You are on page 1of 29


VCL 155

The concept of the
Malay World

The equivalent term in Malay is Alam
Melayu (Dunia Melayu) and in Indonesian,

The word comes from the Old Javanese nusa
(Island) and antara (between).

Generally, the term Nusantara encompasses
those Central Asian islands where the Austronesian
languages and culture are dominant.

Linguistically, the concept of Nusantara refers
to Malaysia, including the Malay Peninsular
Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines
except the New Guinea.

From the cultural point of view, the
concept be stretched to include islands
of Taiwan and Madagascar, as the native
languages of both these islands are
Malayo-Polynesian languages.
Malay is the race of the people who
inhabit the Malay Peninsula (Semenanjung
Tanah Melayu - now known as
Peninsular/West Malaysia) and portion of
adjacent islands of Southeast Asia, including
the east coast of Sumatera, the coast of
Borneo and smaller islands that lie between
these areas.
The Malays originated in Yunnan, China.
They were seafaring people. Probably
because of their seafaring way of life or trading,
they were believed to have lived in coastal Borneo.
They then expanded into Sumatera and the Malay
A Portuguese historian, Godinho de Eredia,
referred to the Malays as Saletes (Orang Selat,
or people of the Straits).

The Malays played a major part in the Making
of great Malay empires of Malacca and Johor.
Present day Malays of the Peninsula and
the coasts of the Malay Archipelago are
described anthropologically as deutero-
They are descendants of the tribal proto-
Malays mixed with modern Indian, Thai,
Arab and Chinese blood.
Most of the languages spoken in the Malay
Word are part of the Malayo-Polynesian Family.

This language includes Bahasa Melayu now
known in Malaysia as Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa
Jawa or Javanese in Java, now known as Bahasa
Indonesia, Bahasa Melayu as in Singapore and
Brunei and Tagalog in the Philippines.

The culture in the Malay World is predominantly
influenced by Islam and some other religion such as Hindu,
Buddha and Christian.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei has the largest
population of Muslims.

Whereas Catholicism, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus
followers can also be found in this region.
Islam came to the Malay world by:

Islam came to the Malay world by:
a. By sea route
From the Arab Land to the Malay World, or
from the Arab Land to India and to the Malay World.
b. By land route
From the Arab Land to Persia, India, China
and to the Malay World.

in search for
Both these routes pass through countries that
have strong cultural tradition and great civilization.

The merchants in search for spices, indirectly
brought influences of these civilizations Arab,
Persian, Indian and Chinese to the Malay World.
They also introduced Islam to this part of the

It is due to the geo-economic factor that made the
Malay world as the centre of commerce between the East and

The Semenanjung Tanah Melayu (Malay Peninsula) and
the Islands of Indonesia is situated between the Indian ocean
and South China sea.

Merchants from the East and the West must pass
through the strait of Melaka to trade.
The Malay World is said to be the
melting pot of the great civilization of the
East and West.
These cultures had shaped the form of
Islamic art in the Malay World. Apparently,
traces of these great civilization can be
detected in the artifacts found in the Malaya
As early as the 7th Century, the Arab-Persian Muslims
had came to South-east Asia in search of Kapur barus
and spices as well as introducing the teaching of

Records shows that prior to the 8th Century, there
already existed the Arab community in the north of
Sumatera and elsewhere in areas of commerce such
as the Phang-Rang, southern Vietnam and Canton.
Records from Chinese travelers had stated that in 674
CE, there were Muslim settlement in East Sumatera
(San Fu Chi Srivijaya Palembang).

In 878 CE, the political upheaval in Canton had caused
the Arabs and Persian traders to fled to Melaka. Thus,
spreading the teaching of Islam in South-east Asia.
They also established new settlement in areas like
Kalah (Kedah) and Palembang.
In the manuscript of Hikayat Aceh, it is stated that
Islam was brought and introduced in North Sumatera
by Syeikh Abdullah Arif, ca. 1112 CE.

The people of the Semenanjung Tanah Melayu (Malay
Peninsula) were mostly the followers of Syafii sect
which is the main sect of the Arabs.
Some of the early Islamic kingdoms in the Malay
World are: the Kingdom of Perlak (North
Sumatera -1225-1263), the Kingdom of
Samudera-Pasai, 1261-1289) and the Malay
Melaka Kingdom (Melaka - 15th century).
In 1282, Sultan Malik al Salih (died in 1297) had
sent Hasan and Sulaiman to China to pay tribute
to the emperor of China.

In 1345/6, Ibu Battuta on his journey to China had
stopped at Samudera. The Ruler at that time was
Malik al Tahir (grandson of Malik al-Salih). A very pious
ruler and always surrounded by religious people like
Taj al Din al Isfahani and Qadi Syarif Amir Sayyid al

The Ulama from Persia (Iran) and Gujerat (India) not
only spread the Islamic teachings but also brought
their culture to the Malay World.

The Persian and Indian influences can be seen in
some of the artifacts in this region. The white
marble tombstones of Maulana Abdullah,
Maulana Abdul Rahman and Queen Nahrisyah,
were specially made in Persia or Gujerat. The
design is more likely of Indian in origin especially
their motifs and intricate carving techniques.
Traces of the spreading of Islam from China to the
Malay World can be seen in the discovery of
monuments along the coastal areas of South
China Sea:-
Phang-Rang (Southern Vietnam) dated
1025/1039 CE
Leran, Eastern Java (2nd half 11th Century)
Terengganu (early 14th Century)
Aceh too played an important role in the spreading
of Islam to Semenanjung Tanah Melayu.
Muslims missionaries from Aceh went to Kedah,
Melaka and Terengganu to spread Islam.
Syeikh Abdullah bin Syeikh Ahmad bin Syeikh Jaafar
Qaumiri managed to persuade the Sultan of Kedah to
embrace Islam in 1136 CE.
He then changed his name to Sultan Muzaffar
Syah. He died in 1179 CE and buried in Kampong
Langgar, Merbok, Kedah. The design of the
tombstone is quite similar to those found in
Banda Aceh.
The coming of Islam to the Malay World, through
trades and missionaries, gradually transformed
the local cultures and believes. Islam became the
major religion in this region.