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Islam

Islam

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Published by: shanujanu on Aug 25, 2009
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Islam From The Beginning To 1300 Date: 2002The Spread Of Islam To Southeast AsiaThe spread of Islam to various parts of coastal India set the stage for its further expansionto island Southeast Asia. As we have seen, Arab traders and sailors regularly visited theports of Southeast Asia long before they converted to Islam. Initially the region was littlemore than a middle ground, where the Chinese segment of the great Euroasian tradingcomplex met the Indian Ocean trading zone to the west. At ports on the coast of theMalayan peninsula, east Sumatra, and somewhat later north Java, goods from China weretransferred from East Asian vessels to Arab or Indian ships, and products from as far westas Rome were loaded into the emptied Chinese ships to be carried to East Asia. By the 7thand 8th centuries A.D., sailors and ships from areas within Southeast Asia - particularlySumatra and Malaya - had become active in the seaborne trade of the region. SoutheastAsian products, especially luxury items, such as aromatic woods from the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, and spices, such as cloves, nutmeg, and mace from the far end of the Indonesian archipelago, had also become important exports to both China in the eastand India and the Mediterranean area in the west. These trading links were to prove evenmore critical to the expansion of Islam in Southeast Asia than they had earlier been to thespread of Buddhism and Hinduism.As the coastal trade and shipping of India came to be controlled (from the 8th centuryonward) increasingly by Muslims from such regions as Gujarat and various parts of southIndia, elements of Islamic culture began to filter into island Southeast Asia. But only in the13th century after the collapse of the far-flung trading empire of Shrivijaya, which wascentered on the Straits of Malacca between Malaya and the north tip of Sumatra, was theway open for the widespread proselytization of Islam. With its great war fleets, Shrivijayacontrolled trade in much of the area and was at times so powerful that it could launchattacks on rival empires in south India. Indian traders, Muslim or otherwise, were welcometo trade in the chain of ports controlled by Shrivijaya. Since the rulers and officials of Shrivijaya were devout Buddhists, however, there was little incentive for the traders andsailors of Southeast Asian ports to convert to Islam, the religion of growing numbers of the merchants and sailors from India. With the fall of Shrivijaya, the way was open for theestablishment of Muslim trading centers and efforts to preach the faith to the coastalpeoples. Muslim conquests in areas such as Gujarat and Bengal, which separatedSoutheast Asia from Buddhist centers in India from the 11th century onward, also played arole in opening the way for Muslim conversion.The Pattern Of ConversionAs was the case in most of the areas to which Islam spread, peaceful and voluntaryconversion was far more important than conquest and force in spreading the faith inSoutheast Asia. Almost everywhere in the islands of the region, trading contacts paved theway for conversion. Muslim merchants and sailors introduced local peoples to the ideasand rituals of the new faith and impressed on them how much of the known world hadalready been converted. Muslim ships also carried Sufis to various parts of SoutheastAsia, where they were destined to play as vital a role in conversion as they had in India.The first areas to be won to Islam in the last decades of the 13th century were severalsmall port centers on the northern coast of Sumatra. From these ports, the religion spreadin the following centuries across the Strait of Malacca to Malaya.On the mainland the key to widespread conversion was the powerful trading city of Malacca, whose smaller trading empire had replaced the fallen Shrivijaya. From the capitalat Malacca, Islam spread down the east coast of Sumatra, up the east and west coasts of 
 
Malaya, to the island of Borneo, and to the trading center of Demak on the north coast of Java. From Demak, the most powerful of the trading states on north Java, the Muslim faithwas disseminated to other Javanese ports and, after a long struggle with a Hindu Buddhistkingdom in the interior, to the rest of the island. From Demak, Islam was also carried to theCelebes, tha spice islands in the eastern archipelago, and from there to Mindanao in thesouthern Philippines.This progress of Islamic conversion shows that port cities in coastal areas wereparticularly receptive to the new faith. Here the trading links were critical. Once one of thekey cities in a trading cluster converted, it was in the best interest of others to follow suitin order to enhance personal ties and provide a common basis in Muslim law to regulatebusiness deals. Conversion to Islam also linked these centers, culturally as well aseconomically, to the merchants and ports of India, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean.Islam made slow progress in areas such as central Java, where Hindu-Buddhist dynastiescontested its spread. But the fact that the earlier conversion to these Indian religions hadbeen confined mainly to the ruling elites in Java and other island areas left openings for mass conversions to Islam that the Sufis eventually exploited. The island of Bali, whereHinduism had taken deep root at the popular level, remained largely impervious to thespread of Islam. The same was true of most of mainland Southeast Asia, where centuriesbefore the coming of Islam, Theravada Buddhism had spread from India and Ceylon andwon the fervent adherence of both the ruling elites and the peasant masses.Sufi Mystics And The Nature Of Southeast Asian IslamThe fact that Islam came to Southeast Asia primarily from India and that it was spread inmany areas by Sufis had much to do with the mystical quality of the religion and itstolerance for coexistence with earlier animist, Hindu, and Buddhist beliefs and rituals. Justas they had in the Middle East and India, the Sufis who spread Islam in Southeast Asiavaried widely in personality and approach. Most were believed by those who followedthem to have magical powers, and virtually all Sufis established mosque and schoolcenters from which they traveled in neighboring regions to preach the faith.In winning converts, the Sufis were willing to allow the inhabitants of island SoutheastAsia to retain pre-Islamic beliefs and practices that orthodox scholars would clearly havefound contrary to Islamic doctrine. Pre-Islamic customary law remained important inregulating social interaction, while Islamic law was confined to specific sorts of agreements and exchanges. Women retained a much stronger position, both within thefamily and in society, than they had in the Middle East and India. Local and regionalmarkets, for example, continued to be dominated by the trading of small-scale femalebuyers and sellers. In such areas as western Sumatra, lineage and inheritance continuedto be traced through the female line after the coming of Islam, despite its tendency topromote male dominance and descent through the male line. Perhaps most tellingly, pre-Muslim religious beliefs and rituals were incorporated into Muslim ceremonies. Indigenouscultural staples, such as the brilliant Javanese shadow plays that were based on theIndian epics of the Brahmanic age, were refined, and they became even more central topopular and elite belief and practice than they had been in the pre-Muslim era.Muhammad, Prophet Of IslamInto this environment at Mecca was born a man who would change completely thereligious, political, and social organization of his people. Muhammad (c. 570-632) camefrom a family belonging to the Koraysh. His early years were difficult because of thedeaths of both his parents and his grandfather who cared for him after his parents' loss.He was raised by his uncle, Abu Talib, a prominent merchant of Mecca. His early years
 
were spent helping his uncle in the caravan trade. Even as a young man, Muhammad cameto be admired by his fellow Meccans as a sincere and honest person, and earned thenickname al-Amin, "the trustworthy." When he was about twenty years old, he acceptedemployment by a wealthy widow, Khadija, whose caravans traded with Syria. He later married Khadija and took his place as a leading influential citizen of the city. Muhammad'smarriage to Khadija was a long and happy one, and produced two sons, who both died asinfants, and two daughters, of whom the younger, Fatima, is best known.A description of Muhammad, and probably a very accurate one, has been preserved in theSira, the traditional biography of the Prophet. He is described as a handsome, large manwith broad shoulders, black, shining eyes flecked with brown, and a fair complexion. Hispersonality was reserved and gentle, but he was a man of impressive energy. He walkedquickly, and always seemed to make it difficult for his friends to keep up with him.Although he was a popular companion, an energetic businessman, and a responsiblehusband and father, Muhammad was a very introspective man. Often he would escapefrom the society, which he considered too materialistic and irreligious, and spendlong hours alone in a cave on nearby Mount Hira. In these hours of meditation Muhammadsearched for answers to the metaphysical questions that many thoughtful Arabs werebeginning to explore. Muhammad's meditations many times produced nearly total mentaland physical exhaustion. During one such solitary meditation, Muhammad heard a callthat was to alter the history of the world.Muhammad's first communication from heaven came in the form of a command:Recite! In the name of your Lord, who created all things,who created man from a clot (of blood).Recite! And your Lord is Most BounteousWho teaches by the Pen,teaches man that which he would nothave otherwise known (Koran 96:1-5)The Arabic word for "recitation" or "reading" is qur'an, and the collected revelations givento Muhammad are known to us as the Koran. The revelations that continued to come over the next twenty years were sometimes terse and short, at other times elaborate and poetic.The early revelations did not immediately convince Muhammad that he was a messenger of God. In fact, his first reaction was fear and self-doubt. During his depressions broughton by fears over the source and nature of his revelations, he sought the comfort andadvice of Khadija. As the revelations continued, Muhammad finally became convinced thatthe message he was receiving was the truth, and that he had been called to be amessenger of divine revelation. He came to think of himself and his mission as one similar to prophets and messengers who had preceded him in announcing the existence of theone God, Allah. Allah, "the God," was the same God worshiped by the Christians andJews, but Allah had now chosen Muhammad to be his last and greatest prophet to perfectthe religion revealed earlier to Abraham, Moses, the Hebrew prophets, and Jesus. Thereligion Muhammad preached is called Islam, which means surrender or submission to thewill of God. The followers of Islam are called Muslims. The term Muslim refers to one whosubmits to God's law.Muhammad's Message And Early FollowersAt first Muhammad had little success in attracting followers in Mecca. The early messageMuhammad brought to the Arabs was one of sternness and strength: that Allah was oneand majestic, all-powerful and demanding of the faith of his followers. Furthermore, Allahdemanded that his followers be compassionate, ethical, and just in all their dealings:In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the

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