Networks of travel and trade have often been viewed as pivotal to understanding interactions among Muslims in various regions of South and Southeast Asia. What if we thought of language and literature as an additional type of network, one that crisscrossed these regions over centuries and provided a powerful site of contact and exchange facilitated by, and drawing on, citation?
Among Muslim communities in South and Southeast Asia practices of reading, learning, translating, adapting, and transmitting helped shape a cosmopolitan sphere that was both closely connected with the broader, universal Muslim community and rooted in local and regional identities.
The examples in the following pages are drawn from a range of texts written in Javanese, Malay, and Tamil between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries, and preserved in manuscript and print forms. I look at a series of what I envision as ‘citation moments’ or ‘citation sites’ in an attempt to explore one of the many modes of inter-Asian connections. I wish to highlight how citations—simple or brief, as they may often seem—are sites of shared memories, history, narrative traditions, and in the case of Islamic literature, are also sites of a common bond with a cosmopolitan and sanctified Arabic.
Studying translated circulating texts, written in local languages infused with Arabic words, idioms, syntax, and literary forms, points to contact and interactions not only among particular people but also between and among languages such as the cosmopolitan Arabic and vernaculars like Javanese or Tamil.