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Muslim States of South-East Asia
Dr. Abdur Rauf


South-east Asia is world’s most vital area. Some Muslim states are also situated in this region. These states command a great prestige in their region in general and in the Muslim world in particular. They enjoy great fame in history. This article deals briefly with the following four Muslim states of south-east Asia:


i)       The Republic of Maldives,

ii)      The Constitutional Monarchy of Malaysia

iii)    The Sultanate of Brunei, and

iv)    The Republic of Indonesia


Islamic Rule in Maldives

Maldives islands are situated in the Indian Ocean four hundred miles to the south of Sri Lanka. The official name of the country is the Republic of Maldives. It comprises, 2,000 small and big islands. None of these is bigger than four or five miles. Underneath the islands are located volcanoes in the ocean. As the level of the earth is too low, fierce floods and severe storms often assume dangerous proportions. Majority of the population is Muslim. The literacy rate is 82%. Millet, coconut and fruits are the main crops. Important industries include fishing, ship-building, coconut oil extraction, tourism, etc. In 1965, Maldives achieved complete freedom. Presidential form of government is current since 1968.

Islam reached Maldives during the first century Hijrah through Arab traders. In 1214, all inhabitants embraced Islam at the hands of the Sufi saint, Abu’l-Barakat Berberi. Even the Hindu ruler of those times, Dharam Sant, accepted Islam. He was renamed as Sultan Muhammad Ibn ‘Abdullāh. The Maldivians refer to this historic event as ‘the Spiritual Revolution’. The famous Muslim tourist-historian, Ibn Batūtah, visited the islands during the fourteenth century. He even served the Maldives government as a Qādī (judge). His interesting travelogues throw a floodlight on the island’s life-style. Except for brief ruling periods of the Portugese, the Dutch and the British, Maldives has always remained an independent Muslim state.

Maldives is now in the grip of Islamic renaissance. Addressing a SAARC session in July 1984, the republic’s President, Māmūn ‘Abdu’l-Rashīd said proudly: ‘Islam is my faith. Islam alone is an ideal way of life. Islam is so dynamic and so adaptable that it can serve anyone, anywhere, anytime. Islamic system alone is suited to the human society.’ In November 1984, the president laid the foundation of a Jāmi‘ Masjid complex, estimated to cost a total of seven million dollars. The biggest problem of Maldives is the constant fear that if the sea-level rises a bit further, the entire country will be washed away.

Tourism is progressing rapidly in Maldives. This lively little island has been the centre of interest of many a genuine as well as fake tourist. From November 1985, India has also started a sea service between Bombay and Maldives.


The Muslim State of Malaysia

This south-eastern peninsula is surrounded by Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore. Kuala Lumpur is its capital. Seventy percent of the county is covered by thick forests. Majority of the population is Muslim. Other religions include Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity. Literacy rate is 72%.

From time immemorial, Malaysia has been a meeting place of diverse civilisations. With the passage of time, it gradually assumed the shape of a dynamic centre of civilisation which had a pleasant cultural impact on Arabia, Iran, India, Sumatra, Philippines and China. In 1292, the boat of the first European tourist, Marco Polo, sailed through this peninsula. In 1511, a Portuguese missionary, Albuquerque entered Malaysia with the Bible in one hand and a sword in the other. His cherished wishes were imposition of Portuguese rule over the entire east and disrupting the Muslim trade between the east and Europe. He, however, failed to fulfil his dirty dreams. In 1641, the Dutch drove the Portuguese out of Malaysia and established their firm footing in the peninsula. The British also ruled the country for about a century. Malaysia achieved independence in 1957.

Modern Malaysia is facing two pressing problems: (1) The mounting struggle to curtail powers of the present constitutional monarchy and to expand parliament powers; (2) Outlining and implementing various plans and projects for socio-economic development.

The main crops of Malaysia include rubber, rice, coconut and timber. Small industries have also been established. With a view to accelerate economic growth, private sector has been accorded full freedom. Foreign investment has also been on the increase for quite sometime during the past.

Islamic principles and practices play a vital role in island’s everyday life. The recommendations made by the Islamic Conference to promote co-operation among the Muslim states are accorded high priority by the government and the people of Malaysia. An Islamic University has also been established since July 1983. The same year the first Islamic bank was inaugurated under the name of Islamic Bank of Malaysia. This magnificent measure marks the beginnings of interest-free banking in Malaysia. The movement for Islamic renaissance is in full swing. It derives its inspiration from the organisation of the young folk known as ‘The Muslim Youth Movement’. This dynamic organisation is active since 1972. Its attitude towards modernisation is balanced and wholesome. Most of the Malaysian youth have been inspired by Iran’s Islamic Revolution brought about by the great leader late Allama Khoumeni. In recent years, organised campaigns against corruption, malpractices, social injustice and several other ills and ailments have gained unprecedented momentum.


The Sultanate of Brunei

This lovely little south-eastern state is situated in the Pacific Ocean. Its old name was Borneo. The present name is Brunei Dāru’l-Salām. It is ruled by a Muslim king, under the title of Sultan. Although small in size, it is the richest land in the region. Brunei is rich in oil wealth. The per capita income is twenty two thousand dollars. Every fourth person owns a car. It is a tax free land. All basic amenities of life are provided by the state free of cost. There is no charge on medical and educational facilities either. Literacy rate is 64%. A system of state pension for the aged and the handicapped is in vogue. Loans are extended freely to the citizens for purchase of articles of daily use.

Centuries back, some Muslim traders had arrived in Brunei. It is those early traders who disseminated Islam in the country. Since then, Islam has been the dominant religion. The Muslims form 60% of the entire population. In ancient times, a diversity of tourists and traders had been visiting the place. In 1530, a visiting Dutch tourist wrote this about the country. ‘Brunei’s king is ver rich and powerful. The country is very peaceful and prosperous. Mutton, rice, corn and other commodities are available in abundance.’ Towards the beginning of the nineteenth century several European tourists and traders began to frequent Brunei. But the arrival of the British heralded an era of unrest, conflict and chaos. In 1905, Britain even occupied Brunei by force. Things, however, began changing after the Great War. In 1984, Brunei achieved complete freedom from the yoke of British imperialism. She emerged on the world map as a sovereign Muslim state. It may, however, be remembered that the process of Islamisation of life and economy had started in full swing even as early as in 1963.

Brunei’s main crops are rice and banana. Besides oil, the important minerals include gas as well. Brunei’s basic problem is severe labour shortage. It is, therefore, imported from Pakistan, India, Philippines and Malaysia. As this procedure creates a host of unpleasant problems, the government disfavours import of labourers. In 1985, Brunei entered into a joint venture with Singapore for the establishment of an eight million dollar pharmaceutical plant.


Muslim Rule in Indonesia

Standing strategically in between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, this great and gallant Muslim state is situated towards south-east Asia. The Australian continent lies towards its south-east. In ancient times, it was known as East India Islands. In 1921, the freedom-fighters renamed it as Indonesia. The country comprises over four thousand islands which are mostly unpopulated. Most of the islands are dotted with volcanoes. Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country of the world from the population point of view. Out of a total of 160 million people 90% are Muslims. Literacy rate is 67%.

Geographically Indonesia can be divided into four main parts: (1) Western islands which include Java, Sumatra, Bunka, Madur, Borneo Balyun, etc; (2) Sonda Islands comprising Mali, Lumbuk, Somba, Taimur, Roti, Florus and Sumbava; (3) Eastern Islands including Saladesi and Malu; and (4) Islands comprising Western Irian, New Guinea, etc. The main crops are rice, walnuts, soybeans, coffee, tea, coconut, spices and tobacco. The mineral wealth includes oil, tin, copper, gold, silver and coal. The most significant industries are food products, textiles, mining and oil refining.

The Indonesian culture dates back to the pre-Christ period. Hinduism and Buddhism were popular here during the seventh and eighth centuries. The Muslim entered the land during the eleventh century. Islam attained an unprecedented popularity during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In 1428, a famous Muslim missionary established the Islamic rule by defeating Java’s ruler. However, that rule did not last beyond 1578. But when Ibn Batūtah visited the country in 1346, he had even then found an Islamic government in Sumatra. From olden days, various islands of Indonesia have been targets of militant Dutch and Portuguese Christian missionaries. In 1511, Albuquerque raided Maluka under orders of the Portuguese king, establishing Portuguese rule over there. In 1595, the Dutch laid the foundations of the Dutch East India Company in Taimur area. This ushered in an era of intrigues and insurgencies against the native Muslims. The government of Holland forcibly occupied many Indonesian islands in 1795. Later on, they conquered all the islands one after the other. They then changed the country’s name to Dutch East India.

The situation went on deteriorating with the passage of time. The exploitative designs of the intruding powers became quite manifest to the local Muslims. Annoyed over the recurring external interference, a famous religious scholar, Imam Bonjole, declared Jihād in the beginning of the nineteenth century. In 1913, the Muslims established an organisation, ‘Islamic Society’ for their religious and moral welfare. As the organisation gained unusual popularity, the communists also set up their rival organisation, ‘Peoples Party’. After World War II, Indonesia came under the Allies in 1945. In September 1945, the British army invaded Indonesia but was defeated. Passing through various stages of Islamic renaissance and political emancipation Indonesia eventually won its freedom. On August 15, 1950 it emerged as a united, independent Muslim state. Dr. Ahmad Seokarno was elected as the first president of the new republic.

Indonesia has always been in the forefront of all national and pan-Islamic movements for the revival of Islam. From the very start its goal has been Islamic revolution. Students have played a vital role in the progress and development of their country. Currently, the most worrying problem of Indonesia is the fact that a number of hostile Christian missionaries have again started turning towards the land. According to the figures given by the renowned Muslim scholar, Dr. Ahmad Deedat, presently 650 Christian missionaries are actively engaged in converting innocent Indonesian Muslims to Christianity. Their most favourite traps to lure the naïve Muslims are ‘hospitals’, school’, ‘youth clubs’, ‘libraries’, ‘recreation centres’, ‘cultural associations’, etc. Several contemporary Christian powers in the west are patronising these shrewd missionaries rather liberally. Their target is to wipe out Islam and the Muslim from the whole of Indonesia. Consequently, about 15 million ignorant Muslims are reported to have already been converted to Christianity thus far through different deceptive devices.


(Extracted from the ‘Hundred Great Muslims’)


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