Melaka Sultanate - Islam and Malay Culture

Islam and Malay Culture

The conversion of the first ruler of Melaka, Parameswara, to Islam was unclear so far with no evidence as to whether he had actually converted. The 16th century Portuguese writer Tomé Pires explicitly mentioned that Parameswara was succeeded by his son, Megat Iskandar Shah, and that only the latter converted to Islam at the age 72. On the other hand, the Malay Annals noted that it was during the reign of the third ruler Muhammad Shah, that the ruling class and the subjects began accepting Islam. While there are differing views on when the Islamization if Melaka actually took place, it is generally agreed that Islam was firmly established during the reign of Muzaffar Shah.

Islamisation in the region surrounding Melaka gradually intensified between 15th to 16 centuries through study centers in Upeh, the district on the north bank of the Melaka River. Islam spread from Melaka to Jambi, Kampar, Bengkalis, Siak, Aru and the Karimun Islands in Sumatra, throughout much of the Malay peninsula, Java and even Philippines. The Malay Annals even reveals that the courts of Melaka and Pasai posed theological questions and problems to one another. Of the so-called Wali Sanga ('nine saints') responsible in spreading Islam on Java, at least two, Sunan Bonang and Sunan Kalijaga, are said to have studied in Melaka. The Portuguese apothecary and chronicler at the time of Melaka's fall, Tome Pires, in his Suma Oriental mentions that the rulers of Kampar and Indragiri on the east coast of Sumatra converted to Islam as a result of Sultan Muzaffar Shah's influence and went on to study the religion in Melaka. The Malay Annals also mentions a number of scholars who served at the Melaka royal court as teachers and counselors to the various Sultans. Maulana Abu Bakar served in the court of Sultan Mansur Shah and introduced the Kitab Darul Manzum, a theological text translated from the work of an Arab scholar in Mecca. A scholar by the name of Maulana Kadi Sardar Johan served as a religious teacher to both Sultan Mahmud Shah and his son. In addition to Kitab Darul Manzum, the Malay Annals also mentions the Kitab al-luma' fi tasawwuf ('Book of Flashes'), a 10th century treatise on Sufism by Abu Nasr al-Sarraj.

Certain elaborate ceremonies that blend Islamic traditions with local culture were also began taking shape during Melakan era. One of the example was recorded during the reign of Muhammad Shah. A special ceremony was held that marked the celebration of the 27th nigh of Ramadan, the Laylat al-Qadr. It began with a daytime procession, led by the Temenggung on elephant-back, conveying the Sultan's prayer mat to the mosque for Tarawih performed after the mandatory night prayers. On the following day the Sultan's turban would be carried in procession to the mosque. Similar ceremonies accompanied the grand celebrations of both Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Hari Raya Aidiladha. Apparently Melakan Malay society had become so infused with the Islamic worldview that on the eve of the fall of Melaka, warriors at the court requested copies of two Islamic heroic epics, the Hikayat Amir Hamzah and the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiah, to inspire them in battle the next day. These two epics, still read today, tell of heroes fighting in the defense of Islam.

The rise of Melaka as a center of Islam had a number of crucial implications. Firstly, Islam transformed the notion of kingship so that the Sultan was bo longer viewed as divine, but as God's Khalifah (vice-gerent on earth). Secondly, Islam was an important factor in enabling Melaka to foster good relations with other Islamic polities, including the Ottoman Empire, thereby attracting Muslim traders to Melaka. Thirdly, Islam brought many great transformation into Melakan society and culture, and ultimately it became a definitive marker of a Malay identity. This identity was in turn enriched further through the standards set by Melaka in some important aspects of traditional Malay culture, notably in literature, architecture, culinary traditions, traditional dress, performing arts, martial arts, and royal court traditions. Over time, this common Malay cultural idiom came to characterize much of the Maritime Southeast Asia through the Malayisation.

Read more about this topic:  Melaka Sultanate

Famous quotes containing the words islam and, culture and/or islam:

    Awareness of the stars and their light pervades the Koran, which reflects the brightness of the heavenly bodies in many verses. The blossoming of mathematics and astronomy was a natural consequence of this awareness. Understanding the cosmos and the movements of the stars means understanding the marvels created by Allah. There would be no persecuted Galileo in Islam, because Islam, unlike Christianity, did not force people to believe in a “fixed” heaven.
    Fatima Mernissi, Moroccan sociologist. Islam and Democracy, ch. 9, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. (Trans. 1992)

    The hard truth is that what may be acceptable in elite culture may not be acceptable in mass culture, that tastes which pose only innocent ethical issues as the property of a minority become corrupting when they become more established. Taste is context, and the context has changed.
    Susan Sontag (b. 1933)

    During the first formative centuries of its existence, Christianity was separated from and indeed antagonistic to the state, with which it only later became involved. From the lifetime of its founder, Islam was the state, and the identity of religion and government is indelibly stamped on the memories and awareness of the faithful from their own sacred writings, history, and experience.
    Bernard Lewis, U.S. Middle Eastern specialist. Islam and the West, ch. 8, Oxford University Press (1993)