Islamization of South East Asia, Its Course, Problems and Effects

Islamization of South East Asia, Its Course, Problems and Effects

Southeast Asia today is a major part of Islam in today’s world. However it has not been very old since Islam entered the South Eastern Asia. This Islamic entrance to the South Eastern Asian countries happened majorly through trade because of a lot of conditions such as geographical factors and cultural factors. During the course of conversion, there were many conflicts and problems that Islam faced however they later were successful at influencing South East Asia even until today.

Islamic ideas and religion spread throughout South East Asia majorly through trade. First, looking at Map 10, Southeast Asia; Conversion to Islam, the fact that among the South East Asian regions, Islamic conversion spread from north western islands to the eastern island can be observed. This shows how the wind of Islamic ideas blew from the north western regions of India and the Arabian Peninsula inwards to South East Asia. This map also shows how the conversion happened throughout majorly in the coastal regions of the islands. This shows how most of Islamic interactions happen among the coastal regions compared to inland regions of islands. To add on, map 10 also shows how Islam didn’t spread all the way past the western coast of Irian Java of Indonesia before 1800. This shows how interaction of Islam and South East Asia happen very gradually over a time period of 300 years. However, this map also has lots of limitations too. For example, this map has a time frame of 300 years. This results to vague picture of spreading of Islam. Thus specific routes on how Islam spread and developed in South East Asia would be restricted. To reduce this limitation, additional document of map illustrating specific routes of Islamic spread might be used. Along with map 10, map 17, Trade Links of Melaka, ca. 1500 shows how Melaka, a city in the Malaysian Peninsula has actively traded with both Islamic countries and other parts of South Eastern Asia. Connecting this map to map 10, map 10 shows how Melaka and its near regions were comparatively converted earlier than other parts of South East Asia. To add on, Melaka traded more actively with Gujarat and traders via Gujarat coming from Islamic Empires in the Middle East and East Africa. These are direct evidences of how Islam spread in the South East Asia through trade as it is shown that; Melaka an active city of trade became one of the first and the most important city in the South East Asia at spreading Islamic religion. However, map 17 does not specify about how much of those items were traded among thus not being able to illustrate the exact picture of how deeply Melaka and other countries interacted. To reduce these limitations, additional document of statistical report of traded commodities and its amount might be used. Contradicting the previous statement, looking at the reading The Conversion of Melaka, it is clearly shown that Islamic missionaries and preachers traveling around to spread Islam did exist. However, even these missionaries were able to exist because of the trade routes that traders have made earlier and the fact that Islamic traders interacted with the locals before the missionaries have made them possible to preach and teach the Islamic believes. So, of course there were lots of missionaries traveling only for religious purposes. However these missionaries too were a result of interaction that earlier Islamic traders have made.

For Islam to spread in South East Asia, there were lots of unique characteristics that it had for Islam to spread this way such as geographical factors and cultural unity. First, as it is shown in Map 14, Land & Sea Elevation of Indo-Malay Region, there are significantly large areas of shallow seas. To add on, shallow seas make sailing to be easy because it makes the sailors more efficient and easy to navigate through them and the fact that the sea is shallow says that there are less storms or waves. This shows how shallow seas that were easy to sail made trade and interactions between these islands more easy thus effecting the spread of Islam through it. To expand and in connection to map 10, the close islands of Borneo and Java were not converted until the 16th century. However, further islands of Mindanao and Irian Java converted much faster than the previous islands in terms of time that Islam took to spread. To add on, the Australian regions further away in the Arafura Sea didn’t convert even after the 19th century. The most reasonable explanation for this irregular conversion might be that the Java Sea between Malaysia and Sumatra, and Borneo and Java is deeper than its surrounding seas thus slowing down sea interactions. However Flores Sea and Banda Sea further away in the east is shallower compared to Java Sea thus speeding up the spread. Not only sea elevation affect conversion but land elevation also affected the conversion too. In map 14, it is shown that inner land of Borneo island and Sulawesi is covered in high lands. Connecting this to map 10, lands that are highly elevated are not converted as easily as the lands of low elevation. This shows how high lands decreased the interaction between the Islamic traders and the locals. Cultural unity also affected the spread of Islam. Map 12, Linguistic Families and Preponderant Groups of Southeast Asia, shows a wide range of South East Asia to have Austronesian language root. The fact that a group belongs to the same linguistic family also says that they share a similar culture and habit. Thus, the major part of South East Asia shares a comparatively strong unity through cultural similarity. Connecting this to map 10, major part of Islamic converts in South East Asia belongs to the Austronesian linguistic family thus sharing a strong bond. This allows Islamic traders and missionaries to easily convert other areas of South East Asia after the primary conversion of Melaka and its neighboring regions. To add on, the northern part of South East Asia such as Thailand and Tibeto Burman regions spoke languages of very different root thus sharing different cultures and believes. The fact that they didn’t share the culture made the Islamic traders difficult to convert them compared to the rest of South East Asia.

Even though Islamization in South East Asia seemed to be easy, they faced lots of conflicts and troubles along their conversion. Mentioned in the first reading, Introduction to Southeast Asia: History, Geography, and Livelihood, there was “…a “race” to gain followers…” To add on, the fact that “The Spanish pushed back Muslim from the northern Philippines” shows that there were a lot of religious conflicts in South East Asia. Furthermore, if there is a religious conflict between two religions not tolerant of each other, the conflict may expand to military and political conflicts as well. Thus, Christianity, a rapidly growing religion, has somewhat interrupted Islam from spreading in South East Asia. In addition, the first reading on introduction to Southeast Asia is an article to give general information on the spread of Islam. However, since the focus of this document too is on Islamization, the document would reduce information on conflict that they had with other religions. This show how religious conflict between Christianity and Islam would have been more serious than said in the reading. To add on, as shown in the last reading, The Conversion of Melaka, the officials tried to persuade the king of Melaka that the new religion is “devil plaguing [him]”. This shows how people at that time were not very tolerant about other religion. Furthermore, this document extracted from Ten Conversion Myths from Indonesia is a myth from an Islamic country about the conversion of Islam. This source has to be biased towards the Islamic spread. Thus, the opposition against Islam would have been reduced compared to reality. This shows how resistances of conservatives in South Eastern Asian countries have been strong against Islam, causing conflicts with between them. To add on, as shown in Map 3, there were diverse routes on how Islam got spread through South East Asia. Before South East Asia was converted, most of the important ports in South Asia, Arabian Peninsula and Eastern Africa were converted into Islam. In addition, as Islam spread through other parts of the world, Islamic ideas started to vary from Arabian Islam, Indian Islam and Chinese Islam.  These varieties of Islamic believes then joint in South East Asia through trade. Thus, in South East Asia, they must have faced religious diversity among themselves. This would lessen the unity among Islamic societies in South East Asia thus creating conflicts among themselves.

Even though there were lots of problems in Islamization of South East Asia, it left a long reputation and is now a big part of religious history. As shown in map 15, Political Map of Indo-Malay Region, most of important cities in South East Asia even till today lies on the coastal areas. To add on, cities mentioned on the map such as Melaka and Jakarta was and still is the center of Islam in South East Asia. Further connecting this to map 10, most of the areas of primary conversion and even later conversion still carries out to be major part of South East Asia. This shows how Islam was an important factor shaping the region and how that importance is still carried out to be the center of Islam even till today. To support this argument of Islamic reputation, additional documents of artwork that carries both Islamic and South Eastern Asian characteristics may be used.

To conclude, Islam spread throughout South East Asia by majorly trade. For this to be possible, a lot of natural and artificial conditions were required such as geographical factors and linguistic factors. However, during its spread, there were conflicts both internally and externally between different religions, between countries and regions and within Islam itself. Even though it had lots of problems, Islam still remains to be a major part of South East Asian culture and will still carry out to play a major role at shaping South East Asia.


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