Story of Islam in Indonesia

Written by Islamstory

Islam in Inonesia Al-Mas`ûdî, a famous Muslim Historian, used to call Indonesia “the Islands of Mihrâj”. However, the rest of Muslim historians used to name it after one of the names of its islands such as Sumatra, Jawa (Java), etc. It is said that the name Indonesia consists of two syllables: Indo (India), and nesia (Islands). Some ancient historians used to refer to it by “Islands of East India”. Sometimes, it was called “the green land”. It carries the name Indonesia since the 13th hijri century – the 19th century AC.[1]

Indonesia is part of Malay Archipelago in South East Asia. It is the country that has the biggest group of islands in the world. It contains about 17508 islands; 600 of them are inhibited including the island of Java. Java is one of the most crowded places in the world. The ratio of the Muslims in Indonesia decreased from 97% to 85%.

The spread of Islam

It is hard to know the exact date of the beginning of the Indonesian adoption of Islam. Sources mention that the Muslim merchants established for themselves markets on the shores of Sumatra and Malay Peninsula in early time. Probably, this dated back to the end of the 2nd hijri century and the beginning of the 3rd hijri century (i.e. the 8th and 9th centuries AC.). The early Muslim merchants came from the Arabian Peninsula; specifically from Amman, Hadhramaut, and the southern coast of Yemen. They settled in the West coast of Sumatra, which they called “Samdarah”. They were Sunni and followers of the Shâfi`î school of Fiqh. As to the Muslim Indian merchants, who entered these islands later, they were followers of the Hanafî school of Fiqh.[2]

Some books of history report that some Indonesian merchants reached to Baghdad at the time of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid. They accepted Islam and traveled back to their country to spread Islam there. [3]

In the beginning of the 9th hijri – 15th AC. century, Islam started to spread in Indonesia. The new Muslim sultans and tribes there, at that time, resisted the Buddhist authority in Java. The most important of those were the sultans of Ashin in the far north of Sumatra and the sultans of Malaka in the west Malaya Island. The sultans of Malaka established continuous trade, a part from the official trade of the country, links with the Muslim merchants, whether Arabs, Persians, Chinese, or Indians. Most of those sultans accepted Islam due to their contact with the Arabs and Persians. [4]


Java & the Spread of Islam

The spread of Islam deeply contributed to the establishment of new different Indonesian kingdoms in these islands. For example, King Hasan ad-Dîn established the kingdom of Bentham in West Java. Also, a military man, who is called Sanfani, established the kingdom of Mitram in East Java. Thus, Java became the lightening center from which Islam spread to the neighboring islands. Moreover, there were the kingdom of Atchah in North Sumatra, the kingdom of Dimak in the center of Java and which was established by Ramadan Fatimî in 832 AH, and the kingdom of Balmabanigh in the south of Sumatra. [5]
In its spread in Indonesia, Islam moved from a group of islands to another peacefully without any wars. Now, in this part of the world lays Indonesia, which is the biggest Islamic country on the earth. [6]

Portuguese occupation

Portuguese occupation In fact, the islands of Indonesia have an excellent location and huge natural resources, the matter that made it a target of occupation by Portugal, Holland, England, Spain, and America. When the Indonesian Muslim started to enjoy a good status in Indonesia, the Europeans occupied Indonesia while justifying this by claiming that they aim at getting the spices that experienced raise in price in Europe at that time.[7]

Portugal was the first country that occupied Indonesia. Fierce fights occurred between the Indonesians and the Portuguese. These fights followed the style of the crusades, as the Portuguese wanted to abolish Muslims and repeat what happened to the Muslims in Spain. They aimed at destroying the economy of the Muslims, controlling the trade, and spreading Christianity. Moreover, they used all means to terrify and suppress Muslims. The Portuguese attacks on this country were repeated and they managed to find some Indonesian people to be their allies and apply their occupational policy there. From this date on, the European merchants became intensively existent in Indonesia.
The Muslims of Indonesia resisted the Portuguese occupation. They led many revolutions against Christianity, especially when the Christians assassinated the Indonesian sultan Harun (in 978 AH-1570 AC), the sultan of Trant, whose power reached till Philippine. [8]

Portuguese Occupation

Dutch occupation

The Portuguese monopolized spice imports to Europe. This continued till the year 988 AH – 1580 AC when Spain occupied Portugal. Because of the destruction of the Spanish fleet in Armada at the hands of the English one in the year 997 AH – 1588, Spain could not continue the Portuguese tries to invade Indonesia. [9]

After Holland get its freedom, it started to have naval journeys – not fearing the Spanish fleet anymore. The first Dutch fleet directed towards India in 1590 AC and reached till the Indonesian islands, and then it returned back to Holland. This led to the establishment of Dutch East-India Company in 1602 AC.[10] such company that declared in the beginning that its purpose is merely trade, but it appeared later that it followed the policy of monopoly of agricultural products as well as the monopoly of lands in return for money which the company pays for the Sultans. [11]

Moreover, the Dutch used force to suppress the revolution of the Muslims of Indonesia who did not accept this unfair situation. The Dutch government itself interfered to face such revolution. [12]
Britain, too, joined Portugal and Holland in the occupation of Indonesia. It built a fort in the western coast of Sumatra in 1714 AC, which remained till 1825 AC.

Indonesia was under the power of the British East-India company from 1811 till 1816 AC. this was in the time when Napoleon occupied Holland, but – later – there was a treaty between Britain and Holland – which was signed in London in 1814. It stated that Britain is to give back the Indonesian colonies to Holland.

Japanese Occupation

Japanese occupation

The Japanese forces occupied Indonesia in March 1942 AC after the surrender of the Dutch army.[13]
After one month the Japanese occupation canceled all political parties as well as other organizations. It prevented them from performing any activities. However, the Indonesians resisted such occupation, which ended when the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan in 1364 AH – 1645 AC. At that, Japan surrendered and after two days an Indonesian government was formed and headed by Ahmad Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia, and the vice-president Muhammad Hatta. [14]


Poverty & Christian Missionaries

In our modern time, Indonesia faces a lot of problems. Among these are the weak Indonesian industry despite the availability of natural resources, ample lands, and big population. Also, the ratio of the illiteracy and the unemployment is high. Due to this high unemployment and increase in poverty rate, Indonesia – in the recent decades – became one of the biggest providers of cheap labors.
These bad conditions urged the missionary movements in the world to work on converting the Indonesian people into Christianity. The missionary movements started to act on this from the mid of the twentieth century. Needles to mention that such movements own budgets that exceed these of some countries. They own TV channels, newspapers, and magazines. Unfortunately, their efforts were successful as the ratio of Muslims decreased from 97% to 85%. A lot of areas fell at the hands of these movements such as West Nusa Tenggara, in which the ratio of Muslims became 9.12%. This area consists of 111 islands; the biggest of them is Timor. Sadly, most of the inhabitants of this area became Christians.


[1] Mahmoud Qamar: al-Islam wa al-Muslimun fi Janûb Sharq Asia (Islam and Muslims in South East Asia), page 43.

[2] Hussein Mu’nis: Atlas Târîkh al-Islam (Atlas of Islamic History), page 380.

[3] Mahmoud Shaker: at-Tarîkh al-Islamî (Islamic History), 20/368.

[4] Fayiz Salih: al-Isti`mâr fî Janûb Sharq Asia (occupation in South East Asia), page 174.

[5] Isma`il Ahmad Yaghî & Mahmoud Shaker: Tarîkh al-`Alam al-Islâmî al-Hadîth wa al-Mu`âser (The Modern History of Muslim world), 1/287.

[6] Hussein Mu’nis: Atlas Târîkh al-Islam (Atlas of Islamic History), page 381.

[7] Isma`il Ahmad Yaghî & Mahmoud Shaker: Tarîkh al-`Alam al-Islâmî al-Hadîth wa al-Mu`âser (The Modern History of Muslim world), 1/287.

[8] Ibid: 1/289.

[9] Ibid

[10] Mustafa Ramadan: al-Islam wa al-Muslimun fi Janûb Sharq Asia (Islam and Muslims in South East Asia), page 7.

[11] Mahmoud As-Sayed: Tarîkh Diwal Janûb Sharq Asia (History of the countries of South East Asia), page 94.

[12] Mustafa Ramadan: al-Islam wa al-Muslimun fi Janûb Sharq Asia (Islam and Muslims in South East Asia), page 8.

[13] Ibid.
[14] Mahmoud Shaker: at-Tarîkh al-Islamî (Islamic History), 20/386-387.

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