South East Asia



The islands of south east Asia have always been a middle ground, mainly from an economic perspective. It was in this area that the Euroasian trading network met with the Indian Ocean networks of the east. These trading networks proved vital to the spread of Islam in this region, even more so than Hinduism and Buddhism.
This graphic displays the chronological order in which Islam spread in South East Asia. As mentioned in the text to the left, coastal cities were the most affected by Islam because of trade and merchant contact. Therefore, we see that Islam began on the coastlines of the islands worked its way to the center.
This graphic displays the chronological order in which Islam spread in South East Asia. As mentioned in the text to the left, coastal cities were the most affected by Islam because of trade and merchant contact. Therefore, we see that Islam began on the coastlines of the islands worked its way to the center.


The spread of Islam in south east Asia was primarily because of naval trade. In the 8th century, the coastal trade of India became increasingly controlled by Muslims from the west. Consequently, elements of the Islamic religion and culture began to make there way in south east Asia. After the collapse of the Shrivijaya empire, which was located on the island of Indonesia, the wide spread introduction of Islam began. This boom occured because it gave the people of SE Asia the economic incentive to convert, enabling them to establish stronger trading relations with the Muslims from India and Persia.


Trading contact therefore was the main way of conversion in SE Asia. Indonesia, the largest Muslim country today, acquired Islam from only a dozen Yemeni merchants trading their goods there. The speedy dhows (covered in Remainder of the Middle East) also transports many Sufis to this region, where their role in conversion was just as important as it was in India.




Trade and conversion to Islam were two very interrelated aspects in SE Asia. It was very apparent that coastal cities with large trading ports such as Malacca were very receptive of Islam. Once a major center of trade, such as Malacca, converted to Islam, it was in the best interest of the rest of the smaller cities to follow because of economic benefit. However, all conversions to Islam in this region were completely voluntary, as there were no armies to conquer these Islands.

As cities that served as centers of trade converted to Islam, increased Muslim contact through trade brought in large profits. These profits were then immediately reinvested into infrastructure and the economy, therefore allowing these moderate centers of trade to grow into enormous cities with great wealth. Urbanization continued at a high rate as more and more cities emerged due to naval trade routes. This resulted in a highly naval society that lived off of the ocean and sea trade, and these societies were to remain in contact with Persian and Indian societies for centuries to come.