By Peter Sluglett
The initial phase of Islamization in the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian Archipelago has been covered in MEI Insight No. 55. The later development of Islam and Islamic political and religious institutions came in a variety of manifestations that assumed different forms in different places. Among the more salient features of this long period were forms of concentrated local political consolidation and empire-building; conflicts with and between various European powers over control of the spice trade; the failure of local Muslim rulers to expel the Portuguese and the Dutch; the gradual weakening of all the regional dynasties through conflicts with the colonial powers, members of their own families, and regional rivals; support for, and opposition to, movements of Islamic reform that sought to impose “orthodoxy” on the region; and the beginnings of an anti-imperialist movement that would come to fruition in the twentieth century.
In many ways, Sultan Agung’s conquest of Surabaya in 1625 marked the apogee of his own power and of the Empire of Mataram. Subsequently Agung emerged the loser in a series of clashes with the Dutch, especially after his unsuccessful siege of Batavia in 1629. He also faced opposition from other Muslim religious centers, although he seems to have effected some kind of reconciliation with them by the time of his apparently significant pilgrimage to the shrine of Tembayat in 1633. He also married one of his sons and one of his sisters into the family of the last ruler of Surabaya, thereby strengthening the legitimacy of his own dynasty. A few years after incorporating Giri and its shrine into the domains of Mataram in 1636, he received the title of Sultan ‘Abdullah Muhammad Mawlana Matarani from the ashraf of Mecca; he is called king-priest (prabu pandita) in some Javanese chronicles.
Under Agung’s successors Amangkurat I (1645-77) and Amangkurat II (1677-1703) the Empire of Mataram first faltered and then crumbled. This was due to a number of factors, including Amangkurat I’s practice of killing off large numbers of potential rivals from among the Javanese nobility (both religious and temporal), his draconian economic policies, and his subservience to the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Eventually these activities combined to provoke a widespread rebellion that lasted from 1675 to 1677, led by Trunajaya, a disaffected member of the nobility, which destroyed the forces of Mataram at Gogodog in 1676. At this stage, in spite of protests from some of his courtiers against “cooperation with Christians” – and similar sentiments were being expressed in the 1680s by the Minangkabau leader Ahmad Shah Ibn Iskandar – the elderly sultan appealed to the VOC, whose intervention proved decisive in containing the rebellion. After his father’s death in 1677, Amangkurat II, whose treasury was almost empty, was obliged to rely even more heavily on the support of the VOC in eliminating his rivals. In time, the Dutch came to control much of western Java, eventually dividing it into two small kingdoms, Jogjakarta and Surakarta, which lasted from 1755 until their incorporation into the Republic of Indonesia in 1949.
The arrival of Islam in western Java and southern Sumatra, and the foundation of the sultanate of Banten, has semi-mythical overtones similar to those associated with the early years of the Empire of Mataram. In the late seventeenth century, the long reign of Sultan Ageng (1651-82) was a period of considerable prosperity, during which long distance trade flourished and irrigated agriculture, particularly rice and coconut cultivation, expanded considerably. Such success inevitably engendered a degree of covetousness on the part of the VOC, who were able to take advantage of the conflict developing between the sultan and the crown prince. Ageng was supported by one of the leading Islamic teachers of Indonesia, Shaykh Yusuf of Makassar (1626-99), a member of the Naqshbandi and Khalwati tariqat-s, and was at one stage most likely in a position to act decisively against growing VOC involvement in the affairs of Mataram. However, his son, Sultan Hajji (1682-87) effectively capitulated to the VOC, which proceeded to drive Ageng out of Banten and the other European (i.e. non-Dutch) traders out of Java.
At much the same time, the sultanate of Aceh developed into a serious rival of the Portuguese after their seizure of Malacca in 1511, although neither side emerged as a clear winner. In general, Aceh’s considerable military potential was blunted by constant internal conflict, and long-running disputes with Johor also sapped its strength. Under Sultan Iskandar Muda (1607-36) Aceh enjoyed a brief period of supremacy until the decisive defeat of his expedition to Malacca in 1629 at the hands of the Portuguese. An endemic problem of the sultanate, which long remained a major exporter of pepper, nutmeg, and cloves (the latter mostly trans-shipped from eastern Indonesia), seems to have been its tenuous influence over its rural hinterland and its consequent inability to control or rely on a regular agricultural surplus. Intra-elite quarrels could no longer be kept in check under Iskandar’s successors, and a series of weak rulers from the mid-seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries (including four quite independent queens between 1641 and 1688) meant that its authority remained confined to northern Sumatra. Nevertheless it remained a formidable economic power, producing more than half of world supplies of pepper in the 1820s.
As a result of the political decline of Aceh, the principal Muslim powers in western Southeast Asia between the mid-seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries were Johor-Riau in southern Malaya and the “pepper sultanates” of Palembang and Jambi, which vied for control of southern Sumatra. Both the latter were significant exporters to China and to Europe, and both were targeted by the VOC, anxious to secure a trade monopoly. Sultans ‘Abd al-Rahman and Badr al-Din of Palembang (1662-1706, 1724-57) presided over a period of considerable prosperity, managing both to evade the monopolistic demands of the VOC and to enjoy its protection at the same time. In contrast Jambi was locked in succession struggles, and its authority rarely extended to the upriver areas of the sultanate where most of the pepper was produced. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the VOC’s powers to insist were beginning to decline; this seems to have particularly benefited the port of Riau, a significant center for the export of pepper and tin, which enjoyed a brief if mercurial rise in prosperity (and independence from the VOC) under Raja Muda Mahmud (1708-18), who ruled the southern half of the Malay peninsula, the Riau Islands, and Siak in eastern Sumatra.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Islamic practices and institutions in Southeast Asia were being profoundly affected by movements in other parts of the Muslim world advocating reform and the rise in importance of the various Sufi orders, as well as by anti-colonial manifestations against the Dutch, who established direct colonial rule (to replace that of the VOC) in the early nineteenth century, and against the British. The latter had established themselves in southwestern Sumatra in the 1710s, then in Penang in 1786, and subsequently in the rest of the Malay Peninsula. Eventually, Anglo-Dutch rivalry was regulated by the Treaty of London of 1824. Some decades later, Sarawak, the northern part of the sultanate of Brunei, once the center of an empire covering much of Borneo, Celebes, and the Sulu Archipelago, was ceded first to a British adventurer, Sir James Brooke, and then to the British government in 1888.
The first major rebellion/jihad against the Dutch and their local allies took place in central Java around Jogjakarta in 1825-30. Its leader, Prince Dipanagra, styled himself “caliph of the Prophet,” and many of his followers saw him as a Mahdi. The Dutch also became involved in the Padri “civil wars” in Minangkabau in Sumatra between 1803 and 1838, initiated by local teachers of fiqh and subsequently by a number of returning hajji-s who had been influenced by Wahhabism and Salafism. Both the faqih-s and the “Wahhabis” were determined to do away with customary law and wanted to institutionalize the shari‘a. They were opposed by those with strong vested interests in the status quo, who turned to the Dutch for support against “Muslim fanaticism,” which included killing the populations of whole villages who would not accept the new teachings. The war ended with the imposition of direct Dutch rule in Minangkabau; however, while those who advanced “true Islam” were defeated, their prestige was greatly enhanced. There were similar conflicts in Aceh between 1873 and 1912, and in Banten after 1888.
All in all contacts with the wider Islamic world intensified both with the development of steam navigation in the later nineteenth century that enabled larger numbers of Muslims to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, and with the diffusion of newspapers, pamphlets, and journals from publishing houses in Egypt and the Middle East and from within Indonesia. While Salafism, then equivalent to “modernist reform,” was perhaps the main beneficiary of the process of internationalization, it also encouraged the wider diffusion of the Sufi orders, which played notable roles in the Banjarmassin war of 1859-63, the Aceh war of 1873-1912, and the Banten rebellion of 1888. Wan Ali, the leader of the rebels during the Pahang war of 1891-95 against the British, declared his struggle a jihad. Finally, in the latter part of the nineteenth century many Muslim leaders in Southeast Asia appealed to the Ottomans for assistance and/or moral support in their struggles against the Dutch and the British, particularly during the sultanate of ‘Abd al-Hamid II (1876-1909). This was partly because of ‘Abd al Hamid’s support for Pan-Islamism, but it was also symbolic of a widespread belief on the part of contemporaries in the essential unity of the Muslim world.
Peter Sluglett, Visiting Research Professor at the Middle East Institute, has been Professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City since 1994. He has published widely on Iraq, including Iraq Since 1958: From Revolution to Dictatorship, 3rd edn. (2001, with Marion Farouk-Sluglett) and Britain in Iraq: Contriving King and Country (2007). He has also edited and contributed to Syria and Bilad al- Sham under Ottoman Rule: Essays in Honour of Abdul-Karim Rafeq (2010, with Stefan Weber) and The Urban Social History of the Middle East 1750-1950 (2008).