The Triumph of Ruler: Islam and Statecraft in Pre-Colonial Malay-Archipelago

Jajat Burhanudin
Faculty of Adab and Humanities, Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University Jakarta



Taking pre-colonial period as the subject of study, this article argues that Islam is part of Malay culture and politics. Islam strongly engaged in the formation of Malay kingdoms, mingled with maritime commerce, and contributed to the formulation of Malay ideas of power and political management. Yet, it should be noted that the important role of Islam is to be explained by the fact that the religion gave emphasis to the idea of omnipotent ruler (raja), as was expressed in the Islamized language of politics, such as khalifa (vicegerent) and zill Allah fi al-alam (the shadow of Allah on earth). It was the ruler, with Islamic honorific titles and attributes, which appeared as the most determinant actor in the statecraft of kingdoms. Being as such, Islam could not be conceived of as an evaluation for rulers’ political conduct. Instead, Islam served as a religious justification for the rise of the absolutist kingdom of the archipelago, which culminated in the kingdom of Aceh in the seventeenth century.The ruler had paramount position over the subjects (rakyat) and the economic elites (orang kaya).

[Artikel ini menjelaskan bahwa pada periode pra-kolonial, Islam merupakan bagian dari kebudayaan dan politik Melayu. Islam sangat berpengaruh dalam struktur kerajaan Melayu, campur tangan perdagangan laut, dan berperan dalam pembentukan konsep kekuasaan kerajaan Melayu dan manajemen politiknya. Tetapi perlu digarisbawahi bahwa peran penting Islam secara faktual adalah agama memberikan penekanan pada konsep raja yang dalam bahasa Islam politik disebut dengan khalifa dan zill Allah fi al-alam (wakil Tuhan di bumi). Sang raja, sebagaimana gelar dalam Islam, merupakan tokoh yang paling berkuasa dalam pemerintahan sebuah kerajaan. Sebagaimana yang terjadi, Islam tidak dapat diterima begitu saja sebagai koreksi terhadap perilaku politik sang raja. Alih – alih Islam justru menjadi justifikasi agama untuk kekuasaan mutlak raja, dimana puncaknya terjadi pada Kerajaan Aceh abad 17. Raja mempunyai kedudukan paling atas melampaui rakyat dan kaum borjuis.] 


Islam; Malay identity; pre-colonial kingdoms; politics; ruler-subject relations; bourgeois

Full Text:



Abdullah, Taufik, “Islam and the Formation of Tradition in Indonesia: A Comparative Perspective”, Itinerario, vol. 13, no. 1, 1989, pp. 17–36 [].

----, “The Formation of a Political Tradition in the Malay World”, in The Making of an Islamic Political Discourse in Southeast Asia, ed. by Anthony Reid, Clayton, Vic: Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University, 1993.

Adas, Michael, “From Avoidance to Confrontation: Peasant Protest in Precolonial and Colonial Southeast Asia”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 23, no. 2, 1981, pp. 217–47.

Al-Attas, Muhammad Naguib, Preliminary Statement on a General Theory of the Islamization of the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago, Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia, 1969.

Anderson, Benedict R. O’G., “The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture”, in Culture and Politics in Indonesia, ed. by Claire Holt, Ithaca N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1972.

Azra, Azyumardi, The Origins of Islamic Reformism in Southeast Asia: Networks of Malay-Indonesian and Middle Eastern “Ulama” in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century, Crows Nest, NSW: Asian Studies Association of Australia in association with Allen & Unwin and University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

Braginsky, V.I., The System of Classical Malay Literature, Leiden: KITLV Press, 1993.

Brakel, L.F., “Persian Influence in Malay Literature”, Abr Nahrain, vol. 9, 1970.

Breman, Jan, The Shattered Image: Construction and Deconstruction of the Village in Colonial Asia, Dordrecht: Foris Publication, 1988.

Brown, C.C. (tran.), Sejarah Melayu or Malay Annals, Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Burhanudin, Jajat, “The Making of Islamic Political Tradition in the Malay World”, Studia Islamika, vol. 8, no. 2, 2001 [].

----, “Kerajaan-Oriented Islam: The Experience of Pre-Colonial Indonesia”, Studia Islamika, vol. 13, no. 1, 2006 [].

Carey, P.B.R., “A Further Note on Professor John’s ‘Gift Addressed to the Spirit of the Prophet’”, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, vol. 131, no. 2, 1975, pp. 341–4 [].

Chaudhuri, K.N., Trade and Civilisation in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Dalton, George, “Theoretical Background Karl Polanyi’s Analysis of Long-distance Trade and His Wider Paradigm”, in Ancient Civilization and Trade, ed. by Jeremy A. Sabloff and C.C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1975.

DasGupta, Arun Kumar, “Acheh in Indonesian Trade and Politics, 1600-1641”, Ph.D. Dissertation, Ithaca N.Y.: Cornell University, 1962.

Drewes, G.W.J., “Indonesia: Mysticism and Activism”, in Unity and Variety in Muslim Civilization, ed. by Gustave E. Von Grunebaum, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.

Errington, Shelly, “A Study of Genre: Meaning and Form in the Malay Hikayat Hang Tuah”, Ph.D. Dissertation, Ithaca N.Y.: Cornell University, 1975.

Geertz, Clifford, Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.

Grinter, C.A., “Book IV of the Bustan Us-Salatin by Nuruddin Ar-Raniri: A Study from the Manuscripts of a 17th Century Malay Work Written in North Sumatra”, Ph.D. Dissertation, London: School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), 1979.

Gullick, J.M., Indigenous Political Systems of Western Malaya, London: Athlone Press, 1965.

Hall, K., “The Coming of Islam to the Archipelago”, in Economic Exchange and Social Interaction in Southeast Asia, ed. by Karl L. Hutterer, Ann Arbor: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, 1977.

Heine-Geldern, Robert, Conceptions of State and Kingship in Southeast Asia, Ithaca N.Y.: Southeast Asia Program, Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University, 1956.

Hill, A.H., “Hikayat Raja-Raja Pasai”, Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 33, no. 2 (190), 1960, pp. 1–215.

----, “Hikayat Raja-Raja Pasai”, Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 33, no. 2 (190), 1960, pp. 1–215.

----, “The Coming of Islam to North Sumatra”, Journal of Southeast Asian History, vol. 4, no. 1, 1963, pp. 6–21 [].

Jones, A.H., “Sufism as a Category in Indonesian Literature and History”, Journal of Southeast Asian History, vol. 2, no. 2, 1961, pp. 10–23.

Jones, Russell, “Ten Conversion Myths from Indonesia”, in Conversion to Islam, ed. by Nehemia Levtzion, New York: Holmes & Meier, 1979.

Kathirithamby-Wells, J., “Achehnese Control over West Sumatra up to the Treaty of Painan, 1663”, Journal of Southeast Asian History, vol. 10, no. 3, 1969, pp. 453–79.

----, “Royal Authority and the ‘Orang Kaya’ in the Western Archipelago, circa 1500-1800”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 17, no. 2, 1986, pp. 256–67.

Khalid M. Hussain (ed.), Taj us-Salatin, Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia, 1992.

Kratz, E.U., “Durhaka: The Concept of Treason in the Malay Hikayat Hang Tuah”, South East Asia Research, vol. 1, no. 1, 1993, pp. 68–97 [].

Lewis, Bernard, The Political Language of Islam, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Liaw, Yock Fang, Undang - Undang Melaka, The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1976.

Locher-Scholten, Elsbeth, Sumatran Sultanate and Colonial State: Jambi and the Rise of Dutch Imperialism, 1830-1907, Ithaca N.Y.: Southeast Asia Program Publications, Cornell University, 2004.

Lombard, Denys, Kerajaan Aceh Jaman Sultan Iskandar Muda (1607-1636), trans. by Winarsih Arifin, Jakarta: Balai Pustaka, 1986.

Meilink-Reoloefz, M.A.P., “Trade and Islam in the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago Prior to the Arrival of the Europeans”, in Islam and the Trade of Asia: A Colloquium, ed. by D.S. Richards, Oxford: Bruno Cassirer & University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970.

Meilink-Roelofsz, M.A.P., Asian Trade and European Influence in the Indonesian Archipelago between 1500 and about 1630, The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1962.

Milner, A.C., Kerajaan: Malay Political Culture on the Eve of Colonial Rule, Tucson, Ariz: University of Arizona Press, 1982.

Milner, A.C., “Islam and Muslim State”, in Islam in South-East Asia, ed. by M.B. Hooker, Leiden: Brill, 1983, pp. 23–49.

Nordholt, H.G.C. Schulte, Spell of Power: A History of Balinese Politics, 1650-1940, Leiden: KITLV Press, 1996.

Pelras, Christian, “Religion, Tradition, and the Dynamics of Islamization in South Sulawesi”, Indonesia, no. 57, 1993, pp. 133–54 [].

Pires, Tome, The Suma Oriental of Tome Pires, vol. 2, trans. by Armando Cortesao, London: Hakluyt Society, 1944.

Rānīrī, Nūr al-Dīn, Bustanu’s-Salatin, Bab II, Fasal 13, ed. by Teuku Iskandar, Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia, 1966.

Ras, J.J., Hikajat Bandjar: A Study in Malay Historiography, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968.

Reid, Anthony, “Trade and the Problem of Royal Power in Aceh. c. 1550-1700”, in Pre-Colonial State Systems in Southeast Asia: the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Bali-Lombok, South Celebes, ed. by Anthony Reid and Lance Castles, Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1975.

----, “Trade and State Power in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries Southeast Asia”, Proceedings Seventh International Association of Historians of Southeast Asia, Bangkok, 1977.

----, “Introduction: A Time and Place”, in Southeast Asia in the Early Modern Era: Trade, Power, and Belief, ed. by Anthony Reid, Ithaca N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993.

----, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680: Volume 2, Expansion and Crisis, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Ricklefs, M.C., A History of Modern Indonesia since c.1300, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001.

Ricklefs, M.C. and Peter Voorhoeve, Indonesian Manuscripts in Great Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Roolvink, R., “The Variant Versions of the Malay Annals”, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, vol. 123, no. 3, 1967, pp. 301–24.

Rosenthal, Erwin I.J., Political Thought in Medieval Islam, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958.

Seri Lanang, Tun, Sejarah Melayu, ed. by W.G. Shellabear, Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Taib, Mohammed Khalid, “Sastera Sejarah in the Malay World: A Structural and Contextual Study of Fokloristic Elements in a Transitional Genre”, Ph.D. Dissertation, Bloomington: Indiana University, 1981.

Thomaz, Luis Filipe Ferreira Reis, “The Malay Sultanate of Melaka”, in Southeast Asia in the Early Modern Era: Trade, Power, and Belief, ed. by Anthony Reid, Ithaca N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Wilkinson, R.J., “Some Malay Studies”, Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 10, no. 1 (113), 1932, pp. 67–137.

----, A Malay-English Dictionary, vol. II, London; New York: Macmillan; St. Martin’s Press, 1957.

Winstedt, R.O., “The Malay Annals of Sejarah Melayu”, Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 16, no. 3 (132), 1938, pp. 1–226.

----, A History of Classical Malay Literature, New York: Oxford Univeristy Press, 1969.

Winstedt, Richard O and P.E. De Josselin De Jong, “The Maritime Laws of Malacca”, Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 29, no. 3 (175), 1956, pp. 22–59.

Copyright (c) 2017 Jajat Burhanudin

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.