Sep 2016 - IAMM Dala’il al-Khayrat: Prayer manuscripts from the 16th to 19th centuries. Curator guided tour


It was such a great pleasure for me to join the MCG members on a curator-led tour at the Islamic Art Museum Malaysia, exploring the finest collection of one of the most important prayer manuscripts (from the 16th to 19th centuries) in the Islamic world – the Dala’il al-Khayrat. 


At the beginning of our tour, Mr. Assim Zuhair, the curator, gave us the history of the Dala’il al-Khayrat and its author.  We learned that Dala’il al-Khayrat is a compilation of salawat; the blessings and praises upon the Prophet Muhammad composed by a prominent Sufi master, Imam Al-Jazul (d.1465AD/870AH), whose ancestry was traced to Imam Hassan ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

 It was said that he was touched by his encounter with a young girl who spat into the well and the water rose to provide the water he needed for making ablutions required before prayers.  She was able to do it simply by invoking excessive blessings upon Prophet Muhammad. Witnessing the benefit of prayers, Imam Al-Jazul decided to write the Dala’il al-Khayrat which became the most popular and universally-acclaimed collection of payers upon the Prophet. On display were the oldest copy of the manuscript from Morocco (16th century AD/10th century AH) in the IAMM collection, and one of the highlights of the exhibit - a rare monumental one-page Dala’il al-Khayrat, signed by Alhafiz Mahbub Muhammad.


The compilation of salawat in Dala’il al-Khayrat is divided into the days of the week, but with a special addition of one extra day. The tradition of reciting the salawat of Dala’il al-Khayrat in public and private gatherings continues until today.  During the tour, we were introduced to manuscripts from its native land of Morocco to as far as East Turkistan and China which demonstrated the significance of Dala’il al-Khayrat and its impact on the lives of all Muslims.

We also learned that there are two special features which make the Dala’il al-Khayrat even more remarkable.  One is the set of illustrations of the Prophet Muhammand’s grave in Medina, the blessed garden (al-Rawda al-Mubaraka), and his pulpit (minbar). From the mid-18th century AD onward, this set of Dala’il al-Khayrat was sometimes substituted by the mosques of Mecca and Medina.  The other special feature is the list of 201 names of Prophet Muhammad in the Dala’il al-Khayrat.

Dala’il al-Khayrat has inspired calligraphers, illuminators and painters of court ateliers in producing beautifully illustrated manuscripts which was evident in the calligraphic scroll from China (c.1950AD/1369 AH).  The inscription contains Syama’il (The Appearance of Prophet Muhammad) and Salawat upon him. And another scroll from China (c.1990AD/1410 AH).  The inspcription reads ‘Ya Shafie’ al-Muslimin’ (O The Intercessor for all Muslims).


We proceeded to a special section of the exhibit focusing on the magnificent manuscripts of the Dala’il al-Khayrat from North Africa, Central Asia, Turkey, Indian Subcontinent, China and Southeast Asia, showing the unique characteristics from each region.  For example, the North African copies usually highlight the name of Imam Al-Jazuli, with no specific days of the salawat mentioned, but in China and Southeast Asia, the name of the author is not always mentioned and the salawat begins from Monday to Monday.


At the end of the exhibit, we learned that the recitation of Dala’il al-Khayrat was welcomed by Muslim societies in the East and the West.  Today, these salawat upon the Prophet Muhammad are still performed individually and in public gatherings in mosques. 


We are all grateful to the knowledgeable curator for the wonderful tour and to the Malaysian Culture Group for organizing this opportunity for an up-close look at the rich history and the beautiful manuscripts of the Dala’il al-Khayrat. 


Text and pictures by Gloria Chang