13 Mar

World Cultures: Islam in Southeast Asia

By Thomas Jang

Islam is a monotheistic religion centered around its scripture, the Quran, and was founded by Muhammad in the year 610. Through missionary work, trade, and conquests from its beginnings in Mecca, Islam is the world’s second-largest religion after Christianity and followed by 1.8 billion people. In other words, it is practiced by 24.9% of the global population! Of that 1.8 billion, 1.7 are Sunni while approximately 210 million are Shi’a.  

Through the maritime Silk Roads, Islam was able to expand from the Arabian Peninsula eastward to Asia. These maritime routes were harnessed effectively through craftsmanship in shipbuilding and innovations such as the astrolabe. Consequently, as Muslim traders sought to reach China’s ports, they were able to establish routes and connect multiple ports in the region along the way. Similar to Buddhism, Islam was able to blend with the local cultures and religions. It was also through the travels of Muslim traders that artifacts, goods and commerce were able to spread around the region.  

South Asia possesses the third-largest population of Muslims in the world. In Southeast Asia, specifically, 229.6 million practice Islam in Indonesia, accounting for 87% of the country’s total population and 13% of the world’s Muslims. Malaysia possesses the second-largest Muslim population, at 22,070,000 people, accounting for 66% of its total population. Likewise, 75% of the population of Brunei practices Islam. 

Comparably, other countries have lower percentages of Muslims, such as Thailand, Singapore, Timor-Leste, the Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos.