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- Healthy Living
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
|Spread of Islam:
A continuation of missionary work in The Malay Archipelago
Conversoin in Java
The preaching and promulgation of the doctrines of Islam in this island were undoubtedly for a long time entirely the result of the labors of individual merchants or of the leaders of small colonies. For in Java there was no central Muslim power to throw in its influence on the side of the new religion or enforce the acceptance of it by warlike means.
On the contrary, the Muslim missionaries came in contact with a Hindu civilization, that had thrust its roots deep into the life of the country and had raised the Javanese to a high level of culture and progress—expressing itself moreover in institutions and laws radically different to those of Arabia.
Even up to the present day, the Muslim law has failed to establish itself absolutely, even where the authority of Islam is generally predominant, and there is still a constant struggle between the adherents of the old Malayan usages and the Hajis, who having made the pilgrimage to Mecca, return enthusiastic for a strict observance of Muslim Law.
Consequently the work of conversion must have proceeded very slowly, and we can say with tolerable certainty that while part of the history of this proselytizing movement may be disentangled from legends and traditions, much of it must remain wholly unknown to us.
- In the Malay Chronicle, which purports to give us an account of the first preachers of the faith, what was undoubtedly the work of many generations and must have been carried on through many centuries, is compressed within the compass of a few years; and, as frequently happens in popular histories, a few well-known names gain the fame and credit that belongs of right to the patient labors of their unknown predecessors.
- Further, the quiet, unobtrusive labors of many of these missionaries would not be likely to attract the notice of the chronicler, whose attention would naturally be fixed rather on the doings of kings and princes, and of those who came in close relationship to them. But failing such larger knowledge, we must fain be content with the facts that have been handed down to us.
- In the following pages, therefore, it is proposed to give a brief sketch of the establishment of the Muslim religion in this island, as presented in the native chronicle, which, though full of contradictions and fables, has undoubtedly a historical foundation, as is attested by the inscriptions on the tombs of the chief personages mentioned and the remains of ancient cities, etc. The following account therefore may, in the want of any other authorities, be accepted as substantially correct, with the caution above mentioned against ascribing too much efficacy to the proselytizing efforts of individuals.
In the latter half of the fourteenth century, a missionary movement, which was attended with greater success, was instituted by a certain Mawlana Malik Ibrahim, who landed on the east coast of Java with some of his co-religionists, and established himself near the town of Gresik, opposite the island of Madura. He is said to have traced his descent to Zayn al-Abidin, the great-grandson of the Prophet, and to have been cousin of the Raja of Chermen.
Here he occupied himself successfully in the work of conversion, and speedily gathered a small band of believers around him. Later on, he was joined by his cousin, the Raja of Chermen, who came in the hope of converting the Raja of the Hindu Kingdom of Majapahit, and of forming an alliance with him by offering his daughter in marriage. On his arrival he sent his son, Ṣadiq Muhammad, to Majapahit to arrange an interview, while he busied himself in the building of a mosque and the conversion of the inhabitants.
A meeting of the two princes took place accordingly, but before the favorable impression then produced could be followed up, a sickness broke out among the people of the Raja of Cher-men, which carried off his daughter, three of his nephews who had accompanied him, and a great part of his retinue; whereupon he himself returned to his own kingdom. These misfortunes prejudiced the mind of the Raja of Majapahit against the new faith, which he said should have better protected its votaries: and the mission accordingly failed.
Mawlana Ibrahim, however, remained behind, in charge of the tombs of his kinsfolk and co-religionists, and himself died twenty-one years later, in 1419, and was buried at Gresik, where his tomb is still venerated as that of the first apostle of Islam to Java.
A Chinese Muslim , who accompanied the envoy of the Emperor of China to Java in the capacity of interpreter, six years before the death of Mawlana Ibrahim, i. e. in 1413, mentions the presence of his co-religionists in this island in his “General Account of the Shores of the Ocean,”where he says,
“In this country there are three kinds of people:
- First the Muslims, who have come from the west, and have established themselves here; their dress and food is clean and proper;
- second, the Chinese who have run away and settled here; what they eat and use is also very fine, and many of them have adopted the Muslim religion and observe its precepts.
- The third kind are the natives, who are very ugly and uncouth, they go about with uncombed heads and naked feet, and believe devoutly in devils, theirs being one of the countries called devil-countries in Buddhist books.”
We now approach the period in which the rule of the Muslims became predominant in the island, after their religion had been introduced into it for nearly a century; and here it will be necessary to enter a little more closely into the details of the history in order to show that this was not the result of any fanatical movement stirred up by the Arabs, but rather of a revolution carried out by the natives of the country themselves, who (though they naturally gained strength from the bond of a common faith) were stirred up to unite in order to wrest the supreme power from the hands of their heathen fellow-countrymen, not by the preaching of a religious war, but through the exhortations of an ambitious aspirant to the throne who had a wrong to avenge.2
- Islam was introduced into the eastern parts of the island some years later, probably in the beginning of the following century, through the missionary activity of Shaykh Nur al-Din Ibrahim of Cheribon. He won for himself a great reputation by curing a woman afflicted with leprosy, with the result that thousands came to him to be instructed in the tenets of the new faith. At first the neighboring chiefs tried to set themselves against the movement, but finding that their opposition was of no avail, they suffered themselves to be carried along with the tide and many of them became converts to Islam.
- Shaykh Nur al-Din Ibrahim of Cheribon sent his son, Mawlana Ḥasan al-Din, to preach the faith of Islam in Bantam, the most westerly province of the island, and a dependency of the heathen kingdom of Pajajaran. Here his efforts were attended with considerable success, among the converts being a body of ascetics, 800 in number. It is especially mentioned in the annals of this part of the country that the young prince won over those whom he converted to Islam, solely by the gentle means of persuasion, and not by the sword.
- He afterwards went with his father on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and on his return .extended his power over the neighboring coast of Sumatra, without ever having to draw the sword, and winning converts to the faith by peaceful methods alone.
- But the progress of Islam in the west of Java seems to have been much slower than in the east; a long struggle ensued between the worshippers of Siva and the followers of the Prophet, and it was probably not until the middle of the sixteenth century that the Hindu kingdom of Pajajaran, which at one period of the history of Java seems to have exercised suzerainty over the princedoms in the western part of the island, came to an end, while other smaller heathen communities survived to a much later period,—some even to the present day.
The history of one of these—the so-called Baduwis—is of especial interest; they are the descendants of the adherents of the old religion, who after the fall of Pajajaran fled into the woods and the recesses of the mountains, where they might uninterruptedly carry out the observances of their ancestral faith. In later times, when they submitted to the rule of the Muslim Sultan of Bantam, they were allowed to continue in the exercise of their religion, on condition that no increase should be allowed in the numbers of those who professed this idolatrous faith; and strange to say, they still observe this custom, although the Dutch rule has been so long established in Java and sets them free from the necessity of obedience to this ancient agreement. They strictly limit their number to forty households, and when the community increases beyond this limit, one family or more has to leave this inner circle and settle among the Muslim population in one of the surrounding villages.
|But, though the work of conversion in the west of Java proceeded more slowly than in the other parts of the island, yet, owing largely to the fact that Hinduism had not taken such deep root among the people here as in the center of the island,
the victory of Islam over the heathen worship which it supplanted was more complete than in the districts which came more immediately under the rule of the Rajas of Majapahit.
The Muslim law is here a living force and the civilization brought into the country from Arabia has interwoven itself with the government and the life of the people;
and it has been remarked that at the present day the Muslims of the west of Java, who study their religion at all or have performed the pilgrim-. age to Mecca, form as a rule the most intelligent and prosperous part of the population.
We have already seen that large sections of the Javanese remained heathen for centuries after the establishment of Muslim kingdoms in the island; at the present day the whole population of Java, with some trifling exceptions, is Muslim, and though many superstitions and customs have survived among them from the days of their pagan ancestors, still the tendency is continually in the direction of the guidance of thought and conduct in accordance with the teaching of Islam.
This long work of conversion has proceeded peacefully and gradually, and the growth of Muslim states in this island belongs rather to its political than to its religious history, since the progress of the religion has been achieved by the work rather of missionaries than of princes.
Islam and Molucca islands
The trade in cloves must have brought the Moluccas into contact with the islanders of the western half of the Archipelago from very early times, and the converted Javanese and other Malays who came into these islands to trade, spread their faith among the inhabitants of the coast.
The companions of Magellan brought back a curious story of the way in which these men introduced their religious doctrines among the Muluccans.
“The kings of these islands a few years before the arrival of the Spaniards began to believe in the immortality of the soul, induced by no other argument but that they had seen a very beautiful little bird, that never settled on the earth nor on anything that was of the earth, and the Muslims , who traded as merchants in those islands, told them that this little bird was born in paradise, and that paradise is the place where rest the souls of those that are dead. And for this reason these seignors joined the sect of Muhammad, because it promises many marvelous things of this place of the souls.”
Islam seems first to have begun to make progress here in the fifteenth century. A heathen king of Tidor yielded to the persuasions of an Arab, named Shaykh Mansur , and embraced Islam together with many of his subjects. The heathen name of the king, Tjireli Lijatu, was changed to that of Jamal al-Din, while his eldest son was called Mansur after their Arab teacher.
It was the latter prince who entertained the Spanish expedition that reached Tidor in 1521, shortly after the ill-fated death of Magellan. Pigafetta, the historian of this expedition, calls him Raia Sultan Mauzor, and says that he was more than fifty-five years old, and that not fifty years had passed since the Muslims came to live in these islands.
Islam seems to have gained a footing on the neighboring island of Ternate a little earlier. The Portuguese, who came to this island the same year as the Spaniards reached Tidor, were informed by the inhabitants that it had been introduced a little more than eighty years.
- The Sultan of Ternate, who occupied the foremost place among the independent rulers in these islands, is said to have made a journey to Gresik, in Java, in order to embrace the Muslim faith there, in 1495. He was assisted in his propagandist efforts by a certain Pati Putah, who had made the journey from Hitu in Amboina to Java in order to learn the doctrines of the new faith, and on his return spread the knowledge of Islam among the people of Amboina.
- Islam, however, seems at first to have made but slow progress, and to have met with considerable opposition from those islanders who clung zealously to their old superstitions and mythology, so that the old idolatry continued for some time crudely mixed up with the teachings of the Quran, and keeping the minds of the people in a perpetual state of incertitude.
- The Portuguese conquest also made the progress of Islam slower than it would otherwise have been. They drove out the Qadhi, whom they found instructing the people in the doctrines of Muhammad, and spread Christianity among the heathen population with some considerable, though short-lived success.
- For when the Muluccans took advantage of the attention of the Portuguese being occupied with their own domestic troubles, in the latter half of the sixteenth century, to try to shake off their power, they instituted a fierce persecution against the Christians, many of whom suffered martyrdom, and others recanted, so that Christianity lost all the ground it had gained, and from this time onwards, the opposition to the political domination of the Christians secured a readier welcome for the Muslim teachers who came in increasing numbers from the west.
- The Dutch completed the destruction of Christianity in the Moluccas by driving out the Spanish and Portuguese from these islands in the seventeenth century, whereupon the Jesuit fathers carried off the few remaining Christians of Ternate with them to the Philippines.
- From these islands Islam spread into the rest of the Moluccas; though for some time the conversions were confined to the inhabitants of the coast.
- Most of the converts came from among the Malays, who compose the whole population of the smaller islands, but inhabit the coast-lands only of the larger ones, the interior being inhabited by Alfurs, But converts in later times were drawn from among the latter also.
In modern times the existence of certain regulations, devised for the benefit of the state-religion, has facilitated to some extent the progress of the Muslim religion among the Alfurs of the mainland, e. g. if any one of them is discovered to have had illicit intercourse with a Muslim girl, he must marry her and become a Muslim; any of the Alfur women who marry Muslims must embrace the faith of their husbands; offences against the law may be atoned for by conversion to Islam; and in filling up any vacancy that may happen to occur among the chiefs, less regard is paid to the lawful claims of a candidate than to his readiness to become a Muslim .
Islam in Borneo
Similarly, Islam in Borneo is mostly confined to the coast, although it had gained a footing in the island as early as the beginning of the sixteenth century. About this time, it was adopted by the people of Banjarmasin, a kingdom on the southern side, which had been tributary to the Hindu kingdom of Majapahit, until its overthrow in 1478; they owed their conversion to one of the Muslim states that rose on the ruins of the latter. The story is that the people of Banjarmasin asked for assistance towards the suppression of a revolt, and that it was given on condition that they adopted the new religion; whereupon a number of Muslims came over from Java, suppressed the revolt and effected the work of conversion.
- On the north-west coast, the Spaniards found a Muslim king at Brunai, when they reached this place in 1521.
- A little later, 1550, Islam was introduced into the kingdom of Sukadana, in the western part of the island, by Arabs coming from Palembang in Sumatra.
- The reigning king refused to abandon the faith of his fathers, but during the forty years that elapsed before his death (in 1590), the new religion appears to have made considerable progress.
- His successor became a Muslim and married the daughter of a prince of a neighboring island, in which apparently Islam had been long established; during his reign, a traveler, who visited the island in 1600, speaks of Islam as being a common religion along the coast.
- The inhabitants of the interior, however, he tells us, were all idolaters—as indeed they remain for the most part to the present day.
- The progress of Islam in the kingdom of Sukadana seems now to have drawn the attention of the center of the Muslim world to this distant spot, and in the reign of the next prince, a certain Shaykh Shams al-Din came from Mecca bringing with him a present of a copy of the Quran and a large hyacinth ring, together with a letter in which this defender of the faith received the honorable title of Sultan Muhammad Ṣafi al-Din.
Islam and the island of Celebes
In the island of Celebes we find a similar slow growth of the Muslim religion, taking its rise among the people of the coast and slowly making its way into the interior.
Only the more civilized portion of the inhabitants has, however, adopted Islam; this is mainly divided into two tribes, the Macassars and the Bugis, who inhabit the south-west peninsula, the latter, however, also forming a large proportion of the coast population on the other peninsulas.
The interior of the island, except in the south-west peninsula where nearly all the inhabitants are Muslim, is still heathen and is populated chiefly by the Alfurs, a race low in the scale of civilization, who also form the majority of the inhabitants of the north, the east and the south-east peninsulas; at the extremity of the first of these peninsulas, in Minahassa, they have in large numbers been converted to Christianity;
The Muslims did not make their way hither until after the Portuguese had gained a firm footing in this part of the island, and the Alfurs whom they converted to Roman Catholicism were turned into Protestants by the Dutch, whose missionaries have labored in Minahassa with very considerable success. But Islam is slowly making its way among the heathen tribes of Alfurs in different parts of the island, both in the districts directly administered by the Dutch Government, and those under the rule of native chiefs.
Islam in the Philippine Islands
In the Philippine Islands we find a struggle between Christianity and Islam for the allegiance of the inhabitants, somewhat similar in character to that in Celebes but more stern and enduring, entangling the Spaniards and the Muslims in a fierce and bloody conflict, even up to the nineteenth century. It is uncertain when Islam first reached these islands. The traditionary annals of Mindanao represent Islam as having been introduced from Johore, in the Malay Peninsula, by a certain Sharif Kabungsuwan, who settled with a number of followers in the island and married there. He is said to have refused to land until the men who came to meet him on his arrival promised to embrace Islam, and these early records give the impression that the landing of Kabungsuwan and the conversion of the people of Mindanao at first proceeded quite peacefully; but after he had established his power, he began to conquer the neighboring chiefs and tribes, and they accepted his religion in submitting to his authority.
The Spaniards who discovered them in 1521, found the population of the northern islands to be rude and simple pagans, while Mindanao and the Sulu Islands were occupied by more civilized Muslim tribes. The latter up to the close of the nineteenth century successfully resisted for the most part all the efforts of the Christians towards conquest and conversion, so that the Spanish missionaries despaired of ever effecting their conversion.
|The success of Islam as compared with Christianity has been due in a great measure to the different form under which these two faiths were presented to the natives.
The adoption of Christianity implied the loss of all political freedom and national independence, and hence came to be regarded as a badge of slavery.
The methods adopted by the Spaniards for the propagation of their religion were calculated to make it unpopular from the beginning; their violence and intolerance were in strong contrast to the conciliatory behavior of the Muslim missionaries.
The Muslim missionaries learned the language of the people,
The Spaniards, on the other hand, were ignorant of the language, habits and manners of the natives; their intemperance and above all their avarice and rapacity brought their religion into odium; while its propagation was intended to serve as an instrument of their political advancement.
It is not difficult therefore to understand the opposition offered by the natives to the introduction of Christianity, which indeed only became the religion of the people in those parts in which the inhabitants were weak enough, or the island small enough, to enable the Spaniards to effect a total subjugation; the native Christians after their conversion had to be forced to perform their religious duties through fear of punishment, and were treated exactly like school-children.
Up to the time of the American occupation of the Philippine Islands the independent Muslim kingdom of Mindanao was a refuge for those who wished to escape from the hated Christian government;  the island of Sulu, also, though nominally a Spanish possession since 1878, formed another center of Muslim opposition to Christianity, Spanish-knowing renegades even being found here.
Islam and Sulu Islands
We have no certain historical evidence as to how long the inhabitants of the Sulu Islands had been Muslim, before the arrival of the Spaniards. The annals of Sulu give the name of Sharif Karim al-Makhdum as the first missionary of Islam in these islands. He is said to have been an Arab who went to Malacca about the middle of the fourteenth century and converted Sulṭan Muhammad Shah and the people of Malacca to Islam.
Continuing his journey eastward, he reached Sulu about the year 1380 and settled in Bwansa, the old capital of Sulu, where the people built a mosque for him and many of the chiefs accepted his teachings. He is said to have visited almost every island of the Archipelago and to have made converts in many places; his grave is said to be on the island of Sibutu.
The next missionary is said to have been Abu Bakr, who is also stated to have been an Arab, and to have commenced his missionary labors in Malacca and to have made his way to Palembang and Brunei, and reached Sulu about 1450; he built mosques and carried on a successful propaganda. The Muslim king of Bwansa, Raja Baginda, gave him his daughter in marriage, and appointed him his heir, and Abu Bakr is credited with having organized the government and legislation of Sulu on orthodox Muslim lines as far as local custom would allow.
Since the American occupation of the Philippines, the influence of Islam has been considerably restricted, and is now confined to the island of Palawan, the south coast of Mindanao and the archipelago of Sulu.
But it is said to be seeking to extend its propaganda among the northern islands, and to have made a beginning of missionary activity even in Manila. Certain conditions are said to favor its success, especially the fact that the Filipinos are prejudiced against Christianity on account of the abuses that led them to take up arms against the Spanish friars.
The above sketch of the spread of Islam from west to east through the Malay Archipelago comprises but a small part of the history of the missionary work of Islam in these islands. Many of the facts of this history are wholly unrecorded, and what can be gleaned from native chronicles and the works of European travelers, officials and missionaries is necessarily fragmentary and incomplete.
- But there is evidence enough to show the existence of peaceful missionary efforts to spread the faith of Islam during the last six hundred years: sometimes indeed the sword has been drawn in support of the cause of religion, but preaching and persuasion rather than force and violence have been the main characteristics of this missionary movement.
- The marvelous success that has been achieved has been largely the work of traders, who won their way to the hearts of the natives:
- by learning their language,
- adopting their manners and customs,
- and began quietly and gradually to spread the knowledge of their religion by first converting the native women they married and the persons associated with them in their business relations.
- Instead of holding themselves apart in proud isolation, they gradually melted into the mass of the population,
- employing all their superiority of intelligence and civilization for the work of conversion
- and making such skilful compromises in the doctrines and practices of their faith as were needed to recommend it to the people they wished to attract.
- In fact, as Buckle said of them, “The Muslim missionaries are very judicious.”
- Beside the traders, there have been numbers of what may be called professional missionaries—
- and pilgrims.
- The pilgrims have, in recent years, been especially active in the work of proselytizing, in stirring up a more vigorous and consistent religious life among their fellow-countrymen, and in purging away the lingering remains of heathen habits and beliefs. The number of those who make the pilgrimage to Mecca from all parts of the Archipelago is constantly on the increase, and there is in consequence a proportionate growth of Muslim influence and Muslim thought. Up to the middle of the nineteenth century.
As might be anticipated from a consideration of these facts, there has been of recent years a very great awakening of missionary activity in the Malay Archipelago, and the returned pilgrims, whether as merchants or religious teachers, become preachers of Islam wherever they come in contact with a heathen population. The religious orders moreover have extended their organization to the Malay Archipelago,  even the youngest of them—the Sanusiyyah—finding adherents in the most distant islands,  one of the signs of its influence being the adoption of the name Sanusi by many Malays, when in Mecca they change their native for Arabic names.