Set in between India and China, the Malay coasts were a perfect connecting point for merchants of those two empires. Around the 1st century, the Indian influence became preponderant, local kings and populations converted to hinduism and buddhism.
Ten centuries later, when a local kingdom – Sri Vijaya – expended to Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, the South India armies reacted and occupied the Malay Peninsula.
The power of the buddhist maharajas will not be undermined before the 15th century, by the spread of islam…
Islam came to the Malay archipelago via Arab and Indian traders in the 13th century.
It arrived in the region gradually, and became the religion of the elite before it spread to the commoners.
The port of Malacca – on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula – was founded in 1402 by by Parameswara, a Srivijaya Prince.
A theory assesses that Parameswara became a Muslim when he married a Princess of Pasai (a sultanate on the North of Sumatra, Indonesia) and he took the fashionable Persian title “Shah”, calling himself Iskandar Shah.
Within a few years of its establishment, Malacca officially adopted Islam. Due to the fact Malacca was under a Muslim Prince, the conversion of Malays to Islam accelerated in the 15th century. The political power of the Malaccan Sultanate helped Islam’s rapid spread through the archipelago. Malacca was an important commercial centre during this time, attracting trade from around the region.
By the start of the 16th century, with Malaccan Sultanate in the Malay peninsula and parts of Sumatra, the Sultanate of Demak in Java, and other kingdoms around the Malay archipelago increasingly converting to Islam, it had become the dominant religion among Malays.
It reached as far as the modern-day Philippines, leaving Bali as an isolated outpost of Hinduism.
Malacca’s reign lasted little more than a century, but during this time became the established centre of Malay culture. Most future Malay states originated from this period. Malacca became a cultural centre, creating the matrix of the modern Malay culture: a blend of indigenous Malay and imported Indian, Chinese and Islamic elements.
Diversity will remain over centuries, as I will show tomorrow…