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Islam in Southeast Asia:
A Chronological Table

by R. Michael Feener, National University of Singapore

c. 2000 BCE   Initial migration of Austronesian-language speakers from what is now Southern China into Southeast Asia
Early centuries of the Common Era
Increased influences from China and India on the development of Southeast Asian cultures.
c. 570–632
Life of Muhammad, founding prophet of Islam, in the Hijaz region of Arabian Peninsula.
Ninth through
twelfth centuries

Islam spreads from the Middle East into Africa, Central Asia, and India. Suggestions of early Muslim presence in Southeast Asia drawn largely from Chinese sources.


Mongol sack of Baghdad, capital of the Abbasid Caliphate.

Late thirteenth
Marco Polo reports the Islamization of Ferlec (i.e., Perlak in North Sumatra), ca. 1292.
Earliest record of a Muslim scholar with a Southeast Asian name teaching in Arabia, namely Masud al-Jawi, fl. 1270s–1310s
Fourteenth century
Flourishing of Hindu-Buddhist culture under the Java-based empire of Majapahit. It claims influence over the Straits of Malacca and much of what is now Indonesia.
Evidence of the spread of Islam to the Sulu Archipelago (Philippines) and the island of Borneo, which today is partially Malaysian and partially Indonesian territory.
The North African traveler Ibn Battuta reports having visited the Muslim sultanate of Samudra, a neighbor to the older port of Perlak, while en route to China ca. 1345.
Fifteenth century
In about 1430 the ruler of Melaka (Malacca) officially adopts Islam following connections with Sumudra. Most of the small kingdoms in east Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula also adopt Islam.
Spread of Islam to the island of Ternate and surrounding areas of Maluku (the Moluccas), Eastern Indonesia.
Suggestions of Muslim Chinese communities being established in the Malay Peninsula, in Java, and in the Philippines.
Constantinople (Istanbul) conquered by Ottoman Turks.
Sixteenth century
Continuing Islamization of Java’s north coast; putative period of the “Nine Saints” (Wali Songo).
Melaka falls to the Portuguese in 1511.
Rise of the Sumatran sultanate of Aceh (1520s) and Johor on the Malay Peninsula, and Brunei in Borneo, in the wake of Melaka’s fall.
Fall of Majapahit to the coastal sultanate of Demak in 1527.
Establishment of Muslim communities at Banjarmasin (Kalimantan), Gorontalo (Sulawesi), Banten (west Java), Madura, and Buton.
Makassar (South Sulawesi) officially adopts Islam in 1605. Over the next few years, it launches a series of military campaigns to convert the neighboring Bugis kingdoms, as well as Bima, on the island of Sumbawa.
Reign of Sultan Iskandar Muda in Aceh (1607-1636), who built a new monumental mosque in the capital and launched campaigns to extend his territorial control. Acehnese influence helped spread Islam into the Sumatran interior and down the west coast.
Increasing Dutch incursions into the Indonesian archipelago.
Death at Cape Town in 1699 of Shaykh Yusuf of Makassar, who was exiled by the Dutch for supporting Muslim resistance movements in west Java.
Late seventeenth-eighteenth
Influential rulers (including queens) continue to act as patrons for Muslim teachers and as sponsors of religious texts. Increased participation of Southeast Asian Muslim scholars in movements also prominent elsewhere in the Muslim world that aimed at reforming popular ecstatic Sufism.
Establishment of British outposts in west Sumatra and Penang.
Islam becomes a rallying point for resistance against non-Muslim rule, especially against the Spanish in the southern Philippines, the Dutch in the Indonesian archipelago, and the Thais
in southern Thailand.
More Arabs arriving in the Southeast Asian region, especially Indonesia, where they marry high-born women.
Links with the Middle East strengthening through increased trade and travel.
Nineteenth century
With the backing of the Saud clan, the Wahhabi movement takes control of Mecca.
Apparently inspired to some degree by the Wahhabi victories in Arabia, a group of pilgrims returns to West Sumatra and initiates an aggressive campaign for reform. Known as the Padris, their campaign was eventually quashed after Dutch intervention.
T.S. Raffles establishes a British trading post on Singapore following the British interregnum in Java.
Outbreak of the Java War, in which Prince Diponogoro appeals to local Muslim leaders with a call to confront the Dutch in fighting for the country and for the restoration of Islamic rule.
    Mid-19th century Increasing Dutch fears of an Islamic resistance to their presence in the archipelago, signaled by the Dutch placing various impediments to Muslim pilgrims traveling to and from Mecca, and an increased surveillance of writings circulating among local Muslim communities.
The opening of the Suez Canal dramatically increases steamship traffic in the Indian Ocean, which in turn facilitates increased travel and communications between Southeast Asia and Arabia.
Dutch invade Aceh.
British begin the process of colonizing Malaya.
The Dutch Orientalist Snouck Hurgronje spends six months in Mecca and upon his return publishes a two-volume ethnography of Islam’s Holy City. Four years later he would be appointed as chief advisor to the Office of Native and Arab Affairs.
Death of Nawawi of Banten, a West Javanese scholar who was a long-time resident of Mecca and who composed numerous religious texts in Arabic still in use today.
U.S. takes control of the Philippines; fighting in the south leads to the death of a considerable numbers of Filipino Muslims.
Death of R.A. Kartini, later heralded as a pioneer in the Indonesian women’s movement.
Founding in Singapore of al-Imam, a Malay-language journal publishing articles on religious reform and drawing heavily on Egyptian “modernist” scholarship.
K.H. Ahmad Dahlan establishes the modernist welfare organization Muhammadiyah in Yogyakarta.
Founding of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), an organization of “traditionalist” Muslims associated with the network of pesantren schools in Java and opposed to some of the reforms of the
Japan invades Malaya, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies, incorporating the region into their “Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere” and mobilizing local Muslims in resistance to European attempts to retake the archipelago.
Japanese surrender to Allied Forces on August 15, creating a power vacuum in the areas that they had occupied.
Indonesian declaration of Independence, August 17; Sukarno is the first president, with Mohammad Hatta as his deputy.
Singapore becomes a Crown Colony, separate from British Malaya.
Instances of armed Muslim resistance to the Indonesian national government increasingly under the name of Darul Islam in West Java, Sulawesi, Kalimantan, and Aceh.
End of Dutch military attempts to regain control of Indonesia.
In Malaya, the All-Malay Islamic Association splits from UMNO to become the Persatuan Islam Sa-Tanah Melayu (PAS) and compete in that year’s Malayan federal elections as an Islamic opposition party.
The independent Federation of Malaya is established.
Singapore achieves independence.
Sukarno proclaims the establishment of “Guided Democracy” in Indonesia.
Malaya federates with the territories of Sabah and Sarawak (on Borneo) and Singapore, to create the Federation of Malaysia, September 16. At its inception Malaysia is a multi-ethnic state with Malays being the largest minority, followed by ethnic Chinese and Indians.
After a series of ethnic riots, Singapore withdraws from the Federation of Malaysia.
After a failed coup attempt on the evening of October 1, waves of violence break out in Indonesia, often under state sanction, in which thousands of suspected communists, and others, would be killed over the course of several months.
Presidential powers are formally transferred from Sukarno to Suharto, one of the surviving generals, who becomes the nation’s second president and establishes his “New Order” government
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is founded.
Founding of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the Philippines to fight for an autonomous Islamic state.
Ethnic riots involving Malay Muslims and Chinese in Malaysia.
The Malaysian government introduces the “New Economic Policy” (NEP), a system of “positive discrimination” for the Malay (Muslim) population by setting minimum quotas for their participation in the civil service, educational, and business sectors.
MNLF launches separatist war in the southern Philippines.
Death of Ahmad Wahib, author of a popular, posthumously published book of reflections on Islam in modern Indonesia.
Establishment of Brunei as an independent state.
President Suharto and his family go on the hajj; this highly-televised pilgrimage would serve as a powerful symbol of his much touted “turn to Islam” in the 1990s.
MNLF signs peace accord with Philippine government.
Financial crisis hits Southeast Asia, leading to protests and social unrest in many countries of the region.
President Suharto steps down in May in favor of B.J. Habibie amid widespread rioting, ending over thirty years of authoritarian rule.
Abdurrahman Wahid, former head of NU, is dismissed as the fourth president of Indonesia in the midst of corruption scandals; he is replaced by his vice president Megawati Sukarnoputri (daughter of first president Sukarno).
Al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, and the Pentagon in Washington, DC; in the wake of these events, the United States government enacts policies impacting Muslim communities around the world, including those in Southeast Asia
There is increasing local agitation for the implementation of some form of Shari’a law in various parts of Indonesia, including West Java, South Sulawesi, and Aceh.
Bomb attacks in Bali, Indonesia, on October 12, kill over 200 people, many of them foreign tourists. Later bombings will be directed at other western targets, such as the Jakarta Marriot in 2003 and the Australian embassy in 2004.
Four suspects are convicted for their role in the 2002 Bali bombings.
Abdullah Badawi, a moderate Muslim leader, becomes Prime Minister of Malaysia, ending over twenty years of governance by Mahathir bin Mohamad.
September, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is elected president of Indonesia.
Tsunami centered off the coast of Aceh kills tens of thousands in the region.
Violence breaks out in the Muslim provinces of the southern Philippines.
Abu Bakar Baasyir is convicted in Indonesia of conspiracy in connection with the 2002 Bali bombings.
Twenty-three people are killed in further suicide bombings in Bali on October 2.
Death of Nurcholish Madjid, former student leader and promoter of the “Renewal” (Pembaharuan) of Islam in Indonesia.
April 30, death of Pramoedya Ananta Toer, author of the “Buru Quartet” of novels about the birth of Indonesia, which emphasize the nation’s largely secular genesis and trajectory in modern history.