Did you know?: The Spread of Islam in Southeast Asia through the Trade Routes

Baiturrahman Great Mosque © Getty Images / Fredography

The Silk Roads are amongst some of the most important routes in our collective history. It was through these roads that relations between east and west were established, exposing diverse regions to different ideas and ways of life. Notably, these exchanges also included the diffusion of many of the world’s major religions including Islam.

After the advent of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century, Islam started its expansion towards eastern regions through trade encouraged by the development of the maritime Silk Roads. Muslims were known to have a commercial talent notably encouraged by Islam, as well as excellent sailing skills. Thus, they could monopolize the East-West trade of the maritime Silk Roads, connecting various major ports of eastern Asian regions together. Indeed, their commercial ships had to halt at various ports to be supplied with water and food, be repaired, or to wait for changes in wind direction.

These interactions resulted in further expansion of Islam to the people living in important coastal cities in the Indian Subcontinent, China, or in the more distant South-eastern islands of modern Indonesia or Philippines. It is believed that Islam first arrived in these South-eastern regions by the 7th century. Muslim merchants from the Arabian Peninsula had to pass through these islands of the south via the maritime Silk Roads to reach China's ports. 

In addition, according to historical accounts, Muslim traders came to the Indonesian islands because of the rare spices present there. It is believed that some of these merchants settled in Indonesia and blended with local people. Moreover, after the arrival of Muslim merchants in Sumatra Island, the kings of the island started to follow Islam, which further facilitated their integration into the trade roads around the 12th century AD. Archaeological evidence of the adoption of Islam amongst the royalty can be seen on tombstones engraved with the date of the Islamic year of Sumatran Kings of the 13th century.

Regarding the islands of the Philippines, archaeological records such as porcelain wares unearthed in the archipelago that belonged to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) and were imported to the Philippines by Muslim traders attest to the presence of Muslims before the 10th century. Moreover, in the 13th century, contacts between Muslim merchants and the local population, as well as commerce through the Silk Roads between the South of the Philippines and other neighbouring regions such as Brunei, Malaysia or Indonesia encouraged the spread of Islam amongst their local population.

Therefore, one would say that Islam arrived in South-East Asia in a peaceful way through trade and interactions between Muslim merchants and the locals. Similarly to Buddhism, Islam blended with existing cultural and religious influences of the Southeast Asian regions.


See also:

Gyeongju and the Silk Roads

Nara at the end of the Silk Roads

Ancient Monastic Hospital System in Sri Lanka

Brunei in the Maritime Silk Roads

Khwarazm Region and the Silk Roads

Quanzhou – The Heart of the Maritime Silk Roads

Mongolian Nomadism along the Silk Roads

The Spread of Buddhism in South and Southeast Asia through the Trade Routes

Sayyid Bin Abu Ali, a True Representative of Intercultural Relations along the Maritime Silk Roads

Thailand and the Maritime Silk Roads

Greek Presence in Central Asia

The Central Asian Maritime Silk Routes

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