The Middle Eastern Muslims, mostly Arabs, arrived in the Archipelago (in modern day Indonesia) in the late 7th century. According to a Chinese source, an Arab Shaikh was running a small town in the West coast of Sumatra in 674.
Until the mid-twelfth century, individuals’ or small groups’ continued to their migration to South East Asia mainly for da’wah or trade purposes.
However, Orientalist Snouck Hurgronje argues that the twelfth century is the earliest possible date for the Islamisation of the Malay world. He also states that “the early, mostly the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, bearing the title of Sayyid or Sharif, who completed the preaching of Islam either as ‘priests’[sheikhs],’priest-princes’ or sultans,” in different Islands.
It is known that due to the oppression of most of the Umayyad rulers and some Abbasside caliphs on Ahl Bayt, the Sayyids (the descendants of the Prophet) dispersed to different continents and looked for safer places where they could serve humanity and convey the message of Islam freely. As a result of their spiritual influence on people, Muslim rulers viewed them as a threat to their administration and persecuted them.
The Sayyids were not much interested in grabbling power and ruling over people but to strengthen faith and enlighten the hearts and minds of human beings. “They were followers of Islam by nature, birth, and temperament”, as contemporary scholar Said Nursi states. They immigrated to safe places where no ruler of Middle East could oppress them.
Wherever these Islamic pioneers went, they became like a light-emitting tree on different continents including Asia and in particular South East Asia. The local people warmly welcomed them. They influenced masses and became the sultans of the hearts. They led hundreds of thousands of diverse people towards Islam.
Historian al-Mas’udi (896-956) mentions that after the Chinese ruler Ti-Tsung took office in 878-879, over 120,000 Muslims were massacred in Khanfu in the region of Canton due to the rebellion of a village. Those running from carnage settled in Kalah or Kadah in Malaya and later became an engine for inviting people towards Islam peacefully in the South East Asia region.
According to historians, most of the prominent spiritual leaders in South East Asia who played a crucial rule in Islamisation within the region were Sayyids or their traces go back to the Companions of the Prophet. Interestingly, the scholars of Makkah and Madinah called them “Ashab al-Jawiyyin” the Companions of Java after the thirteenth century.
They did not have a state which could support them, no libraries like Bayt al-Hikmah in Bagdad, Damascus, Cordoba or Istanbul to use as a source. They did not have well known Jurists, mufassirs and theologians which existed in the Middle East, Central Asia and Spain at that time. However, they moved by the hearts in South East Asia.
These da’wah workers conveyed the religion of Islam through sincere actions by shedding tears for humanity and Islamised most of the South East Asian region region and established a civilisation which can be called “the Civilisation of the Heart”.