Islam in Southeast Asia

Islam in Southeast Asia

Islam is the most widely practiced religion in Southeast Asia, numbering approximately 240 million adherents which translate to about 40% of the entire population, with majorities in Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. Significant minorities are located in the other Southeast Asian states. Most Muslims in Southeast Asia belong to the Sunni sect and within it, the Shafi`i school of fiqh, or religious law. It is the official religion in Malaysia and Brunei while it is one of the six official faiths in Indonesia.


According to Islamic Council of Victoria [ ICV] , historians argue "that by the beginning of the ninth century Arab merchants and sailors, (and other Muslims) had begun to dominate Nanhai (Guangzhou) or Southeast Asian Trade." It appears a colony of foreign Muslims on the west coast of Sumatra by 674 CE, other Muslim settlements began to appear after 878 CE when Islam increasingly took firm root amongst the people. The religion did not spread to significant parts of the population until the 12th century.

Islamization of Southeast Asia

In the 11th century, a turbulent period occurred in the history of Malay Archipelago, the Chola navy crossed the ocean and attacked the Srivijaya kingdom of Sangrama Vijayatungavarman in Kadaram (Kedah), the capital of the powerful maritime kingdom was sacked and the king was taken captive. Along with Kadaram, Pannai in present day Sumatra and Malaiyur (Melayu Kingdom|Melayu) and the Malayan peninsula were attacked too. Soon after that, the king of Kedah Phra Ong Mahawangsa became the first ruler to abandon the traditional Hindu faith, and converted to Islam with the Sultanate of Kedah established in year 1136. Samudera Pasai converted to Islam in the year 1267, the King of Malacca Parameswara married with princess of Pasai, the son became the first sultan of Malacca, soon Malacca became the center of Islam study and maritime trade, other rulers followed suit. Indonesian religious leader and Islamic scholar Hamka (1908–1981) wrote in 1961: "The development of Islam in Indonesia and Malaya is intimately related to a Chinese Muslim, Admiral Zheng He." [ [ Chinese Muslims in Malaysia, History and Development] by Rosey Wang Ma]

There are several theories to the Islamization process in Southeast Asia. The first theory is trade. The expansion of trade among West Asia, India and Southeast Asia helped the spread of the religion as Muslim traders brought Islam to the region. The second theory is the role of missionaries or Sufis. The Sufi missionaries played a significant role in spreading the faith by syncretising Islamic ideas with existing local beliefs and religious notions. Finally, the ruling classes embraced Islam and that further aided the permeation of the religion throughout the region. The ruler of the region's most important port, Malacca Sultanate, embraced Islam in the 15th century, heralding a period of accelerated conversion of Islam throughout the region as the religion provided a unifying force among the ruling and trading classes.

Comtemporary Islam in Southeast Asia

Islam in Southeast Asia is multi-faceted and multi layered.Different interpretations of the faith resulted in a varieties of groups. In Indonesia, there is the Nahdlatul Ulama which preaches closely to the Shafi`I school of legal accretion and the Muhammadiyah whose outlook is more modernist blending with Islamic thoughts. Along with this two major groups, other Islamic groups also played a big role in Indonesian society, politics and economy, with their followers forming Islamic civil groups and political parties.

Since the late 1970s, an Islamic resurgence took place in the region. Dakwah movements mushroomed throughout Southeast Asia. These movements in general, aim to create a strong Islamic identity among the Muslims. As a result, Islam began to assume a larger role in public life, underlined by the increased donning of headscarves among Muslim women. Economic growth resulted in modest affluence which translated in more religious investments like the Haj and Islamic literature. The Malaysian government too promotes Islam through its Islamization policies covering society, economics and education and most recently, Islam Hadhari.

Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country today.


* Heidhues, Mary, Somers. Southeast Asia: A Concise History. (London: Thames and Hudson. 2000)
* Mohd Taib Osman. "Islamisation of the Malays: A Transformation of Culture." In Bunga Rampai: Some Aspects of Malay Culture. KL: DBP, 1988 pp. 261-272.

External links

* "The Spread Of Islam To Southeast Asia" by []
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