of Sumatra (Indonesia) but the inscriptions on the Terengganu stone date it to 1303, which is close to its arrival in Indonesia and will create much discussion among historians."

Heritage commissioner and archaeologist Zuraina Majid said Islam's arrival in Malaysia is usually dated to the conversion of a Hindu prince in the port town of Malacca in the 1400s. She said that the Terengganu stone, which was discovered in 1902 being used as a stone for ablutions outside a small mosque in Terengganu in northern Malaysia, indicates Islam ad arrived there decades earlier than 1303.

"We have to do further research on this, and do comparative studies on this before we can have a comprehensive picture," she said.

The artifact, weighs more than 214 kilos (472 pounds), stands 89cm (35 inches) tall by a Terengganu ruler establishing Islam as the official religion of the region.

In local Arabic-influenced script known as Jawi, it outlined laws for debtors and sexual misconduct.

UNESCO, the UN cultural body, said the stone is "a testimony to the spread of Islam offering an insight to the life of the people of the era as well as depicting the growing Islamic culture subsumed under a set of religious laws."

Zuraina said that after its discovery, British colonial authorities sent the stone to Singapore's Raffles museum in 1922 to be deciphered. It was returned to Terengganu only in 1991 where it is now on display at the state museum.


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