Jawi alphabet

Jawi (Jawi: جاوي; Kelantan-Pattani: Yawi; Acèh: Jawoë) is an Arabic script for writing Malay, Acehnese, Banjarese, Minangkabau, Tausūg and several other languages in Southeast Asia.

Jawi alphabet
Time period
c. 1300 CE to the present
Parent systems

Jawi is one of the two official scripts in Brunei and is used as an alternative script in Malaysia and Malay-dominated areas in Indonesia. It used to be the standard script for the Malay language but has since been replaced by a Latin alphabet, called Rumi (literal meaning: Roman). In most areas, Jawi has since been relegated to a script used for religious, cultural and certain administrative purposes.

Jawi can be typed with the Jawi keyboard. Its day-to-day usage is maintained in the more-conservative Malay-populated areas such as Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang in Malaysia and Pattani.[1]


According to Kamus Dewan, "Jawi" (جاوي) is a term synonymous to 'Malay'.[2] The term has been used interchangeably with 'Malay' in other terms including Bahasa Jawi or Bahasa Yawi (Kelantan-Pattani Malay, a Malay dialect used in Southern Thailand), Masuk Jawi[3] (literally "to become Malay", referring to the practice of circumcision to symbolise the coming of age), and Jawi pekan or Jawi Peranakan (literally 'Malay of the town' or 'Malay born of', referring to the Malay-speaking Muslims of mixed Malay and Indian ancestry).[4] With verb-building circumfixes men-...-kan, menjawikan (literally 'to make something Malay'), also refers to the act of translating a foreign text into Malay language. The word Tulisan Jawi that means "Jawi script" is another derivative that carries the meaning 'Malay script'.[2]

Early history

Prior to the onset of Islamisation, when Hindu-Buddhist influences were still firmly established in the region, the Pallava script was primarily used in writing the Malay language. This is evidenced from the discovery of several stone inscriptions in Old Malay, notably the Kedukan Bukit inscription and Talang Tuo inscription. The spread of Islam in Southeast Asia and the subsequent introduction of Arabic writing system began with the arrival of Muslim merchants in the region since the seventh century. Among the oldest archaeological artefacts inscribed with Arabic script are; a tombstone of Syeikh Rukunuddin dated 48 AH (668/669 CE) in Barus, Sumatra; a tombstone dated 290 AH (910 CE) on the mausoleum of Syeikh Abdul Qadir Ibn Husin Syah Alam located in Alor Setar, Kedah; a tombstone found in Pekan, Pahang dated 419 AH (1026 CE); a tombstone discovered in Phan Rang, Vietnam dated 431 AH (1039 CE); a tombstone dated 440 AH (1048 CE) found in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei; and a tombstone of Fatimah Binti Maimun Bin Hibat Allah found in Gresik, East Java dated 475 AH (1082 CE).[5][6] Islam was spread from the coasts to the interior of the island and generally in a top-down process in which rulers were converted and then introduced more or less orthodox versions of Islam to their peoples. The conversion of King Phra Ong Mahawangsa of Kedah in 1136 and King Merah Silu of Samudra Pasai in 1267 were among the earliest examples.

At the early stage of Islamisation, the Arabic script was taught to the people who had newly embraced Islam in the form of religious practices, such as the recitation of Quran as well as salat. It is not too far-fetched to say that the Arabic script was accepted by the Malay community together with their acceptance of Islam and they didn't take long to modify the script and adapt it to suit the spoken Classical Malay – it is written from right to left and has 6 sounds not found in Arabic: ca pa ga nga va and nya. Many Arabic characters are never used as they are not pronounced in Malay language, and some letters are never joined and some joined obligatorily so.[7][8] This was the same for the acceptance of Arabic writing in Turkey, Persia and India which had taken place earlier and thus, the Jawi script was then deemed as the writing of the Muslims.[9]

The oldest remains of Malay using the Jawi script have been found on the Terengganu Inscription Stone, dated 702 AH (1303 CE), nearly 600 years after the date of the first recorded existence of Arabic script in the region. The inscription on the stone contains a proclamation issued by the "Sri Paduka Tuan" of Terengganu, urging his subjects to "extend and uphold" Islam and providing 10 basic Sharia laws for their guidance. This has attested the strong observance of the Muslim faith in the early 14th century Terengganu specifically and the Malay world as a whole.[5]

The development of Jawi script was different from that of Pallava writing which was exclusively restricted to the nobility and monks in monasteries. The Jawi script was embraced by the entire Muslim community regardless of class. With the increased intensity in the appreciation of Islam, scriptures originally written in Arabic were translated in Malay and written in the Jawi script. Additionally local religious scholars later began to elucidate the Islamic teachings in the forms of original writings. Moreover, there were also individuals of the community who used Jawi for the writing of literature which previously existed and spread orally. With this inclusion of written literature, Malay literature took on a more sophisticated form. This was believed to have taken place from the 15th century and lasted right up to the 19th century.[9] Other forms of Arabic-based scripts existed in the region, notably the Pegon alphabet of Javanese language in Java and the Serang alphabet of Bugis language in South Sulawesi. Both writing systems applied extensively the Arabic diacritics and added several letters other than Jawi letters to suit the languages. Due to their fairly limited usage, the spelling system of both scripts did not undergo similar advance developments and modifications as experienced by Jawi script.[10]

The spread and extent of Jawi script

The script became prominent with the spread of Islam, supplanting the earlier writing systems. The Malays held the script in high esteem as it is the gateway to understanding Islam and its Holy Book, the Quran. The use of Jawi script was a key factor driving the emergence of Malay as the lingua franca of the region, alongside the spread of Islam.[13] It was widely used in the Sultanate of Malacca, Sultanate of Johor, Sultanate of Brunei, Sultanate of Sulu, Sultanate of Pattani, the Sultanate of Aceh to the Sultanate of Ternate in the east as early as the 15th century. The Jawi script was used in royal correspondences, decrees, poems and was widely understood by the merchants in the port of Malacca as the main means of communication. Early legal digests such as the Undang-Undang Melaka Code and its derivatives including the Codes of Johor, Perak, Brunei, Kedah, Pattani and Aceh were written in this script. It is the medium of expression of kings, nobility and the religious scholars. It is the traditional symbol of Malay culture and civilisation. Jawi was used not only amongst the ruling class, but also the common people. The Islamisation and Malayisation of the region popularised Jawi into a dominant script.[14]

Royal correspondences for example are written, embellished and ceremoniously delivered. Examples of royal correspondences still in the good condition are the letter between Sultan Hayat of Ternate and King John III of Portugal (1521), the letter from Sultan Iskandar Muda of Acèh Darussalam to King James I of England (1615), and the letter from Sultan Abdul Jalil IV of Johor to King Louis XV of France (1719).[14] Many literary works such as epics, poetry and prose use the Jawi script. It is the pinnacle of the classic Malay civilisation. Historical epics such as the Malay Annals, as listed by UNESCO under Memories of the World, are among the countless epics written by the Malay people. The Sufic poems by Hamzah Fansuri and many others contributed to the richness and depth of the Malay civilisation. Jawi script was the official script for the Unfederated Malay States when they were British protectorates.

Jawi today

Today, Jawi is an official script of Brunei.[13] In Malaysia, it is used for religious and cultural administration in the states of Terengganu, Kelantan, Kedah, Perlis, Penang, Pahang and Johor. Various efforts were in place to revive the Jawi script in Malaysia and Brunei due to its role in the Malay and Islamic spheres. Jawi scripts are also seen at the rear of Malaysian ringgit and Brunei dollar banknotes. The Malays in Patani still use Jawi today for the same reasons.

Indonesia, having multiple regional and native languages, uses the Indonesian language in general. Nonetheless, the Jawi script does have a regional status in native Malay areas in Indonesia such as Riau, Riau archipelago, Jambi, Aceh, or Kalimantan (example the Banjar language).[15][16] This is partially due to the fact that regional/native languages are compulsory studies in the basic education curriculum of each region (examples include Javanese for Javanese region, Sundanese for Sundanese region, Madurese for Maduranese region, and jawi for Malay region).[15] Today Jawi script is widely used in Riau and Riau Island province, where road signs and government buildings signs are written in this script. It is still widely used in traditional religious school across Java, however, in the form of Pegon script, a variant of it, and is not used in common writing when the Latin alphabet and in some cases the Javanese script.


Jawi alphabet[17]
CharacterNameFinalMedialInitialIsolatedSound representedRumi equivalentUnicode
اalifـاا/a/ or /ə/a, e pepet (ĕ)U+0627
ثsaـثـثـثـث/θ/ or /s/sU+062B
حha (kecil/pedas)ـحـحـحـح/ħ/ or /h/hU+062D
ذzalـذذ/ð/ or /z/zU+0630
عainـعـعـعـع/ʔ/a, i, u and -kU+0639
قqafـقـقـقـق/ʔ/ and /q/q and -kU+0642
وwauـوو/w/ and /u, o, ɔ/w and u, oU+0648
هha (besar/simpul)ـهـهـهـه/h/hU+0647
ةta marbutahـةة/t/ or /h/-t or -hU+0629
يyaـيـيـيـي/j/ and /i, e, ɛ/y and i, e taling (é)U+064A
ىye / alif maqsurahـىى/ə, a/e pepet (ĕ), aU+0649
  • Letters with no initial and middle forms adopt the isolated form, because they cannot be joined with other letter (ا, د, ذ, ر, ز, و, ۏ, ء)
  • The letter hamzah is only present in isolated form in the Malay language.


Modern Jawi spelling is based on the Daftar Kata Bahasa Melayu (DKBM): Rumi-Sebutan-Jawi dictionary. Older texts may use different spellings for some words.[18] Nonetheless, even different modern sources[19] may use different spelling conventions; they may differ especially in the usage of the mater lectionis (alif "ا", wau "و" and ya "ي") and the 3/4 hamzah "ء", as well as in the spelling of vowels and consonant clusters in loanwords from English. One source[20] tends to use the following conventions;[21] there are numerous exceptions to them nonetheless.

  • Loanwords may be spelled differently. Particularly, loanwords from Arabic often keep their original spellings.
The letters sa "ث", ha "ح", kha "خ", zal "ذ", sad "ص", dad "ض", ta "ط", za "ظ", ain "ع", ghain "غ", ta marbutah "ة" are mostly used to spell Arabic loanwords, e.g. Selasa "ثلاث", huruf "حروف", khabar "خبر", beza "بيذا", fasal "فصل", darurat "ضرورة", talak "طلاق", zohor "ظهر", saat "ساعة", ghaib "غيب", sunat " سنة"7, khasiat " خصية". The letter va "ۏ" is mostly used to spell English loanwords, e.g. universiti"اونيۏرسيتي". The letters zai "ز", syin "ش", fa "ف", ye "ى" are mostly used to spell loanwords from English or Arabic e.g. zoo "زو", zapin "زاڤين", syif "شيف", syukur "شکور", filem "فيلم", fakir "فقير", nasionalisme "ناسيوناليسمى", takwa "تقوى".
Rumi x used to spell loanwords from English may be spelled using different Jawi letters, depending on pronunciation, e.g. kaf-sin "کس" in x-ray "ايکس-راي", zai "ز" in xenon "زينون".
Native Malay root morphemes with Rumi k in the syllable coda are pronounced [ʔ] and are written with qaf "ق", e.g. tengok "تيڠوق", laksa, "لقسا", baiklah "باءيقله", kotakku "کوتقکو", kotakmu "کوتقمو". Loanwords from English with Rumi k are spelled with kaf "ک", e.g. klinik "کلينيک", teksi "تيکسي".
  • Though there are exceptions,[a] vowels and diphthongs tend to be spelled this way:
IPA First letter of a root morpheme Middle of a root morpheme, in an open syllable Middle of a root morpheme, in a closed syllable Last letter of a root morpheme
/a/, [ə] in open final syllables of root morphemes, or in the penult if followed by /h/ e.g. in usaha Spelling aا[b]aـا[b]aـا or omitted[b][c]aـا or omitted[b][c]
Example abuابوcariچاريsampan, wangسمڤن، واڠcuba, hanyaچوبا، هاڽ
/e/ mostly, /ɛ/ in some words, i.e. e-taling Spelling e (é)ايـ[b]e (é)ـيـ[b]e (é)ـيـ[b]e (é)ـي[b]
Example ekorايکورtengokتيڠوقrendangريندڠsateساتي
/ə/, i.e. e-pepet Spelling e (ĕ)ا[b]e (ĕ)(omitted)[b]e (ĕ)(omitted)[b]e (ĕ)ـى، [b]ـا[d]
Example empatامڤتbersihبرسيهsempitسمڤيتnasionalisme, memetabolismekanناسيوناليسمى، ممتابوليسماکن
/i/, [e] in closed final syllables of root morphemes Spelling iايـ[b]iـيـ[b]iـيـ[b]iـي
Example ibuايبوtigaتيݢhampirهمڤيرkiriکيري
/o/ mostly, /ɔ/ in some words Spelling oاو[b]oـو[b]oـو[b]oـو[b]
Example oborاوبورbolaبولاesokايسوقsotoسوتو
/u/, [o] in closed final syllables of root morphemes Spelling uاو[b]uـو[b]uـو[b]uـو[b]
Example ubiاوبيrugiروݢيtunتونbiruبيرو
/ai̯/ Spelling aiاءيـ[e]aiـايـaiـاءيـaiـاي
Example aiskrimاءيسکريمbaiduriبايدوريsaitساءيتramaiراماي
/au̯/ Spelling auاءو[e]auـاوauـاءوauـاو
Example aurاءورsaunaساوناtaunتاءونpulauڤولاو
/oi̯/ Spelling oiاوويـoiـويـoiـوءيـoiـوي
Example oidiumاوويديومboikotبويکوتeksploitايکسڤلوءيتsepoiسڤوي
  • ^a When spelling vowels, there are many exceptions to the conventions stated above and below. Common exceptions include ada "اد", di "د", dia "دي" dan "دان", ia "اي", jika "جک", juga "جوݢ", lima "ليم", ke "ک", kita "کيت", mereka "مريک", ini "اين", itu "ايت", pada "ڤد", suka "سوک" and tiga "تيݢ".
  • ^b Some words spelled distinctly in Rumi may be homographs in Jawi, e.g. sembilan and sambilan are both "سمبيلن", markah and merekah are both "مرکه", sesi and sisi are both "سيسي", biro and biru are both "بيرو", borong and burung are both "بوروڠ", golong and gulung are both "ݢولوڠ".
  • ^c Using or omitting alif "ا" when representing /a/ in closed syllables and in the last letter of a root morpheme:
When representing /a/, alif "ا" is mostly omitted in CVC-syllables.
However, it is usually not omitted in monosyllabic words that start with wau "و", e.g. wau "واو", wap "واڤ", wang "واڠ".
It is also usually not omitted in root morphemes which first syllable is open and contains /e/ and which second syllable is closed and begins with /wa/, e.g. words with a /Ce.waC/ structure like lewah "ليواه", mewah "ميواه", dewan "ديوان", tewas " تيواس", rewang " ريواڠ", gewang "ݢواڠ", sewat "سيوات", kelewang "کليواڠ", kedewas "کديواس", dewangga "ديواڠݢ".
Final alif "ا" is generally kept to represent /a/ [ə] at the end of a word.
However, in native Malay disyllabic root morphemes with the form /Ca.C*a/ [Ca.C*ə], where /C*/ is any of the following 12 consonants ba "ب", ta "ت", pa "ڤ", sin "س", ga "ݢ", nun "ن", nya "ڽ", ca "چ", kaf "ک", jim "ج", mim "م" (mnemonic: betapa segannya cik jam "بتاڤ سݢنڽ چيق جم"), final alif "ا" is not written, e.g. raba "راب", mata "مات", sapa "ساڤ", rasa "راس", raga "راݢ", mana "مان", hanya "هاڽ", baca "باچ", raya "راي", baka "باک", raja "راج", nama "نام", sama "سام".
Some native Malay trisyllabic root morphemes ending with /a/ [ə], with three open syllables and which include the abovementioned 12 consonants, may also omit the final alif "ا".
  • ^d As the final letter of a word, root morpheme-final /ə/ that is spelled with e in Rumi may be represented by ye "ى" in Jawi. In the middle of a word, root morpheme-final /ə/ that is spelled with e in Rumi may be represented by alif "ا" in Jawi instead, e.g. fatwa "فتوى" → memfatwakan "ممفتواکن", memetabolismekan "ممتابوليسماکن".
  • ^e The hamzah (sources differ as to whether and when it should be on the line "ء", or placed above the previous mater lectionis, such as in alif with hamzah above "أ", or even if it should be used at all in some words) may be used to spell some diphthongs at the start of words.
Furthermore, it may be used to represent a hiatus, or a glottal stop [ʔ], especially when (but not limited to) separating vowels at the boundary of a root morpheme and an affix, e.g. dato' "داتوء", baik "باءيق", mulai "مولاءي", bau "باءو", daun "داءون", laut "لاءوت", peperiksaan "ڤڤريقساءن", kemerdekaan "کمرديکاءن", diambil "دأمبيل", dielakkan "دأيلقکن", diertikan "دأرتيکن", diikuti "دأيکوتي", diolah "دأوله", diutamakan "دأوتاماکن", keadaan "کأداءن", keempat "کأمڤت", keindahan "کأيندهن", keupayaan "کأوڤاياءن", seakan-akan "سأکن-اکن", seekor "سأيکور", seorang "سأورڠ".
  • The letter fa ف was historically used to represent /p/ (Jawi: pa ڤ) and such usage may still be found in archaic Jawi spellings. This is because /f/ is a non-native consonant in Malay found only in loanwords and in the past was often approximated as a /p/.

Arabic numerals 0123456789
Eastern Arabic numerals ٠١٢٣٤٥٦٧٨٩
The symbols "٫", "٬", "٪", "؉" and "؊" may be used as the decimal mark, thousands separator, percent sign, per mille sign and per ten thousand sign respectively when writing with Eastern Arabic numerals, e.g. 3.14159265358 "٣٫١٤١٥٩٢٦٥٣٥٨", 1,000,000,000 "١٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠٬٠٠٠", 100% "٪١٠٠". See also: Modern Arabic mathematical notation.
Full reduplication of base word is represented with the numeral "٢", e.g. anak-anak / anak2 "انق٢", berhati-hati / berhati2 "برهاتي٢" / "برهاتي-هاتي".
Punctuation mark Malay name Rumi Jawi
Rumi Jawi
Comma Tanda koma تندا کوما , ،
Semicolon Tanda koma bertitik تندا کوما برتيتيق ; ؛
Question mark Tanda soal تندا سوٴال ? ؟


Akin to the Arabic script, Jawi is constructed from right-to-left. Below is an exemplification of the Jawi script extracted from the first and second verse of the notable Ghazal untuk Rabiah;غزال اونتوق ربيعة (English: A Ghazal for Rabiah).[22]

Jawi script Rumi script English translation

کيلاون اينتن برکليڤ٢ دلاڠيت تيڠڬي،
دان چهاي مناري٢ دلاڠيت بيرو،
تيدقله داڤت مننڠکن ڤراساءنکو،
يڠ ريندوکن کحاضرن کاسيه.

ڬمرسيق ايراما مردو بولوه ڤريندو،
دان ڽاڽين ڤاري٢ دري کايڠن،
تيدقله داڤت تنترمکن سانوباري،
يڠ مندمباکن کڤستين کاسيهمو.

Kilauan intan berkelip-kelip di langit tinggi,
Dan cahaya menari-nari di langit biru,
Tidaklah dapat menenangkan perasaanku,
Yang rindukan kehadiran kasih.

Gemersik irama merdu buluh perindu,
Dan nyanyian pari-pari dari kayangan,
Tidaklah dapat tenteramkan sanubari,
Yang mendambakan kepastian kasihmu.

The glimmering of gems waltzing across the aloft sky,
And auroras ablaze a ballet upon the azure sky,
None are able to soothe my heart,
That pines for the presence of the beloved.

The melodious rhythm of the yearning bamboos,
And the ballad of nymphs from the eden,
None are able to calm the soul,
That craves for your word of honour.


  1. Andrew Alexander Simpson (2007). Language and National Identity in Asia. Oxford University Press. pp. 356–60. ISBN 978-0-19-926748-4.
  2. "Jawi". Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu. 2017. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  3. "Masuk Jawi". Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu. 2017. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  4. "Jawi Pekan". Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu. 2017. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  5. Shahrizal bin Mahpol (2002). "Penguasaan tulisan jawi di kalangan pelajar Melayu : suatu kajian khusus di UiTM cawangan Kelantan (Competency in Jawi among Malay students: A specific study in UiTM, Kelantan campus)". Digital Repository, Universiti Malaya. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  6. Abdul Rashid Melebek; Amat Juhari Moain (2006). Sejarah Bahasa Melayu (History of Bahasa Melayu). Utusan Publications. p. 52. ISBN 967-61-1809-5.
  7. John U. Wolff, Indonesian Readings Edition: 3, SEAP Publications: 1988: ISBN 0-87727-517-3. 480 pages
  8. Robert Leon Cooper Language spread: studies in diffusion and social change, Center for Applied Linguistics, Indiana University Press,: 1982 p. 40 ISBN 0-253-32000-3
  9. Siti Hawa Haji Salleh (2010). Malay Literature of the 19th Century. Institut Terjemahan Negara Malaysia Berhad. p. 8. ISBN 978-983-068-517-5.
  10. Matlob (2007). Pandai Jawi. Cerdik Publications. pp. 237–238. ISBN 978-983-70-1054-3.
  11. Fauzia 2013, p. 81
  12. Abd. Jalil Borham 2002, p. 94
  13. "An overview of Jawi's origin in Brunei". Brunei Times. 16 July 2007. Archived from the original on 24 May 2013.
  14. The Legacy of the Malay Letter, Annabel Teh Gallop, The British Library and Arkib Negara Malaysia, ISBN 978-0-7123-0376-7
  16. Bagian Kesenian Bara Ai Kesusasteraan Indonesia Catatan-Catatan Tentang Amir Hamza:Bagian Kesenian Kementerian Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan, Yogyakarta: 1955
  17. Daftar Kata Bahasa Melayu Rumi-Sebutan-Jawi, Dewan Bahasa Pustaka, 5th printing, 2006.
  18. Che Wan Shamsul Bahri bin Che Wan Ahmad, Khairuddin bin Omar, Mohammad Faidzul bin Nasrudin, Mohd Zamri bin Murah, Khirulnizam Abd Rahman. "Comparative Study Between Old and Modern Jawi Spelling: Case Study on Kitab Hidayah al-Salikin". Academia.edu. K. Abd Rahman. Retrieved 17 January 2016.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  19. such as "Portal Rasmi Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia". Nota Klinik Jawi Peringkat Lanjutan 2014. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  20. "Jawi @ Arabic Converter". Ejawi.net. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  21. "Klinik Jawi di Radio IKIM.fm - Tutorial". Ejawi.net. Archived from km?e=tutorial&a=kandungan&kategori&lihatID=48&show=1 the original Check |url= value (help) on 9 June 2016. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  22. Lirik - Ghazal untuk rabiah

Further reading

  • Hudson, Herbert Henry The Malay orthography (1892) Singapore, Kelly & Walsh.
  • H.S. Paterson (& C.O. Blagden), 'An early Malay Inscription from 14th-century Terengganu', Journ. Mal. Br.R.A.S., II, 1924, pp. 258–263.
  • R.O. Winstedt, A History of Malaya, revised ed. 1962, p. 40.
  • J.G. de Casparis, Indonesian Paleography, 1975, p. 70-71.
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