Chinese were the key figures in spreading Islam in Indonesia

Being accustomed to witness Chinese-Indigenous conflicts in modern Indonesia, one might find himself surprised reading this book. The title is runtuhnya kerajaan Hindu-Jawa dan timbulnya negara-negara Islam di nusantara, or "the end of Javanese-Hindus kingdoms and the rise of Islamic kingdoms in nusantara".

It is a reprinted book of 1968 version and written by Prof. Slamet Muljana. In 1968 the book was banned by the government of Soeharto. Indonesia had just been faced with the communist coup in 1965; and the communist China allegededly supported the coup. Soeharto banned everything Chinese, including Chinese traditions and names. But why this book?

The main thesis of the book is that some of the senior and prominent Javanese Islamic saints, known as walisongo (the nine saints) were Chinese. The father of saints, Sunan Ampel, was in fact Bong Swi Hoo, who arrived in Java in 1445. He married Ni Gede Manila, a daughter of Gan Eng Cu (A Chinese captain in Manila), and this wife gave him a son who became another saint in Tuban, Sunan Bonang.

Another son of Gan Eng Cu was a Chinese captain in Semarang, named Gan Sin Cang. He is the one who played an important role in constructing the Masjid Demak. If you ever read the story about the pillar of this mosque, made of pieces of wood rather than a single tree, it is the technique that was adopted form the Chinese ship. This type of pillar was stronger to hold the mainsail than a single tree. Now, you can guess, who was the person in the story who designed that pillar? Yes he is Sunan Kalijaga, the "Javanese" name of Gan Sin Cang.

Another important saint is Maulana Ja'far Shiddik, or Sunan Kudus. You might think he was an Arab since he used the title maulana, but he was not. He was simply another Chinese named Ja Tik Su. Well, interesting isn't it?

Finally, I must not miss another important wali to mention on the list. The founder of Jakarta was St. Syarif Hidayatullah and he is, again, a Chinese named Toh A Bo, son of Sultan Trenggono in Demak.

This is quiet challenging thesis, and I think one needs to learn Chinese to study more what was really going on in the early period of Islam in Indonesia.

Other data on the book, not less important, are about the Shiite and Hanafite roles in spreading Islam in Indonesia, instead of the fact that we are now Sunni and Shafiite. When we changed then?

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