Islam in SEA workshop: “Revisiting Brunei’s Early Islamic History: China and the Formation of an Early Fourteenth-Century Bruneian Sultanate” by Dr Alexander Wain

We are very happy to announce that one of the participants of the exploratory workshop on Islam in Southeast Asia is Dr Alexander Wain. The workshop will be held on September 21, 2018 (Friday) at the National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development (NISMED) of the University of the Philippines Diliman. He will present his current research entitled “Revisiting Brunei’s Early Islamic History: China and the Formation of an Early Fourteenth-Century Bruneian Sultanate.”


This paper seeks to re-assess the date of and circumstances surrounding the early Islamization of Brunei. While earlier studies have dated Brunei’s conversion to either 1363 or ca.1515 and emphasized the role of Malay and Arab Muslim missionaries in the subsequent Islamization process, this paper draws upon recent archaeological evidence and previously neglected textual sources to establish that: 1) Brunei’s conversion occurred earlier than previously thought, in the early fourteenth century; and 2) Muslims from Quanzhou forged a close bond with early Islamic Brunei, influencing various aspects of its Islamicate culture. Thus, while early indigenous and European texts, notably the Silsilah Raja-Raja Brunei and Boxer Codex, unanimously agree that Islam first reached Brunei from further west in Southeast Asia, perhaps from the region of Johor, Brunei’s archaeological record demonstrates that the subsequent process of Islamization was far more complex, with Chinese cultural influences playing a leading role. Focusing on the recent discovery of 15 fourteenth- to fifteenth-century Bruneian Muslim gravestones, in addition to archaeological evidence pertaining to trade, coupled with a reconsideration of the importance of the seventeenth-century Boxer Codex, this paper conclusively demonstrates the existence of Muslim rule in Brunei before the 1320s, where it existed in an environment suffuse with Chinese cultural and commercial influence—influence that subsequently came to bear on the formation of Brunei’s early Islamicate culture. The paper concludes by briefly tracing the continuance of this influence into the sixteenth century.

Author’s profile:

Alexander Wain obtained his DPhil from the University of Oxford in 2015. A specialist in the history of Islam in Southeast Asia, his DPhil research focused on the possible role of Chinese Muslims in the conversion of the Nusantara (Maritime Southeast Asia) between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. Currently, he is an Associate Research Fellow at The International Institute for Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia. His recent publications include ‘The Two Kronik Tionghua of Semarang and Cirebon: A Note on Provenance and Reliability,’ published in the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies.

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