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Islamic Education in the Malay World: A History for Our Time Part 2

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Using the trading kingdoms of Sumatra as their strategic base, the scholars and graduates of the pondoks established a whole network of similar institutions in other parts of the Malay World. Among the places that established Islamic centers of education of international standing were Patani, Malacca, Kelantan, Trengganu, Mindanao, Lombok, Banten and Makassar. By the mid-15th century, Patani had already caught up with Sumatra into becoming the new center of Islamic education in the Malay World. Students came from all over the Muslim World to study with the Tok Gurus (Sages) whose mastery of the Arabic language was superb. The first pondok was built by a well-known ulama by name of Wan Mustafa (also known as Wan Pa) at the Yarang district in Patani.

What was truly remarkable about the pondoks in Patani is that they were run by teachers who have spent much of their youth in Mecca and other parts of the Muslim world before their return to the Malay World. These teachers would then produce students who eventually rose to become scholars based in different parts of the globe. There thus developed then a network of ulamas who travelled across the Indian Ocean and beyond, exchanging ideas of Islamic matters and sharing resources as well as expertise on the ways to effectively run their respective institutions.

This brief survey of Islamic education in the early modern world would be incomplete without a mention of the Islamic educational institutions in Malacca in the 15th century. The patrons of Islamic learning in that great kingdom were none other than the kings themselves. Palaces were made available for students from all backgrounds to study about Islam. The kings of Malacca also rewarded the scholars handsomely for writing useful books and treatises. In point of fact, scholars were held in high esteem and their advice were frequently sought after by kings in crucial matters involving the well-being of the common people.

During the reign of Sultan Mansur Syah (1459- 1477), mosques, suraus and even the homes of scholars became “mini-universities” for the study of the Tafsir, Hadith, Tasawwuf and Philosophy. There was no written curriculum because the teachers were the living curriculum from which streams of wisdom and deep learning flowed into the hearts and minds of their most dedicated students. Malacca’s reputation as an emerging center of Islamic education encouraged the mushrooming of similar models in Johor, Pahang, Jambi, Kampar and other parts of the Malay World.

That the Malay World was once a center of Islamic education is something that Muslims in this part of the world should be proud of and be thankful for. However, that is not enough. The history of Islamic education in the Malay World serves to remind us that future of Islam in this part of the world lies not in the sound and fury of those who engage empty talk, but rather, in the ink that have been spent by scholars and students whose souls are dominated by the love of divine knowledge. We should strive to be like them.



List of Works Consulted

Azyumardi Azra, The origins of Islamic reformism in Southeast Asia: networks of Malay-Indonesian and Middle Eastern ulama in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004).

Hasan Madmarn, The pondok and madrasah in Patani (Bangi: Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 1999).

Hefner, Robert W. (ed.), Making modern Muslims: the politics of Islamic education in Southeast Asia (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2009).

Taylor, Jean Gelman, Global Indonesia (London: Routledge, 2013).

Photo Credit: danchitnis via Compfight cc

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