New men could now be expected to contribute impulses to Indonesian life. The northern
Sumatran and Javanese coasts seem hitherto to have been on the fringe of the Shaivite-Mahayana cultures of southern Sumatra
and eastern Java. For the first time in Indonesian history, the possibility existed that the inhabitants of formerly peripheral
regions would begin to influence the course of events, inspired by Islam's assertion of the equality of all believers and
supported by very profitable communications with the Muslim world throughout Asia.
But Indonesian history is the history of many distinct and often greatly separated
regions. The history of early Indonesian Islam is no exception. What happened in the 15th and 16th centuries cannot be explained
simply in terms of the influence of new ideas. The political ambitions of many regional princes intervened, and a variety
of often rapidly changing and sometimes disturbed situations developed. The historian looks in vain for a uniform pattern
of early Muslim life in the archipelago.
Aceh (Acheh), which succeeded Pasai in the 16th century as the leading harbour
kingdom in northern Sumatra, became a self-consciously Muslim state, though a persuasive case has been made for the persistence
as late as the 17th century of "Hindu" notions of divine kingship familiar in Java. Aceh had contacts with Muslim India and
its own heterodox school of Muslim mysticism; its sultans sought an alliance with the Ottoman Turks against the Portuguese,
who had conquered Malacca in 1511. The Malay princes of Malacca installed Muslim vassals on the east coast of Sumatra in the
15th century, but when Malacca was captured by the Portuguese the princes transferred their capital southward to Johore and
gradually became involved in a conflict not only with the Portuguese but also with the Achinese for control of the Strait
of Malacca. Aceh, for its part, was unable to impose its faith on the Batak highlanders in the interior. The single and notable
gain for Islam in Sumatra was in the Minangkabau country, where Shaivite-Mahayana Tantric cults had flourished in the 14th
century. Islam's penetration of Minangkabau by way of the Achinese west coast of Sumatra was far advanced by the beginning
of the 17th century. Minangkabau, a land of enterprising and mobile traders, was later to exercise a significant influence
in the affairs of the archipelago.
Muslims in Java.
The Sumatran beachheads of Islam had commercial ties with other parts of the region,
but they were not closely involved in events outside their immediate neighbourhoods. In Java, on the other hand, where the
distance between the Muslim coastal fringe and the interior was negligible, a tense situation developed. The Muslims did not
overthrow the kingdom of Majapahit (see above). Majapahit, weakened by feuds within its royal family and increasingly denied
the benefits of overseas commerce, merely withered away and disappeared in the early 16th century. The passing of its hegemony
left a power vacuum in Java that set in train a conflict between Islam and the aristocratic traditions of the interior.
In later centuries, the Javanese inland elite chose to bridge over the events
of the 15th and 16th centuries and see a continuity between Majapahit and Mataram, the great kingdom of 17th-century Java.
This vision of the past, however, conceals a very troubled period in Javanese history. The militant mood of coastal Islam
may be seen in the enforced imposition of the new faith on western Java and also on Palembang in southern Sumatra. Similarly,
the impact of Islam may be gauged by the fury of the 17th-century Mataram kings against the princes and Muslim notables of
the northern coast.
The conflict seems to have begun with the determination of the Demak coastal rulers
in the first half of the 16th century to rule over a great Javanese kingdom. The coastal princes, especially as their harbours
grew richer and their dynasties older and more confident, came to see themselves not only as Muslim leaders but as Javanese
princes. Their pretensions are reflected in Tomé Pires' statement that they cultivated the "knightly" habits of the ancient
aristocracy. But when Demak sought to expand inland, bringing with it Islam, its armies were halted in the mid-16th century
by Pajang. Some years later, Mataram, another principality in central Java, came to the fore. The climax of the conflict was
in the first half of the 17th century, when Agung, ruler of Mataram, took the offensive and destroyed the coastal states and
with them the basis of Javanese overseas trade.
It is unlikely that this bitter struggle was fought only for religious reasons.
Islam came to Indonesia from India, perhaps from southern India, and the mood of heterodox mystic Sufi sects of Islam was
probably not foreign to the Javanese ascetics. Sufi "saint" (wali) and Javanese guru eventually would have understood and
respected each other's yearning for personal union with God. The Javanese tradition, in which small groups of disciples were
initiated by a teacher into higher wisdom, was paralleled by the Sufi teaching methods. For Muslim theologian and Javanese
scholar alike the concern was always less with the nature of God than with skills for communicating with him. Arabic texts
tended eventually to be recited as meditative aids, just as the Tantric mantras once had been.
The earliest Javanese disciples of Islam were, however, not the thoughtful representatives
of earlier religious systems in Java but humble men of the coast who had been left outside the traditional teachings of the
courts and the anchorites. These men doubtless saw in Islam a simple message of hope, offering them not only a congenial personal
faith but also opportunities of secular advancement in a trading society where rank was not as important as fervour. Early
Muslim literature has a theme of the wandering adventurer who comes from obscure origins, makes good, and seeks the consolations
of Islam. For Muslim disciples such as these the times offered boundless means for achieving success, either in trade or in
the service of ambitious princes. These princes, parvenu aristocrats and also the product of Islam, needed guardians of their
conscience, courtly advisers, and, above all, military commanders. For the new elite the progress of coastal Islam brought
both spiritual and material gain.
All of this must have been greatly disturbing to those in the interior who had
been nurtured in older traditions and saw no reason for abandoning their Shaivite-Mahayana values. For the aristocrats of
the interior, the memories of Majapahit's hierarchical system of government under a godlike king represented standards of
civilized behaviour that must be asserted at all cost against the forces of confusion released by the coastal population.
Contacts between wandering dervishes and the peasants, at a time of acute distress caused by warfare, and the pretensions
of Muslim court officials, some of whom claimed a privileged religious status without precedent in Javanese history, must
have seemed to threaten the foundations of society. The ruler of the interior kingdom of Pajang is depicted in the Javanese
chronicles as an ascetic and as the son and grandson of ascetics. He was, in this respect, a true Javanese king. When, several
generations later, the ruler of Mataram destroyed the coastal states he was seeking to destroy the forces that disunited Java.
This was in the tradition of earlier Javanese kings. His conquests were as much a part of his mission as Kertanagara's had
been in the 13th century.
Thereafter Islam was permitted to survive only on Javanese royal terms. Its innovating
effects were postponed until the end of the 19th century. It was now one of several religious activities and therefore tolerable
in Javanese eyes. Muslim officials in the court of Mataram became well-rewarded and obedient servants of the ruler. In time,
scholars returned to the study of the earlier genre of Javanese literature, including texts that taught the nature of government
according to the values of the "Hindu-Javanese" world. In the countryside, Islam remained influential in time of social distress,
preaching to aggrieved peasants of the coming of the Messiah. As a literary influence Islam survived in the form of mystical
texts and poems, romantic tales, and also in borrowings by later inland-court historians of material from the "Universal Histories"
(Serat Kanda) of the coastal culture. The borrowings are testimony of the impact of what had happened in the 15th and 16th
centuries, which later historians could reinterpret but not ignore.
The history of 16th-century Java is still not fully understood, but Portuguese
intervention seems to have been unimportant. The Portuguese survived chiefly as private traders, and, by the end of the century,
the level of Muslim Indonesian trade with the Middle East, and thence with Europe, was greater than it had ever been. In the
neighbourhood of the Strait of Malacca, Aceh and Johore were struggling for overlordship, and the scene in Java was being
prepared for the final phase in the struggle between coastal Islam and the inland aristocracy. The outcome might have been
the emergence of greater Indonesian unities under cover of Javanese claims to leadership. The situation was altered by the
appearance of the Dutch at the end of the century.