Academic journal article International Journal of Islamic Thought

Al-Attas' Philosophy of History on the Arrival and Proliferation of Islam in the Malay World

Academic journal article International Journal of Islamic Thought

Al-Attas' Philosophy of History on the Arrival and Proliferation of Islam in the Malay World

Article excerpt

Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas is philosopher and historian of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries recognised in the East and the West. His profound knowledge in the field of theology, literature, philosophy and metaphysics and history as well as his experience in leading departments and faculties at the University of Malaya and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia earned him credibility to be appointed by the Government of Malaysia as Founder-Director of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) (Wan Daud 2012a). He carried out his duties with full responsiblity in ISTAC from 1989 until 2002. The works of al-Attas from 1959 until 2011 amounts to approximately 30 books. His works are very influential internationally so much so that they have been translated into various languages such as Indonesian, Persian, Arabic, French, German, Russian, Bosnian, Japanese, Hindi and Korean. The thoughts and methods of al-Attas are unwavering and his scientific framework is firm and does not change, basing them on knowledge and religious fundamentals. Based on this framework, al-Attas elaborates, purify and explain his vast knowledges in his books and one in particular and important is Historical Facts and Fictions which explains the Islamic world's views on the Malay world history in term of dating, philosophy and method to counter Western propositions on historiography of the Malay world (Alatas 2001).

Historiography of the Arrival and Spread of Islam in the Malay World

Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas (1969, 1972 & 2011) criticised the Western theories in philosophy of history and interpretation of the history of Islam in the Malay world by stressing that the West did not construct correctly the history of the Malay world. This stand is shared by Tatiana Denisova when she concluded that most Western writings deny the role of Islam in Malay civilization development. This idea rises question about what theory of knowledge (epistemology) did al-Attas use in interpreting the history of Islam in the Malay world?

To begin with, this paper wishes to highlight the general discussion on the theory and history of the arrival and propagation of Islam in the Malay world. Malay historiography classics such as Hikayat Raja Pasai and Sulalatus-Salatin containes notes of the arrival and spread of Islam. Among the most important contents are the names of the rulers and the era of their administrations, locations, names of individuals involved in preaching Islam to the Malay world and accounts about the calling to preach to the Malay which was a directive of Prophet Muhammad. In general, the essence of both classical sources indicates that proselytizing to the Malay world was a direct instruction from Arabia to the Malay world. Indian cities such as Mengiri (Monghyr/Munger) were merely a stopover before getting to the Malay world. The da'wah process occured peacefully and was first and foremost aimed at the ruling class. Classical source namely Hikayat Raja Pasai clearly denied that the spread of Islam came from India or Iran as specified in Western Orientalists theories (Denisova 2011).

From travellers' accounts, Islam is known to advance into the Malay world in the 13th century in the regions of Sumatera, followed by other areas in the Malay world. Most Western scholars assert that Islam arrives in and spread to the Malay world from India by trading activities (Hamid 1982). Ismail Hamid also said that another area indicated as the location of origin from which Islam arrived was Arabia, as is the view of scholars like Crawford, Keyzers, Niemann and De Hollandar. In Western theories, in addition to trading activities, Islam was said to be spread to the Malay world through marriage, politics, the role of the Sufi order and the rivalry with the Portuguese (Alatas 1985).

The question is: do these theories interpret correctly the history of arrival and spread of Islam in the Malay world? This question was answered by Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas with his dismissal of such theories as inadequate in interpreting the history of Islam in the Malay world because the theories were built on the basis of supposition (conjectural premises) and the contents were clearly and visibly biased against the Islamic religion, culture and Arab influences. …

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