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Southeast Asia and Islam Kevin Hewison Carolina Asia Center University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Countries of SE Asia Indonesia The Philippines Cambodia Malaysia Singapore Myanmar (Burma) Brunei Darrusalam Vietnam Lao PDR Thailand Diversity!! Muslim populations in SE Asia

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Southeast Asia and Islam

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southeast asia and islam

Southeast Asia and Islam

Kevin Hewison

Carolina Asia Center

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Countries of SE AsiaIndonesiaThe PhilippinesCambodiaMalaysiaSingaporeMyanmar (Burma)Brunei DarrusalamVietnamLao PDRThailand


muslim populations in se asia
Muslim populations in SE Asia
  • Indonesia 212-230 m (88-95% of total population)
  • The Philippines 4.4-10.4 m (5-12%)
  • Cambodia 120,000 (1%)
  • Malaysia 12-13 m (50-55%)
  • Singapore 550,000-570,000 (15-17%)
  • Myanmar/Burma 1.7-4.3 m (4-10%)
  • Brunei 200,000-250,000 (63-67%)
  • Vietnam 85,000 (0.1%)
  • Lao PDR neg.
  • Thailand 3-8 m (5-14%)
islam in se asia
Islam in SE Asia
  • The timing and means of the introduction of Islam to SE Asia are debated. Some historians argue that it arrived through trading with India. Others claim a China connection. Some SE Asian scholars claim a direct link to Arabia.
  • In each case, trade appears significant in the introduction of Islam to SE Asia. From the 13th C, the trading islands of SE Asia saw Islam begin to displace Buddhism and Hinduism in some areas. Initial focus on port cities.
  • Islam had spread throughout much of SE Asia by the end of the 17th C.
  • SE Asian Islam is diverse; underpinned by animist, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions, making it more syncretic.
  • Islam in SE Asia is also politically diverse.
islam now
Islam now
  • Islam has seen a recent revival in SE Asia: a response to domestic and external factors.
  • Internal factors:  globalization and the impact of Western culture, especially the impact of rapid industrialization and urbanization  Asian economic crisis in 1997 saw governments challenged and overthrown (Suharto in Indonesia); regimes often allied with the US  Opposition to US military involvement in SE Asia  Muslim separatists have continued their struggles in the Philippines and Thailand. The latter is almost entirely internally-focused.
  • External factors: “global Islam”  training of SE Asian Muslims in the ME and Pakistan (a few in Afghanistan)  the Palestinean struggle  the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran  Wahhabism  the war in Afghanistan  the War on Terror and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.
9 11 and after
9/11 and after
  • Immediately after 9/11, sympathy for the US was high. Most countries in SE Asia condemned the attack.
  • Most understood retaliation, in Afghanistan; did not support unilateral action.
  • Initially, the US-led invasion of Iraq was not widely supported. US was urged to take a multilateral approach. Many Muslims in SE Asia saw this invasion as an attack on Muslims.
  • Terrorism in SE Asia  Bombings in Bali, Jakarta (Marriott, Australian Embassy)  Separatism in S Philippines (declining) and S Thailand (expanding)  Plot in Singapore  Arrest of Hambali (2003).
  • Radical Islam does not have any broad appeal.
  • Alienation and humiliation will mean that the Islamic political resurgence in SE Asia will continue.
  • R. Hefner, Civil Islam. Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia, Princeton U.P., 2000.
  • T.M. McKenna, “Muslim separatism in the Philippines: Meaningful autonomy or endless war?” AsiaSource, Asian Social Issues Program, Asia Society,
  • Teaching Resources on Southeast Asia for the Classroom, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University,
  • MSNBC: