Global Events in the Lands of the Muslim Ummah

We now return to the state of global affairs during the 15th century. The Chinese Hui[1]Admiral Zhen He, (or as his Muslim name, Hajji Mahmud Shams) and his fleet under the Ming Dynasty led seven expeditions throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans from Malacca to Aden, Muscat and Somalia, all during the period of 1405-1433. They left thriving Muslim communities behind in present day Malaysia and Indonesia. “Zheng He’s visits to the Muslim Malay World had an undeniable impact as far as Islam is concerned.  Indonesian Islamic scholar Hamka wrote in 1961:  ‘The development of Islam in Indonesia and Malaya is intimately related to a Chinese Muslim, Admiral Zheng He, (Ma, Chinese Muslims in Malaysia: History and Development).’” Furthermore, “Parlindungan Mangaradja Onggang writes that when the Ming Dynasty’s fleet stopped in Semarang, Zheng He, Ma Huan and Fei Xin often went to the mosque to pray.  He adds:  ‘Under the influence of Zheng He between 1411-1416, in the Malay Peninsula, Java, Sumatra, and the Philippines, there developed many Chinese Muslim areas, and many mosques were built,’ (Ibid).” Indonesian scholar Slamet Muljana writes,

“Zheng He built Chinese Muslim communities first in Ju Gang (Palembang), then in San Fa (West Kalimantan), subsequently he built the same kind of communities along the shores of Java, the Malay Peninsula and the Philippines.  They propagated the Islamic faith according to the Hanafi sect and in Chinese language, (Ibid).”

Tan Yeok Seong in his article ‘Chinese Element in the Islamisation of Southeast Asia’ states that,

“These early settlements were peopled by Chinese Muslims who had created a sphere of influence for themselves with the co-operation of Zheng He.  Religion and trade then went hand in hand…Through Islam, the Muslims, in spite of their racial differences, became masters of trade; while, on the other hand, successful maritime trade helped to spread Islamisation.  The Chinese settlers of this period were pioneers of both these enterprises.  They had been Muslims and had established for themselves Islamic settlements at important trade centres, such as Palembang and Gresik.  From these centres a process of converting the indigenous people was begun, (Ibid).”

However, after Zheng He’s death, Chinese naval expeditions were suspended and over time the Hanafi madhhab that Zheng He and his people propagated lost almost all contact with Muslims in China, and gradually was totally absorbed by the local Shafi’i madhhab. All in all, at around 1492, the global situation was one of thriving global commerce and governmental contacts across the continents. Ironically, when we label this period as the “Age of Exploration,” it is just that, but not for all of humanity but rather, for the Christian Europeans that were just beginning to venture out into the world in a concerted manner, (an act that the Muslims and other civilizations had already undertaken well prior to 1492).  Christendom was rapidly expanding, in the light of the vacuum that was present due to the weakness of the Muslims in the Maghrib and of the Uthmanis being occupied with fighting Venice and the Shia Safawiyya. During the later 1400’s, the Uthmanis were preoccupied with one of their Christian rivals, the Venetians, (a trading powerhouse of the time and possessor of a strong military). They fought three separate naval battles from 1499-1503 in the Ionian Sea, (which is amidst the Greek archipelago of islands). These battles were milestones in military history as the Uthmanis were the first navy to use cannons on ships. All three battles were led by the mujahid Uthmani admiral Kamal Ra’ees[2], (his full name was Ahmad Kamaladdeen), and all three were victories for the Uthmanis. During these string of victories, the Uthmanis also managed to take the island of Sardinia in 1501 also under the leadership of Kamal Ra’ees along with numerous other incursions along the coast of Spain and Italy before returning back towards Istanbul, subsequently numerous naval ghazawaat along the way back.

[1] A classification of Han Chinese that are Muslims.

[2] Ra’ees was a Turkish military rank akin to that of Admiral, that was commonly added to the officer’s name


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