Islam and Politics of Identity in Southeast Asia

Module Summary

This module puts Islam in Southeast Asia in context of the worldwide spread of Islam. It begins in the lifetime of the prophet Muhammad and reviews some of the key beliefs of Islam. It covers the spread of Islam to India between the 8th-10th centuries through both trade and conquest, before moving to the specific case of Islam in Southeast Asia. Trade with India exposed Southeast Asia to Islam early on, but it was not until 1430 when the port city of Melaka (Malacca) converted to Islam that the religion took root in the region. Melaka’s dominant position in inter-regional trade meant it shared direct connection to numerous other trading sites in the region. Islam spread through Island Southeast Asia via these maritime connections assisted by practitioners of Sufi Islam whose ritual practices closely paralleled existing belief systems in the region. Southeast Asia has traditionally been associated with tolerant and liberal interpretations of Islam; this is especially true when one looks at the relationship between the genders. This can be best understood by looking at the ways that “Islam” was localized to fit with pre-existing social and cultural norms and beliefs.

Primary sources will show how questions over the relationship of Islam and colonial powers grew particularly intense due to the rise of Turkey and the outbreak of World War I. Particular attention is also given to material that demonstrates ways in which the Japanese prepared the way for their entry into Malaya and Indonesia by courting Muslim leaders.

This module is based on the presentation by Barbara Andaya (Professor of Asian Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa) for the East-West Center’s 2011 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute for Teachers.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this module do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the East-West Center.

Optional Reading

The optional reading for this module is: Primary sources on the role of Islam in Southeast Asia (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001).

Teaching Materials

PowerPoint lecture
A list of good films that teach about the beliefs and spread of Islam
Course reading

Key topics include: animistic beliefs/spirits, Buddhist kingdoms, Christianity, culture and cultural exchange, decolonization, democracy, Dutch East Indies/Netherlands Indies, ethnic minorities, European powers, globalization, Hinduism, identity: regional and local, imperialism / colonialism, Islam in Southeast Asia, Islamic sultanates, Mainland Southeast Asia/Island Southeast Asia, Malays, Melaka (Malacca), nationalism, straits settlements, sultan/sultanate, trade and the economy.

We welcome comments from teachers on how you have integrated this material into your teaching, including what was useful and what wasn’t, and what additional resources you would like to see in or recommend for this module.