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Spread of Islam in South and Southeast Asia, The

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Atlas of the World’s Religions, Second Edition What is This? Depicts the historical development and present state of the world's major religions

    Spread of Islam in South and Southeast Asia, The

    WITH NEARLY 550 million Muslims altogether, South and Southeast Asia encompass the largest Muslim population in the world. Characterized by linguistic and ethnic variety, the majority of Muslims in the area is Sunni, but significant Shi‘i communities can be found in Kashmir, Sind and Pakistan.

    There are two constants associated with Islam in the region: the role of trade and the missionary activities of Sufi orders. The symbiosis with other world religions such as Hinduism and Sikhism in India, Buddhism in Thailand or Christianity in the Philippines, at times erupts into direct confrontation. At a popular level, there is more than one instance of religious syncretism, where ritual practices such as pilgrimages to holy places are shared across the official religious divide.

    Islam in South Asia

    Islam entered India via two main routes: from the south, where Arab traders' colonies along the southwest coast of India are recorded since pre-Islamic times, and from the north, where Islam arrived through military conquest by land from Central Asia. In the north, Sind was a crucial outpost for the diffusion of Islam, which spread from there to Punjab and Gujarat. But it was from the eleventh century onwards that Muslim penetration became more substantial. When a new Turkish dynasty under its ruler Mahmud started to expand from Ghazni, a number of Hindu rulers from Delhi, Kalinjar, Ajmer and other cities formed a confederacy to oppose him, only to be defeated at the battle of Waihind in 1008 . Mahmud, attracted by the wealth of the Hindu rajas, carried out several campaigns, culminating in the capture of Somnath, but only annexed Punjab. After the Ghaznavids, other dynasties succeeded in expanding Islam into new areas: by 1212 , the Ghurids controlled most of the former Ghaznavid territories and had expanded as far east as Bengal. After a few decades, the Khaljis defended this territory against repeated Mongol raids and, under the great sultan ‘Ala’ al-din, extended it to the extreme south. The Turco-Indian Tughluqids expanded to the south and east but the vast empire began to disintegrate with the rise of independent Muslim principalities.

    Spread of Islam in South and Southeast Asia, The

    1. Islam in South Asia

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    The subcontinent was reunified during the seventeenth century, under the Mughal emperors. However, by the 1770s the Mughal empire ( 1526 – 1858 ) had shrunk to a small province around Dehli. Its legacy re-emerged in 1947 when, upon the British withdrawal from India, the newly-created Muslim state of Pakistan re-affirmed its links with Persia and the Middle East.

    The religious stand of the majority of Muslim rulers of India has been that of tolerance, mass conversion of Hindus being an impossibility. Even though Islam was often strongly supported by the state, the rapid growth of Muslim population was mainly due to the missionary activity of Sufi orders, particularly the Chishtiyah, Suhrawardiyah, Qadiriyah and Naqshbandiyah.

    Islam in Southeast Asia

    Islam in Southeast Asia is also linked to trade, which had been controlled by the Arabs from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries, when the Portuguese entered the international maritime commercial arena. From the fourteenth century onwards, local rulers converted to Islam, and within two centuries almost the entire region was Islamized. By the mid-fifteenth century Malacca had become the chief trading-centre for Southeast Asia as well as the main centre for the spread of Islam , which came to be identified with the state and with its main language: Malay.

    Spread of Islam in South and Southeast Asia, The

    2. Trade around the Indian Ocean in the 15th century

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    The mass conversion in this area was the result of many factors: the missionary activities of Sufi orders; political opportunism and obedience to the Muslim sultans; old and repeated contacts with Muslim traders; and, after the arrival of Christian missionaries with the Portuguese, a revival of Islamic proselytism. With its strong emphasis on mysticism and speculative theology, Islam is characterized by intermingling with local custom, especially in both family and civil law.

    The Impact and Legacy of Western Colonialism

    The imposition of British rule in India profoundly affected the religious development of the subcontinent. Despite their initial policy of tolerance, the British began to suppress some religious practices, favoured English as the language of administration, increased the influence of the Hindu and Sikh communities and, gradually, made Muslim religious law redundant. The Muslim responses to change were either moderate modernism, outright rejection of Western values, or the creation of a modern Muslim political identity. This latter position led to the formation of West and East Pakistan in 1947 , as a nation for the Muslims of India. The issue of national or religious identity was not really solved and, eventually, the national element prevailed in East Pakistan which became the independent state of Bangladesh in 1971 .

    Spread of Islam in South and Southeast Asia, The

    3. Islam in Maritime Southeast Asia to the 18th century

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    Control of trade as well as exploitation of natural resources motivated European colonial interests in Southeast Asia. The effects of the colonial presence are felt in the polarization of disputes between states and within states, but, above all, in a secularization of society. By and large the modern states emerging after independence were defined along European lines, with little or no place for religion. The conflict of identity still exists between a secular and an Islamic Southeast Asia, between the reality of a largely secular (although nominally Islamic) state, a Muslim communal religious movement and the commitment of some groups to the achievement of the ideal Islamic state.

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