THE SPREAD OF ISLAM AMONG THE PEOPLE OF the Malay
The Malay Archipelago, Part One
A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith
T.W. Arnold Ma. C.I.F
Professor Of Arabic, University Of London, University College. Written in 1896, revised in 1913
Rearranged by Dr. A.S. Hashim
history of the Malay Archipelago during the last 600 years furnishes us with one of the
most interesting chapters in the story of the spread of Islam by missionary efforts.
During the whole of this period we find evidences of a continuous activity on the part of
the Muslim missionaries, in one or other at least of the East India islands.
In every instance, in the beginning, their work had to be carried on without any
patronage or assistance from the rulers of the country,
but solely by the force of persuasion, and in many cases in the face of severe
opposition, especially on the part of the Spaniards.
But in spite of all difficulties, and with varying success, they have prosecuted their
efforts with untiring energy, perfecting their work (more especially in the present day) wherever it has been partial or insufficient.
impossible to fix the precise date of the first introduction of Islam into the Malay Archipelago. It may have been carried thither by the Arab traders in the early centuries of
the Hijrah, long before we have any historical notices of such influences being at work.
This supposition is rendered the more probable by the knowledge we have of the extensive
commerce with the East carried on by the Arabs from very early times.
In the second century b.c. the trade with Ceylon was wholly in
At the beginning of the seventh century of the Christian era, the trade with China, through Ceylon, received a great impulse, so that in the middle of the eighth
century Arab traders were to be found in great numbers in Canton;
while from the tenth to the fifteenth century, until the arrival of the Portuguese, they were undisputed
masters of the trade with the East.
We may therefore conjecture with tolerable certainty that they must have established their commercial settlements on some of the islands of the Malay Archipelago, as they did
elsewhere, at a very early period: though no mention is made of these islands in the works of the Arab geographers earlier than the ninth century,
yet in the Chinese annals, under the date a.d. 674, an account is given of an Arab chief, who from later notices is conjectured to
have been the head of an Arab settlement on the west coast of Sumatra.
must also, however, have come to the Malay Archipelago from the south of India, judging from certain peculiarities of Muslim theology adopted by the islanders. Most of the
Muslims of the Archipelago belong to the Shafiiyyah sect, which is at the present day predominant on the Coromandel and Malabar coasts, as was the case also about the middle
of the fourteenth century when Ibn Baṭuṭah visited these parts.
So when we consider that the Muslims of the
neighboring countries belong-to the Ḥanafiyyah sect, we can only explain the prevalence of Shafiiyyah teachings by assuming them to
have been brought thither from the Malabar coast, the ports of which were frequented by merchants from Java, as well as from China, Yaman and Persia.
From India, too, or from
Persia, must have come the Shi'ism, of which
traces are still found in Java and Sumatra. From Ibn Baṭuṭah we learn that the Muslim Sultan of Samudra had entered into friendly relations with the court of Delhi , and among
the learned doctors of the law whom this devout prince especially favored, there were two of Persian origin, the one coming from Shiraz and the other from Ispahan.
But long before this time merchants from the Deccan, through whose hands passed the trade between the
Muslim states of India and the Malay Archipelago, had established
themselves in large numbers in the trading ports of these islands,
where they sowed the seed of the new religion.
It is to the
proselytizing efforts of these Arab and Indian merchants that the native Muslim population, which we find already in the earliest historical notices of Islam in these parts,
owes its existence. Settling in the centers of commerce, they intermarried with the people of the land, and these heathen wives and the slaves of their households thus formed
the nucleus of a Muslim community which its members made every effort in their power to increase. The following description of the methods adopted by these merchant missionaries
in the Philippine Islands, gives a picture of what was no doubt the practice of many preceding generations of Muslim traders:—
"The better to introduce their religion into the
the Muslims adopted the language and many of the customs of the natives,
married their women,
purchased slaves in order to increase their personal importance, and
succeeded finally in incorporating themselves among the chiefs who held the foremost rank in the state.
Since they worked together with greater ability and harmony than the
natives, they gradually increased their power more and more, as having numbers of slaves in their possession, they formed a kind of confederacy among themselves and established
a sort of monarchy, which they made hereditary in one family.
Though such a confederacy gave them great power, yet they felt the necessity of keeping on friendly terms with the
old aristocracy, and of ensuring their freedom to those classes whose support they could not afford to dispense with."
It must have been in some such way as this that the different Muslim settlements in the Malay Archipelago laid a firm political and social basis for their
They did not come as conquerors, like the Spanish in the sixteenth century,
or use the sword as an instrument of conversion;
nor did they arrogate to themselves the
privileges of a superior and dominant race so as to degrade and oppress the original inhabitants,
but coming simply in the guise of traders they employed all their superior intelligence and civilization in the service of their religion, rather than as a means towards their
personal aggrandizement and the amassing of wealth.
With this general statement of the subsidiary means adopted by them, let us follow in detail their
proselytizing efforts through the various islands in turn.
introduced into Sumatra
represents Islam as having been introduced into Sumatra from Arabia. But there is no sound historical basis for such a belief, and all the evidence seems to point to India as
the source from which the people of Sumatra derived their knowledge of the new faith.
Active commercial relations had existed for centuries between India and the Malay
Archipelago, and the first missionaries to Sumatra were probably Indian traders.
There is, however, no historical record of their
labors, and the Malay chronicles ascribe the honor of being the first missionary to Atjeh, in the north-west of Sumatra, to an
Arab named Abd Ᾱllah Arif, who is said to have visited the island about the middle of the twelfth century; one of his disciples, Burhan al-Din, is said to have carried the
knowledge of the faith down the west coast as far as Priaman.
Untrustworthy as this record is, it may yet possibly indicate the existence of some
proselytizing activity about this period; for the Malay chronicle of Atjeh gives 1205 as the
date of the accession of Juhan Shah, the traditionary founder of the Muslim dynasty.
He is said to have been a stranger from the West,
and to have come to these shores to preach the faith of the Prophet; he made many proselytes, married a wife from among the people of the country, and was hailed by them as
their king, under the half-Sanskrit, half-Arabic title of Sri Paduka Sulṭan. For some time the new faith would in all probability have been confined to the ports at which Muslim
merchants touched, and its progress inland would be slower, as here it would come up against the strong Hindu influences that had their center in the kingdom of Menangkabau.
Marco Polo, who
spent five months on the north coast of Sumatra in 1292, speaks of all the inhabitants being idolaters, except in the petty kingdom of Parlak on the northeast corner of the
island, where, too, only the townspeople were Muslims, for "this kingdom, you must know, is so much frequented by the Saracen merchants that they have converted the natives to
the Law of Muhammad ,"but the hill-people were all idolaters and cannibals.
Further, one of the Malay chronicles says that it was Sultan Ali Mughayat Shah, who reigned over Atjeh from 1507 to 1522, who first set the example of embracing Islam, in
which he was followed by his subjects.
But it is not improbable that the
honor of being the first Muslim ruler of the state has been here attributed as an added glory to the monarch who founded the greatness of
Atjeh and began to extend its sway over the neighboring country. He rather effected a revival of, or imparted a fresh impulse to, the religious life of his subjects
than gave to them their first knowledge of the faith of the Prophet. For Islam had certainly set firm foot in Sumatra long before his time.
According to the traditionary account
of the city of Samudra, the Sharif of Mecca sent a mission to convert the people of Sumatra. The leader of the party was a certain Shaykh Ismail: the first place on the
island at which they touched, after leaving Malabar, was Pasuri (probably situated a little way down the west coast), the people of which were persuaded by their preaching to
They then proceeded northward to Lambri and then coasted round to the other side of the island and sailed as far down the east coast as Aru, nearly opposite
Malacca, and in both of these places their efforts were crowned with a like success.
they made inquiries for Samudra, a city on the north coast of the island, which seems to have been the special object of their mission, and found that they had passed it.
Accordingly they retraced their course to Parlak, where Marco Polo had found a Muslim community a few years before, and having gained fresh
converts here also, they went on to Samudra. This city and the kingdom of the same name had
lately been founded by a certain Mara Silu, who was persuaded by Shaykh Ismail to embrace Islam, and took the name of al-Malik al-Ṣaliḥ. He married the daughter of the
king of Parlak, by whom he had two sons, and in order to have a principality to leave to each, he founded the Muslim city and kingdom of Pasei, also on the north coast.
al-Malik al-Ẕahir, whom Ibn Batutah found reigning in Samudra when he visited the island in 1345, was probably the elder of these two sons.
This prince displayed all the state
of Muslim royalty, and his dominions extended for many days journey along the coast; he was a zealous and orthodox Muslim, fond of holding discussions with juris-consults and
theologians, and his court was frequented by poets and men of learning. Ibn Baṭuṭah gives us the names of two juris-consults who had come thither from Persia and also of a noble
who had gone on an embassy to Delhi on behalf of the king—which shows that Sumatra was already in touch with several parts of the Muslim world. Al-Malik al- Ẕahir was also a
great general, and made war on the heathen of the surrounding country until they submitted to his rule and paid tribute.
undoubtedly by this time made great progress in Sumatra, and after having established itself along the coast, began to make its way inland. The mission of Shaykh Ismail
and his party had borne fruit abundantly, for a Chinese traveler who visited the island in 1413, speaks of Lambri as having a population of 1000 families, all of whom were
Muslims "and very good people," while the king and people of the kingdom of Aru were all of the same faith.
the great kingdom of Menangkabau
It was either about the close of the same century or in the fifteenth century, that the religion of the Prophet found adherents in the great kingdom of Menangkabau, whose
territory at one time extended from one shore to another, and over a great part of the island, north and south of the equator.
Though its power had by this time much
declined, still as an ancient stronghold of Hinduism it presented great obstacles in the way of the progress of the new religion. Despite this fact, Islam eventually took
firmer root among the subjects of this kingdom than among the majority of the inhabitants of the interior of the island.
It is very remarkable that this, the most central people of the island, should have been more thoroughly converted than the inhabitants of so many other districts that
were more accessible to foreign influences.
To the present day the inhabitants of the Batak country are still, for the most part, heathen; but Islam has gained a footing among
them, e. g. some living on the borders of Atjeh have been converted, by their Muslim neighbors,
others dwelling in the mountains of the Rau country on the equator have likewise become Muslims ;
on the east coast also conversions of Bataks, who come much in contact with Malays, are not uncommon.
When, the Dutch Government suppressed the Padri rising and annexed the southern part of the Batak country, Islam began to spread
by peaceful means, chiefly through
the zealous efforts of the native subordinate officials of the new régime, who were all Muslim Malays,
but also through
the influence of the traders who wandered through the country, whose
proselytizing activity was followed up by the ḥajis and other recognized teachers of the
It is a remarkable fact that the Bataks, who for centuries had offered a pertinacious resistance to the entrance of Islam into their midst, though they were hemmed in
between two fanatical Muslim populations, the Chinese on the north and the Malays on the south, have in recent years responded with enthusiasm to the peaceful efforts made for their conversion.
An explanation would appear to be found in the breaking down of
their exclusive national characteristics through the Dutch occupation and the conquest opening up their country to foreign influences, which implied the commencement of a new
era in their cultural development, as well as in the skillful procedure of the exponents of the new faith, who knew how to accommodate their teachings to the existing beliefs of
the Bataks and their deep-rooted superstitions.
A considerable impulse seems to have been given to Muslim propaganda by the establishment of Christian missions among the Bataks in 1897, and they appear even to have paved the
way for its success. Two Batak villages, the entire population of which had been baptized, are said to have gone over in a body to Islam shortly afterwards.
Sumatra there is still a large heathen population, though the majority of the inhabitants are Muslims; but these latter are very ignorant of their religion, with the exception
of a few ḥajis and religious teachers: even among the people of Korintji, who are for the most part zealous adherents of the faith, there are certain sections of the population
who still worship the gods of their pagan ancestors.
Efforts are, however, being made towards a religious revival, and the Muslim missionaries are making fresh conquests from among the heathen, especially along the west coast.
In the district of Sipirok a religious teacher attached to the mosque in the town of the same name, in a quarter of a century, converted the whole population of this district to
Islam, with the exception of the Christians who were to be found there, mostly descendants of former slaves,
and a later missionary movement in the first decade of the twentieth century succeeded in winning over to Islam many of the Christians of this district, even
some living in the center of the sphere of influence of the Christian mission.
traditionally represented to have been introduced into Palembang about 1440 by Raden Raḥmat, of whose propagandist activity an account will be given below (p. 381). But Hindu
influences appear to have been firmly rooted here, and the progress of the new faith was slow.
Even up to the nineteenth century the Muslims of Palembang were said to know
little of their religion except the external observances of it, with the exception of the inhabitants of the capital who come into daily contact with Arabs;
but in the first decade of the twentieth century there would appear to have been a revival of the religious life and a growing propaganda, as the Colonial Reports of the Dutch
Government draw attention to the continual spread of Islam among the heathen population of various districts of Palembang.
It was from
Java that Islam was first brought into the Lampong districts which form the southern extremity of Sumatra, by a chieftain of these districts, named Minak Kamala Bumi.
end of the fifteenth century he crossed over the Strait of Sunda to the kingdom of Bantam on the west coast of Java, which had accepted the teachings of the Muslim missionaries
a few years before the date of his visit; here he, too, embraced Islam, and after making the pilgrimage to Mecca, spread the knowledge of his newly adopted faith among his
This religion has made considerable progress among the Lampongs, and most of the villages have mosques in them, but the old superstitions still linger on in parts of the
In the early
part of the nineteenth century a religious revival was set on foot in Sumatra, which was not without its influence in promoting the further propagation of Islam.
In 1803 three
Sumatran ḥajis returned from Mecca to their native country: during their stay in the holy city they had
been profoundly influenced by the Wahhabi movement for the reformation of Islam, and were now eager to introduce the same reforms among their
fellow-countrymen and to stir up in them a more zealous religious life. Accordingly they began to preach the strict doctrine of the Wahhabi sect, forbade prayers to
saints, drinking and gambling and all other practices contrary to the law of the Quran.
They made a number of proselytes both from among their co-religionists and the heathen
population. They later declared a Jihad against the Bataks, and in the hands of unscrupulous and ambitious men the movement lost its original character and degenerated into a
savage and bloody war of conquest. In 1821 these so-called Padris came into conflict with the Dutch Government and it was not until 1838 that their last stronghold was taken and
their power broken.
civilized Malays of the Malay Peninsula trace their origin to migrations from Sumatra, especially from Menangkabau, the famous kingdom mentioned above, which is said at one time
to have been the most powerful on the island;
of the chiefs of the interior states of the southern part of the Malay Peninsula still receive their investiture from this place.
what period these colonies from the heart of Sumatra settled in the interior of the Peninsula, is matter of conjecture, but Singapore and the southern extremity of the Peninsula
seem to have received a colony in the middle of the twelfth century, by the descendants of which Malacca was founded about a century later.
From its advantageous situation, in the highway of eastern commerce it soon became a large and flourishing city, and there is little doubt but that Islam was introduced by
the Muslim merchants who settled here.
Islam and the
The Malay chronicle of Malacca assigns the conversion of this kingdom to the reign of a certain Sulṭan Muhammad Shah who came to the throne in 1276. He is said to have been
reigning some years before a ship commanded by Sidi Abd al-Aziz came to Malacca from Jiddah, and the king was persuaded by the new-comers
to change his faith and to give up his Malay name for one containing the name of the Prophet.
But the general character of this document makes its trustworthiness doubtful,
in spite of the likelihood that the date of so important an event would have been exactly noted (as was done in many parts of the Archipelago) by a people who, proud of the
event, would look upon it as opening a new epoch in their history.
A Portuguese historian gives a much later date, namely 1384, in which year, he says, a
Qadhi came from Arabia
and having converted the king, gave him the name of Muhammad after the Prophet, adding Shah to it.
Islam and Queda Kingdom
In the annals
of Queda, one of the northernmost of the states of the Malay Peninsula, we have a curious account of the introduction of Islam into this kingdom, about
which (divested of certain miraculous incidents) is as follows:
Arab, by name Shaykh Abd Allah, having come to Queda, visited the Raja and inquired what was
the religion of the country.
"My religion,"replied the Raja,
"and that of all my subjects is that which has been handed down to us by the people of old. We all worship
"Then has your highness never heard of Islam, and of the Quran which descended from God to Muhammad, and has superseded all other religions, leaving them in the
possession of the devil ? "
"I pray you then, if this be true, said the Raja,
"to instruct and enlighten us in this new faith." In a transport of holy fervor at this request, Shaykh Abd Allah embraced the Raja and then instructed him in the creed. Persuaded by his teaching, the Raja sent for all his jars of spirits (to which he was much
addicted), and with his own hands emptied them on the ground.
After this he had all the idols of the palace brought out; the idols of gold, and silver, and clay, and
wood were all heaped up in his presence, and were all broken and cut to pieces by Shaykh Abd Allah with his sword and with an axe, and the fragments consumed in the fire.
Shaykh asked the Raja to assemble all his women of the fort and palace. When they had all come into the presence of the Raja and the Shaykh, they were initiated into the
doctrines of Islam.
Shaykh as mild and courteous in his demeanor, persuasive and soft in his language, so that he gained the hearts of the inmates of the palace.
Raja soon after sent for his four aged ministers, who, on entering the hall, were surprised at seeing a Shaykh seated near
the Raja. The Raja explained to them the object of the Shaykh's coming; whereupon the four chiefs expressed their readiness to follow the example of his highness, saying,
hope that Shaykh Abd Allah will instruct us also."
latter hearing these words, embraced the four ministers and said that he hoped that, to prove their sincerity, they would send for all the people to come to the audience hall,
bringing with them all the idols that they were wont to worship and the idols that had been handed down by the men of former days.
request was complied with and all the idols kept by the people were at that very time brought down and there destroyed and burnt to dust; no one was sorry at this demolition of
their false gods, all were glad to enter the pale of Islam.
Shaykh Abd Allah after this said to the four ministers, "What is the name of your prince? "They replied, "His name is Pra Ong Mahawangsa." "Let us change it for one in the language of Islam,"
said the Shaykh.
After some consultation, the name of the Raja
was changed at his request to Sultan Muzlaf al-Shah, because, the Shaykh averred, it is a celebrated name and is found in the Quran.
The Raja now
built mosques wherever the population was considerable, and directed that to each there should be attached forty-four of the inhabitants at least as a settled congregation, for
a smaller number would have been few for the duties of religion.
So mosques were erected and great drums were attached to them to be beaten to call the people to prayer on Fridays. Shaykh Abd Allah
continued for some time to instruct the people in the religion of Islam; they flocked to him from all the coasts and districts of Queda and its vicinity, and were initiated by
him into its forms and ceremonies.
news of the conversion of the inhabitants of Queda by Shaykh Abd Allah reached Atjeh, and the Sultan of that country and a certain Shaykh Nur al-Din, an Arab missionary, who
had come from Mecca, sent some books and a letter, which ran as follows:—
"This letter is from the Sultan of Atjeh and Nur al-Din to our brother the Sultan of Queda and Shaykh
Abd Allah of Yaman, now in Queda.
We have sent two religious books, in order that the faith of Islam may be firmly established and the people fully instructed in their duties
and in the rites of the faith. A letter was sent in reply by the Raja and Shaykh Abd Allah, thanking the donors.
Shaykh Abd Allah redoubled his efforts, and erected additional small mosques in all the different villages for general convenience, and instructed the people in all the rules
and observances of the faith.
Raja and his wife were constantly with the Shaykh , learning to read the Quran. The royal pair searched also for some maiden of the lineage of the Rajas of the country, to be
But no one could be found who was willing to give his daughter thus in marriage because the holy man was about to return to Baghdad,
and only waited until he had sufficiently instructed some person to supply his place.
at this time the Sultan had three sons, Raja Muaẓẓam Shah, Raja Muhammad Shah, and Raja Sulayman Shah. These names had been borrowed from the Quran by Shaykh Abd Allah and bestowed upon the princes, whom he exhorted to be patient and slow to anger in their intercourse with their
slaves and the lower orders, and to regard with pity all the servants of God, and the poor and needy.
It must not be
supposed that the labors of Shaykh Abd Allah were crowned with complete success, for we learn
from the annals of Atjeh that a Sultan of this country who conquered Queda in 1649, set himself to "more firmly establish the faith and destroy the
houses of the Liar "or temples of idols.
Thus a century and a half elapsed before idolatry was completely rooted out.
We possess no
other details of the history of the conversion of the Malays of the Peninsula, but in many places the graves of the Arab missionaries who first preached the faith to them are
honored by these people.
Their long intercourse with the Arabs and the Muslims of the east coast of India has made them very rigid observers of their religious duties, and they have the reputation of
being the most exemplary Muslims of the Archipelago; at the same time their constant contact with the Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and pagans of their own country has made them
liberal and tolerant.
They are very strict in the keeping of the fast of Ramaḍan and in performing the pilgrimage to Mecca. The religious interests of the people are always
considered at the same time as their temporal welfare; and when a village is found to contain more than forty houses and is considered to be of a size that necessitates its
organization and the appointment of the regular village officers, a public preacher is always included among the number and a mosque is formally built and instituted.
the north, where the Malay states border on Siam, Islam has exercised considerable
influence on the Siamese Buddhists; those who have here been converted are called Samsams and speak a language that is a mixed jargon of the languages of the two people.
Converts are also made from among the wild tribes of the Peninsula,
The history of
the spread of Islam in Indo-China is obscure; Arab and Persian merchants probably introduced their religion into the sea-port towns from the tenth century onwards, but its most
important expansion was due to the immigrations of Malays which began at the close of the fourteenth century.
Reinaud: Géographic d'Aboulféda, tome i. p. cccxxxix.
Ibn Baṭūṭah,tome iv. pp. 66, 80.
Snouck Hurgronje (I), pp. 8-9.
Snouck Hurgronje: L'Arabie et les Indes Neerlandaises. (Revue de l'Histoire des Religions, vol. Ivii. p. 69 sqq.)
vague reference would fit either Arabia, Persia or India; but if such a person as Juhan Shah ever existed, he
probably came from the Coromandel or Malabar coast. (Chronique du Royaume d'Atcheh, traduite du Malay par Ed. Dulaurier, p. 7.)
Marco Polo, vol. ii. p.284.
 At the height of its power, it stretched from 2° N. to 2° S. on the west coast, and from 1° N. to 2° S. on the east coast, but in the sixteenth century it had
lost its control over the east coast. (De Hollander, vol. i. p. 3.)
 Godsdienstige verschijnselen en toestanden in Oost-Indie. (Uit de Koloniale Verslagen van 1886 en 1887.) Med. Ned. Zendelinggen, vol. xxxii. pp. 175-6. (1888.)
In 1909, out of a total of 500,000 Bataks, 300,000 were still pagan, but 125,000 were Muslim and 80,000 Christian. (R. du M. M., vol. viii. p. 183.)
 G. R. Simon: Die Propaganda des Halbrnondes. Ein Beitrag zur. Skizzierung des Islam unter den Batakken, pp. 425, 429-430. (Allgemeine. j Missions-Zeitschrift,
vol. xxvii. 1900.)
 Med. Ned. Zendelinggen, id. p. 173. (Koloniaal Verslag van 1911, p. 26; 1912, p. 17.)
 Koloniaal Verslag van 1904, p. 80; 1905, p. 46; 1909, p, 47; 1910, p. 33; 1911, p. 29; 1912, p. 21.