Sufism first came to Indonesia along with the spread of Islam brought to the region by Moslem traders. There is still controversy among scholars about who first brought Islam to Indonesia. Some point to the Moslem traders from Persia and Gujarat, others offer evidences of Arab (either from Egypt, Hejaz, or Hadramaut) influences on early Indonesian Moslems. But everyone agrees that Islam entered Indonesia peacefuly without holy wars or rebellions. Sufism also played a big role in spreading Islam among common Indonesians who were and still very fond of mysticism. 

Map of Indian Ocean
Map of Trade Routes and
Spread of Islam in The Indian Ocean

File Size - 89KB

Moslem traders had visited the Indonesian archipelago for centuries, some of them had settled there or even might had converted some Indonesians. Evidence of their pressence can be found at tombstones of Moslem scholars at Baros, North Sumatra, bearing the date of 44-48 Hijri or 665-669 AD. They are Syaikh Rukunuddin, Syaikh Makhmud, Tuanku Batu Badan, and Tuanku Ambar. A Chinese document also reported existence of Arab communitiess in Kalingga kingdom in Java in the 7th century. These Arabs might also have introduced Islam to the local people. 
There is also a tombstone of a Moslem woman, Fatimah binti Maimun, in Gresik, East Java, bears the date of 461 Hijri or 1082 AD. It's possible that small Moslem communities had already formed at that time in the main ports of Java and Sumatra. The Hindu and Buddhist rulers of that era might have been tolerant to them and allowed them to preach Islam among their subjects. 

But it was not until the 13th century when the rulers of Samudra Pasai and Perlak at northern Sumatra started to embrace Islam and made the first Islamic kingdoms in Indonesia. The most obvious evidence of this is the tombstone of the first Islamic ruler of Samudra, Sultan Malik Al-Saleh, which bears the date 1297. 
These kingdoms were reported by Marco Polo who visitted Perlak in 1292, and also by Ibn Batutta, the famous Moroccan traveller, who on his way to China in 1341 stopped at Samudra and became a royal guest to the Moslem ruler there, Malik Al-Zahir.
This Sultan might had practiced Sufism because Ibn Batutta described him as 'a humble hearted man who walks on foot to the Friday prayer'. Having their position on the gate of Malacca strait, which was a busy trade route, the kingdoms had no difficulties in further introduction of Islam and Sufism to the region and beyond to Java and East Indonesia. 

Map of Spread of Islam in Indonesian Archipelago
Map of Spread of Islam in Indonesian Archipelago

File Size - 98 KB

More detailed information on History of Sufism in Indonesia are linked below:

Sufism in Java

Sufism in Sumatra

  • Sufism and the Sultanates
  • Sumatra's Sufi Poets
  • Sufism in Palembang
  • The Paderi
  • Invasion of Aceh
  • Challenge from The Scholars

Sufism in Other Islands

  • Madura
  • Kalimantan
  • Sulawesi
  • Nusa Tenggara
  • Eastern Indonesia

Sufism in The 20th Century

  • Era of Movements
  • Nahdhatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah
  • War of Independence
  • Threat from The Communists
  • Anti-Sufi Movements
  • Influence from Revolution in Iran
  • Modern Sufis


Title - Introduction
About Sufism - History - Sufi Orders - Sufi Masters
Teachings - Historic Sites - Art and Culture
Weekly News - Appendixes - Guestbook

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