Islam and State in Sumatra: A Study of Seventeenth-Century Aceh (Islamic History and Civilization)
ISLAM AND STATE IN SUMATRA – Book Sample
INTRODUCTION – ISLAM AND STATE IN SUMATRA
Many would agree with Anthony H. Johns’ assertion that “the presence and role of Islam in Southeast Asia has been consistently under-estimated.”1 There are, at the very least, two underlying reasons for this attitude. First, there is the “syncretic” character of Islam in the region, in which many pre-Islamic beliefs and practices are still apparent.
Then there is the “conﬂict” between adat and Islamic law, in which the former is seen to be dominant. This has led Ira M. Lapidus to remark that “indigenous pre-Islamic Southeast Asian culture formed the basis of the later Islamic civilization.”2
The issue is not as simple as labeling one group more Islamic than another, however.3 The complexity of the problem is to be observed when “one tries to understand, and reduce to descriptive and analytical order, phenomena associated with the translation of a major religious system from the culture(s) (systems of shared meaning) in which it arose and was formed to the substantially diﬀerent cultures of Southeast Asia.”4
In fact, it was an Islam colored by Arab and Persian elements that was introduced to the region. This new religion was adopted, adapted and translated into the Southeast Asian context, suggesting the “active role” played by indigenous peoples in this process.5
It is in the above context that the Muslims of Southeast Asia are seen “as members of communities participating in the commonwealth of Islam in their own right.”6
This is not the place for a detailed survey of Muslim activities in the region. Suﬃce it to say, however, that in the course of their history, the Muslims of Southeast Asia have actively engaged in a religious discourse, a phenomenon that deserves to be studied in its own right.
This book attempts to address this neglected area.7 Speciﬁcally, it focuses on the political dimension of Islam within a particular Southeast Asian state, i.e., Aceh.
The sultanate of Aceh, founded in about 1500 at the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, assigned Islam an important role in all aspects of the state. In a region where the degree to which Islam was integrated in society diﬀered from one area to another, Aceh “was the homeland of Indonesian Islamic societies,” to the extent that “Muslim teachings did not remain an isolated phenomenon but became part of Achehnese society.”8
This issue, how-ever, raises many questions, such as: What was Islamic about the sultanate of Aceh? Did Islam successfully penetrate into Acehnese political life? To what degree did indigenous pre-Islamic traditions remain inﬂuential in the sultanate?
To answer these questions, this study describes and analyzes the Islamic ingredients of Acehnese political life. Each aspect of the state’s existence is studied in relation to Islam, including, among others, the concept of kingship and the problem of authority, the royal enclosure and religious cere-monies, and the formation of Islamic institutions.
All these aspects will be scrutinized in terms of their relations with each other and with an eye to their formation in what might be called the Islamic political tradition of the sultanate.
In this study the discussion is, broadly speaking, conducted on two levels. The ﬁrst is the “practical” aspect of the inquiry.
From this perspective, Acehnese political structures and institutions, such as the oﬃce of the sul†àn, the titles adopted, the religious ceremonies, the ‘ulamà” and the oﬃce of shaykh al-Islàm, are described and analyzed. Each of these political features is studied in terms of its structure and function within Acehnese political life. The second stage of inquiry operates on the “conceptual” level. Through this we intend to explore the ideas and motivations that lay behind the political practices of the sultanate. To pursue this line of investigation, it is imperative to conduct an inquiry into the Acehnese “worldview.” Through such an inquiry into “practical” politics and the “world-view” underlying the former, the complex interplay of meaning and action can be grasped.
At the same time Aceh will be viewed from three perspectives: as home to an ethnic group with a distinct culture; as part of a broader Southeast Asian civilization; and, most importantly, as a component of the Islamic world.
These three facets will be considered here in order to identify their role in the formation of Aceh’s worldview and in its political tradition. Indeed, while Aceh can be seen as “an autonomous unit comprising endogenous forces…,”9 this characterization can only be explained in terms of exogenous forces and inﬂuences, namely those of Southeast Asia or those of the Islamic world.
To better understand Acehnese political life and Islam’s place in it, there-fore, a comparative analysis of the subject must be undertaken. In the Southeast Asian context, we will take into account the two Muslim states of Melaka and Mataram, while parallel instances found in the wider Islamic world will also be brought to bear on the subject.
In broad terms, the period covered in this study is that of the seventeenth century, particularly between 1600 and 1675, which, we believe, marked the high point in the formation of Aceh’s political traditions. As we shall see, the achievements of the sultanate were signiﬁcant in many areas, but especially in the ﬁelds of politics, religion and culture.
This study draws upon both primary and secondary sources. The primary sources include both indigenous and non-indigenous works on seventeenth century Aceh that date from that period. All our indige-nous sources can be counted as examples of traditional historical literature, deﬁned by A. Teeuw as all literature “pertaining to history, referring to real or presumed facts, events, persons in the past.”10
In our case, the writings are predominantly court-oriented in nature, and contain historical materials interspersed with myths, legends, fairy tales and didactic elements. As to the historical accuracy of such sources, a few scholars, including Hoesein Djajadiningrat11 and J.C. Bottoms,12 suggest that they should be veriﬁed against European records.
Another important element found in this type of source is information about the lifestyles, livelihoods, attitudes, norms, and worldviews of a people. Of the Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals), the principle Malay source for ﬁfteenth-century Melaka, J.M. Gullick admits that “there is a certain amount of historical facts embedded in it. But its main signiﬁcance in the context of social analysis is that Malay literature and history served to transmit the traditions and values of the community, more especially of its ruling class.”13
As such, traditional writings constitute an essential source for our study, not only in view of their historical value but also due to their rich depiction of the worldview of the Acehnese and their self-perception of statehood and society. Of this type of source Bottoms writes:
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