Islam in Southeast Asia
Often called the “Muslim archipelago,” Southeast Asia is home to more than 240 million Muslims -- about 42 percent of Southeast Asians, and about 25 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. Most Southeast Asian Muslims are Sunni, and follow the Shafii school of Muslim jurisprudence. Islam is the official religion of Malaysia and Brunei, and an officially recognized religion of Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines.
Historically, it is not clear exactly how and when Islam came to Southeast Asia, but there is little doubt it was spread for the most part by merchants in the 12th century. By the time the Portuguese arrived in the early 16th century, Islam had a firm footing. This continued in the 17th century, when Arab traders and scholars/holy men from Hadramawt settling in the area introduced Sufism, a form of Islamic mysticism.
Over the decades, many Southeast Asian Muslims began translating Islamic religious texts in Arabic into the regional languages. As a result, two types of Islam emerged, local and orthodox, and both types continue to co-exist today. In addition, there are two other influences from the Middle East: puritanical Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia, an 18th-century reformist/revivalist movement; and the Islamic modernism and revival, which are late 19th and early 20th century responses to Western colonial influence and to the political decline of Muslim powers.