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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: October 2015

4 - From Jewish Disciple to Muslim Guru: On Literary and Religious Transformations in Late Nineteenth Century Java


When the shared histories of Muslims residing in South and Southeast Asia as well as the diverse and significant connections among them are considered, two regions stand out as being especially interconnected: Southeast India and the Indonesian Archipelago. The coasts of these regions were part of the Indian Ocean's commercial network that was permeated by an Islamic ethos; where goods and shared texts and values crossed the seas carried by Muslim merchants, pilgrims, soldiers, and scholars, and where coastal towns, which functioned as important trade centres and ports, developed into major centres of Islamic learning and culture.

The Muslims of South India and the Indonesian Archipelago shared a variety of relationships, including a shared set of pilgrimage sites, some of which are still popular today. Trade contacts, especially between Muslims residing along the Coromandel coast and those living along the coasts of Java and Sumatra, flourished, with the Nagore-Aceh route becoming one of the most profitable in the eighteenth-century networks. Similar Islamic educational institutions developed in both regions, a shared madhhab was followed, and intermarriage was not uncommon. During the colonial period contacts continued in the form of the employment, deployment and exile of subjects.

Much of the evidence for these contacts comes to us from accounts by travellers such as Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo, archeological finds, and local historical and literary sources. If we look to the latter, we find the Archipe ago mentioned in early Sanskrit and Tamil works, as well as South Indian Sufi literature. India is often mentioned in Javanese and Malay literature as the land “above the winds”. Many similarities exist between the Javanese tales of the wali sanga (the nine “saints” credited with bringing Islam to Java), and of Tamil teachers fulfilling the same mission.

In this chapter I present and discuss a narrative that features prominently in the literary traditions of Muslims in both South India and the Indonesian Archipelago, known as the Book of One Thousand Questions. My focus here is on its dissemination and transformation in Java.

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Islamic Connections
  • Online ISBN: 9789812309242
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