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The Geniuses that Changed the Malays

The following is a summary of my talk on “The Geniuses who Gave us Islam -The Spread of Islam in the Malay world and What We can Learn from it.”

Thanks to Sister Nurfariheen bte Mohamad Dawood for contributing the summary. May you be rewarded for your effort. I have edited it and inserted extra points I raised during the talk.

The Geniuses who gave us Islam -the spread of Islam in the Malay world and what we can learn from it.

Presented@Youth Alive discourse (Glorifying our Heritage, Emulating the Legacy – Inspirations from our Islamic Civilisation), 18 May 2013.

Some Clarifications about Ourselves

Melayu doesnt mean ‘layu’ /weak

It useful to begin by correcting mistaken ideas about ourselves. We often think that the word “Melayu” gives evidence that Malays are, in essence, “layu (weak or withered). Actually, the word comes from the word ‘malayu’ to describe a language which the natives in this part of the word spoke for almost a millenium. Malayu is a word that described the beauty of the Malay language which was spoken by a highly cultured group of people.

We can all be Geniuses in our Own Right

This is because a Muslim cannot be stupid. The moment you accept Islam sincerely and in its entirety, you are required to learn another language, which is Arabic. You will be declaring your faith with that language and will read the Quran aside from performing many of the rites through that language. Arabic is a language that was easy to learn so much so that Malays in this part of world picked up so easily when they became Muslims.

Then you have to learn to cleanse yourself. You will have to learn to find the direction for prayers (qiblah) which thus requires the knowledge of using the compass. Such a knowledge would encourage you to know more about where the qiblah is pointing to and therefore the knowledge of maps and of geography. To be a Muslim therefore requires one to be Smart, to have the will to learn new things, to find out more about things around you so as to perform your duties as a Muslim better. Islam requires us to think. Islam is for Thinkers. Islam encourage us to be Ingenious, in fact, to Think like a Genius, in everything we do.

What is a Genius?

The few persons that often comes immediately to our minds are Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. But when I asked young people for the names of Muslim Geniuses, no one seems to know and even if they do, those people aren’t really Muslims. Self-check: Do we know the Muslim geniuses of the Past and of our Time more than we know the non-Muslim geniuses? It’s time to read up!

What is a genius anyway? Albert Einstein once said: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” Albert is right when we think about his quote in relation to the Geniuses that we know today.

They do Amazing things, Invent all sort of Things but the things they do and create are not necessarily beneficial for Mankind. The Idea of what a Genius is must be Redefined.

In Islam, a Genius is one who DISPLAYS exceptional, intellectual and creative abilities. But that is not all. He/she USES his/her God-given gifts to BENEFIT others while creating POSITIVE CHANGE in human society.

This understanding of what a Genius could be found in the History of the Spread of Islam in the Malay World. We know that Malays went through the following transformations:

35000BC-100BC : Malays as Animists
100BC-1400AD : Malays as Hindu-Buddhus
1400AD-present : Malays as Muslims

The Golden Age of Islam in S.E.A. was between 1400-1800. So imagine, after 35000 years being a people from other religions, Malays are by and large Muslims! Today there are about 1.57 billion Muslims (about 1/4 of the world population) and a huge portion of the Muslim population are found in the Malay World.

What made Malays the largest Muslim population in the world?

The work of 5 types of Muslim geniuses. I call them Cultural, Entrepreneurial, Spiritual, Intellectual and Visionary Geniuses

These genuises were from different backgrounds. They were Arabs, Indians, Persians, Chinese and Malays as well. Some may be surprised that the Chinese were among those who spread Islam to this part of the World. Well indeed they did! These were descendants and followers of a noted companion of the Prophet whose name was Saad Bin Abi Waqqas who was sent to China to preach Islam. Another Genius! The Chinese Muslims who followed his path then came to the Malay World to spread Islam in this region.

The Cultural Genius

When Muslims from around the world came here as early as the 7th century, they found that the Malays were too steeped in their Hindu-Buddhist culture. Malays loved sports and entertainment. They were master-builders and were excellent in so many forms of arts and craftsmanship.

Rather than removing the culture that is in place and replacing it with a new one, the Cultural Genius used aspects of the Hindu-Buddhist culture to spread Islam. The Cultural Geniuses knew that if Religion Divides, Culture Binds.

Hence, stories of prophets and his companions and about the virtues of Islam were explained through wayang kulit, syair and songs. The Cultural Genius introduced the Islamic concept of modesty and morality gradually through all sorts of cultural activities and mediums that the Malays enjoyed.

The Cultural Genius has taught us a Useful Lesson. If we want to change a given society to know more about Islam, identify an aspect of culture that is common to them and us to bring the people to Islam.

Today, Social networking, doing well in studies, ‘lepak (hanging around)’ are some of the cultures common among the Youths. We should see these Cultures as opportunities for us to share about our faith and beliefs and also learn from what is good from the people we encounter.

Imagine if Malay-Muslims played basketball instead of soccer and hang around with Chinese youths who love that sport. I have little doubt that many of the Chinese would someday becoming Muslims if we show to them that we do well not only in sports, but also in other areas of life.

The Entrepreneurial Genius

The Malay World was a Centre of Commerce for many centuries. If you are a trader or a businessman in those days, you will be highly respected. Your expertise in trade will sought after. Kings, chiefs and other local businessmen would want to work with you to increase their own wealth and prestige.

The Entrepreneurial Genius took the opportunity to explain about their religion as they sold and exchanged their goods. They shared new trade routes and worked with local navigators to explore new trading routes and business frontiers. Malays, of the Bugis and Sundanese backgrounds, were Masters of Traders and they travelled alongside Arabs and Chinese to many lands and thereby became Muslims.

The Entrepreneurial Genius also inter-married with members of the local community. They established new networks with local and overseas traders through marriage. In fact, by 16th century, most traders or business persons were Malay women. These women would marry Muslims that came from overseas and thereby the population of Muslim increased through the years.

Because of this intermarriage, the Malays became a mixed race. The Prophet once reminded his companions that when different gene pools are put together, a given child become more stronger and with that Islam would spread further. That was what Happened!

The Spiritual Genius

Spiritual Geniuses were largely Sufis. When they arrived here as early as the 10th Century, they saw that Malays held on to all sorts of strange beliefs regarding ghosts and spirits

The spiritual genius inculcated the idea of One God – in Malay known as “Tuhan yang Maha Esa”. Through this, they simplified the Malay beliefs and, by implication, life. Simplicity led to Focus and the End of the Culture of Excess and beliefs that are not beneficial to progress.

They removed the worship of ancestors. The keramat was not saint worship as we normally see these days. Saint Worship was exactly what the Malays did before Islam came. Sufis taught Malays otherwise, that is, the idea that the keramat was a source of spiritual inspiration. Malays were encouraged to visit the graves of learned people to remind them of their duties to maintain their piety and to be committed to the path of Seeking Knowledge.

The Spiritual Genius removed culture of fear in the hearts of many Malays. They replaced the concept of ghosts with the concept of alam ghaib, of the jinns and syaitan and taught the Malays that they could be in control of their life if they acknowledge that Man is Above all Mankind. Because of this belief, Malays became Great People.

The Intellectual Genius

The Muslim Scholars that came to the Malay World realised that the people here had deep intellectual capabilities. Hinduism-Buddhism gave them some foundation in thought. The point was to build upon what was already there.

The Intellectual Genius thus introduced new words to the Malay vocabulary to change the Malay mind and spread Islam by influencing their thoughts. The Malay language was thus infused with Arabic, Persian along with Sanskrit, and old Malay that was already there. This amalgamation of different words in the language transformed the Malays into Thinkers.

Philosophy and science flourished in the Malay world and were manifested in manuals that were written and the idioms and hikayats that were read aloud and written. The Malay World became a hub of learning.

The Visionary Genius

These were kings, advisors and administrators in the Malay world who accepted Islam and felt the strong need to strengthen the Ummah. They had noble visions and hopes for Muslims. Right after their conversion, they employed Arabs, Chinese, Persians, Indians and other Muslims to help them manage their kingdoms and to expand their influence.

The Visionary Genius sent out missionaries to many parts of the Malay World. They built and supported institutions such as mosques, pondoks and suraus were Muslims could read the Quran and learn different sciences. They encouraged Malays to travel to other regions to seek knowledge.

Female Muslim rulers were also part of this group of Visionary Geniuses. Pattani’s golden age was during the reign of its four successive queens who lived from 1584. They were known as Raja Hijau, Raja Biru, Raja Ungu, Raja Kuning. The Great Kingdom of Aceh too had its share of female queens.

Why were these geniuses successful that we can implement in our Lives? The Answer is 3As and 3Cs


1) Allah in mind – Thought, felt and acted upon what the Allah required Muslims to do. They worked for Allah and had their hearts set upon pleasing Him. Their sincerity and determination in that aspect gave them Strength.

2) Awareness – They were sensitive and in touch with developments around them, They used tools of Usul Fiqh (Science of Jurisprudence) to guide their missionary strategies and to change society.

3) Alliances – All these geniuses worked hand in hand to spread Islam. They drew on each other’s expertise. They worked with people from different backgrounds regardless of what race, religion, class, status or place they were from. No genius can walk alone.

3 Cs

1) Creativity – These geniuses used creative ways to spread Islam. From the arts to the use of power to changing the language of the people, these geniuses explored innovative ways to share about Islam.

2) Courage – They unafraid to try new strategies and to travel far and wide to tell people about Islam. Many perished in their efforts to send the message of Allah to the Malays. But they had one motto in their hearts: Honour before Death, Islam before Life.

3) Commitment – These geniuses are not good in everything. They knew most things but were specialized in their respective domains. They used their specializations for Islam. We need to be good One Thing to Make people need us for that Very Thing!

Some Personal Takeaways:

1. The less you argue, the more change you create. Don’t Argue, Show what is Good.

2. Live simply. Read more, buy less things. Life is simpler when you have more knowledge and less things. How many things did Rasulullah have anyway? But he changed the World Forever.

3. Be confident of who you are. If you are confident, you will not be afraid to invite others to Islam. You will not waiver when others reject or question your beliefs.

4. Have an open mind. Ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. When your mind is open, you learn more and you then can influence more people.

5. Expand your social circle. Find out what non-muslims are into. Learn from them and reach to them at the same time.

Islam is for all and You can be a Genius Too!

Note: If you are keen to contribute summaries of my talk, please drop me a message at Deen Revival with Khairudin Aljunied facebook page. Thank-you.




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