Monthly Archives: August 2007

Islam Marginalized in Southeast Asian Studies

From Robert W. Hefner’s introduction to Islam in an Era of Nation-States: Politics and Religious Renewal in Muslim Southeast Asia, ed. by Robert W. Hefner and Patricia Horvatich (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1997), pp. pp. 11-12 (references omitted):

The other marginalization to which the study of Islam in Southeast Asia has long been subjected unwittingly reinforced this neglect. This marginalization occurred within the field of Southeast Asian studies, particularly the form that took shape in the United States in the aftermath of World War II. In this emerging academic field, it was not uncommon for Islam to be portrayed as an intrusive cultural force or, as another widely used metaphor would have it, a late-deposited cultural “layer.” The real Southeast Asia lay deeper and was somehow less Islamic.

This perspective on Islam in Southeast Asia had deep historical and, more specifically, colonial precedents. In colonial times, particularly in the Dutch East Indies, this notion of Islam as a “thin veneer” appealed to those who wished to justify the suppression of Islam on the grounds that it was a threat to colonial power. In Java, for example, nineteenth-century colonial administrators developed a “structure of not seeing,” overlooking Islamic influences in Javanese tradition, while exaggerating and essentializing the influence of non-Islamic ideals. In the aftermath of the brutal Java War (1825–1830), colonial scholars worked to create a canon of Javanese literature that romanticized pre-Islamic literature as a golden age and portrayed the coming of Islam as a civilizational disaster. These Dutch Orientalists conveniently overlooked the fact that the proportion of Islamic-oriented literature in modern court collections was vastly greater than the so-called renaissance literature (pre-Islamic classics rendered in modern Javanese verse) that colonial scholars portrayed as the essence of things Javanese.

Colonial law effected a similar essentialization. Under the direction of Cornelis van Vollenhoven, the “adat (customary) law school” worked under state directive to develop what amounted to a system of legal apartheid. A classic example of the colonial “invention of tradition,” European experts divided the native peoples of the Indies into nineteen distinct legal communities. Islamic law was acknowledged in each community’s legal traditions only to the extent that colonial scholars determined that local custom (adat) explicitly acknowledged Islamic law. In this manner, colonial authorities reified the distinction between customary adat and Islam. As James Siegel’s study of Aceh and Taufik Abdullah’s of Minangkabau both demonstrate, however, this distinction between endogenous “custom” and exogenous “Islam” imposed an artificial polarity on a relationship that had always been dynamic. In fact, in the decades preceding the European conquest, legal traditions in places like Malaya and Minangkabau (west Sumatra) had already begun to accord a greater role to textually based Islamic norms. It was precisely this growing Islamic influence that prompted anxious Dutch authorities to implement their adatrecht policy.

British legal policies in Malaya differed from those of the Dutch. Drawing on their experience with Muslims in India, the British at first regarded Malay Muslims as “unheretical members of some idealized and uniform civilization.” By treating adat as “custom that has no legal consequences” and allowing the Malay sultans a measure of jural authority, the British allowed the formation of institutional structures in which Islamic law had a substantial albeit circumscribed role. Nonetheless, lacking a framework for integrating the study of local traditions and Islam, British scholars of the colonial era fell into an “anecdotal empiricism” that failed to grasp the dynamics of religious change in Malay society as a whole.

Though there was a tradition of Islamic studies in colonial Southeast Asia, then, it suffered from the subordination of scholarship to the needs of the colonial political order.

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Filed under Islam, scholarship, Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia Marginalized in Islamic Studies

From Robert W. Hefner’s introduction to Islam in an Era of Nation-States: Politics and Religious Renewal in Muslim Southeast Asia, ed. by Robert W. Hefner and Patricia Horvatich (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1997), pp. pp. 8-9 (references omitted):

One of the most serious impediments to the development of a systematic understanding of Islam in Southeast Asia is the fact that the topic has long been marginalized in the fields of Islamic and Southeast Asian studies. In Islamic studies Western and Middle Eastern scholars alike have tended to place Southeast Asia at the intellectual periphery of the Islamic world. Still today in some overviews of Islamic history and civilization, Southeast Asian Muslims are mentioned briefly if at all. Though Southeast Asian Islam has almost two hundred million believers, it is not uncommon for observers, even learned specialists, to identify Islam with the Middle East and to regard Southeast Asia as, at best, intellectually and institutionally derivative of Middle Eastern Islam.

There is a larger and, in one sense, understandable logic to this neglect. By comparison to Persia and the Arabian heartland, in insular Southeast Asia Islam became a civilizational force relatively late in Islamic history. Though Arab-Muslim traders traveled through island Southeast Asia as early as the seventh and eighth centuries, there was little settlement until the late thirteenth, when a Muslim town, inhabited in part by Arab-speaking foreigners, was established in the Pasai region of north Sumatra, an entrepôt for the trade with Muslim India and Arabia. Shortly thereafter, a Muslim presence appears to have been established in port towns along Java’s north coast, territories still then under the control of the Hindu-Buddhist kingdom of Majapahit. Ruling elites in the Malay peninsula were converted in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and those in coastal Sulawesi and much of the southern Philippines were won to the faith in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The primary impetus for this wave of conversion was not conquest or religious warfare, as had been the case in Islam’s early expansion in Arabia and North Africa, but trade and interethnic intercourse. Certainly, as Anthony Reid has noted, Muslim potentates (like their Theravada Buddhist counterparts in mainland Southeast Asia) regarded forcible conversion of neighbors as “an honourable motive for conquest,” and Muslim rulers periodically engaged in warfare with their Hindu-Buddhist, animist, or, in later times, Christian neighbors. However, as Thomas McKenna’s essay in this volume illustrates, the causes of these conflicts were as much commercial and dynastic as they were religious.

More decisively, the rapid and relatively uniform spread of Islam to the insular world’s maritime centers was related to broader historical developments, especially the growth of international commerce from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries and the movement of large numbers of people out of localized societies into a multiethnic and interregional macrocosm. Most of the map of modern Muslim Southeast Asia was laid out during this “age of commerce,” as Anthony Reid has so aptly described it. A few remote corners of Southeast Asia have been converted to Islam in this century, some even in the last decades. In general, however, the dynamism of Islam in contemporary times has had less to do with a new wave of conversion than with the reform and rationalization of religion among established Muslim populations.

By itself, the comparatively late arrival of Islam in Southeast Asia neither explains nor justifies this region’s marginalization within the field of Islamic studies. Given the genesis of what has come to be regarded as “classical” Islamic civilization within the Arabic- and Persian-speaking world, however, there was a tendency on the part of early Western Islamicists to devote their attention to regions where the classical tradition was first composed. This emphasis was reinforced by the focus of this early scholarship on Islamic “culture,” not in the modern, social-historical or anthropological sense of this term, but in its great-traditional sense, as in written literature, philosophy, art and architecture, and law. With several notable exceptions, the Orientalist commentaries that introduced Islamic civilization to a Western readership in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were concerned with high culture, not the everyday meaning of Islam for ordinary Muslims. The focus of this writing was leading thinkers and civilizationwide achievements, especially those preserved for time in the printed word.

As a result of this textual emphasis, Southeast Asia—and other areas marginalized in the Orientalist understanding of the Muslim world, such as Central Asia, Bengal, and West Africa—was accorded only a minor role in early accounts of Islamic civilization.

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Filed under education, Islam, South Asia

Judt on the Secular Religion of the 1960s

From Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt (Penguin, 2005), pp. 401-403:

The youthful impulse of the Sixties was not about understanding the world; in the words of Karl Marx’s Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach, written when Marx himself was just 26 years old and much cited in these years: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.’ When it came to changing the world there was still only one grand theory purporting to relate an interpretation of the world to an all-embracing project of change; only one Master Narrative offering to make sense of everything while leaving open a place for human initiative: the political project of Marxism itself.

The intellectual affinities and political obsessions of the Sixties in Europe only make sense in the light of this continuing fascination with Marx and Marxism. As Jean-Paul Sartre put it in 1960, in his Critique of Dialectical Reason: ‘I consider Marxism to be the unsurpassable philosophy of our time.’ Sartre’s unshaken faith was not universally shared, but there was general agreement across the political spectrum that anyone wishing to understand the world must take Marxism and its political legacy very seriously. Raymond Aron—Sartre’s contemporary, erstwhile friend and intellectual nemesis—was a lifelong anti-Communist. But he, too, freely acknowledged (with a mixture of regret and fascination) that Marxism was the dominant idea of the age: the secular religion of its epoch.

Between 1956 and 1968 Marxism in Europe lived—and, as it were, thrived—in a state of suspended animation. Stalinist Communism was in disgrace, thanks to the revelations and events of 1956. The Communist parties of the West were either politically irrelevant (in Scandinavia, Britain, West Germany and the Low Countries); in slow but unmistakable decline (France); or else, as in the Italian case, striving to distance themselves from their Muscovite inheritance. Official Marxism, as incarnated in the history and teachings of Leninist parties, was largely discredited—especially in the territories over which it continued to rule. Even those in the West who chose to vote Communist evinced little interest in the subject.

At the same time there was widespread intellectual and academic interest in those parts of the Marxist inheritance that could be distinguished from the Soviet version and salvaged from its moral shipwreck. Ever since the Founder’s death, there had always been Marxist and marxisant sects and splinter groups—well before 1914 there were already tiny political parties claiming the True Inheritance. A handful of these, like the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB), were still in existence: vaunting their political virginity and asserting their uniquely correct interpretation of the original Marxist texts. But most late-nineteenth-century Socialist movements, circles, clubs and societies had been absorbed into the general-purpose Socialist and Labour parties that coalesced in the years 1900–1910. Modern Marxist disputes have their roots in the Leninist schism that was to follow….

The exhumation of the writings of Luxemburg, Lukacs, Gramsci and other forgotten early-twentieth century Marxists was accompanied by the rediscovery of Marx himself. Indeed, the unearthing of a new and ostensibly very different Marx was crucial to the attraction of Marxism in these years. The ‘old’ Marx was the Marx of Lenin and Stalin: the Victorian social scientist whose neo-positivist writings anticipated and authorized democratic centralism and proletarian dictatorship. Even if this Marx could not be held directly responsible for the uses to which his mature writings had been put, he was irrevocably associated with them. Whether in the service of Communism or Social Democracy, they were of the old Left.

The new Left, as it was starting to call itself by 1965, sought out new texts—and found them in the writings of the young Karl Marx, in the metaphysical essays and notes written in the early 1840s when Marx was barely out of his teens, a young German philosopher steeped in Hegelian historicism and the Romantic dream of ultimate Freedom. Marx himself had chosen not to publish some of these writings; indeed, in the aftermath of the failed revolutions of 1848 he had turned decisively away from them and towards the study of political economy and contemporary politics with which he was henceforth to be associated.

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Photodude Debunks Civil War Photog Mathew Brady

Atlanta-based blogger Photodude takes Andrew Sullivan to task by debunking Mathew Brady‘s role as the photographer of the American Civil War. I’ve seen many, many Mathew Brady photographs, but never heard this angle. Did the Ken Burns documentary series on the Civil War mention this? (UPDATE: I’ve corrected the spelling of Brady’s first name except where quoting Photodude below. More on Brady here and here.)

As someone intimately familiar with both the history of photography and the Civil War, I can tell you that Matthew [sic] Brady was well known as a sour self-promoting character with far more ego than talent. Yes, he did take some famous photos during the Civil War, but he also took the work of talented photographers like Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, and others, and proudly presented it as his own. The quote I recall is along the lines of “that photo is so good I’m going to tell the world it’s a Matthew Brady photograph.” He was brazen about it. You might say Matthew Brady invented the concept of “work for hire.”


Filed under publishing, U.S., war

Missing Date in Philippines History: 31 December 1844

From A History of the International Date Line:

European explorers who approached the Pacific Ocean by sailing to the east such as the Portuguese, and in their wake the Dutch, the English and the French, naturally kept their ship’s journals and diaries according to the day count of their home land and this was of course also adopted by the colonists who settled along the Asian perimeter of the Pacific Ocean.

However, the colonisation of the Pacific Ocean by the Spanish occurred from the opposite direction and more specifically from the Spanish possessions in America. The Philippine archipelago was discovered in March 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan and Spanish dominion over the islands was first firmly established in 1565 by Miguel López de Legazpi (c. 1510 – 1572), the conquistador and first Spanish governor general of the Philippines….

Most of the shipping from the Philippines to Spain went over the Pacific Ocean to the Mexican port of Acapulco, was transported over land to the port of Veracruz, and then shipped to Spain. In order that the Spanish ships crossing the Pacific Ocean between the Philippines and the Spanish Americas would not have to adjust the dates in their journals whenever they sighted land, the Philippines observed the same day count as that of the Spanish Americas….

During the early 1840s the commercial interests of the Philippine Islands turned more and more away from the Spanish Americas (which for a large part had severed their relations with the motherland Spain) and trading with the Chinese mainland (engendered by the ignominious but lucrative ‘Opium Wars’), the Malay peninsula, the Dutch East Indies and Australia became increasingly important.

In order to facilitate communication and trading with its western and southern neighbours, the secular and religious authorities of the Philippines agreed that it would be advantageous to abolish the American day reckoning and adopt the Asian day reckoning.

This was achieved in 1844 when Narciso Claveria, the governor general of the Philippines, issued a proclamation announcing that Monday, 30 December 1844, was to be immediately followed by Wednesday, 1 January 1845.

The 1867 conversion from Russian to American time in Alaska was much more complicated.


Filed under Mexico, Pacific, Philippines, Spain

Suppression of Piracy in the Philippines After 1848

From Iranun and Balangingi: Globalization, Maritime Raiding and the Birth of Ethnicity, by James Francis Warren (Singapore U. Press, 2002), pp. 345-346, 363-364:

By the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the sea war in the Philippines between Spain and the Iranun and Balangingi had taken on a permanent and normal character of a stalemate in which each party recognized the other as an equal with authority generally limited to the territory each controlled. But in 1848 the combined forces of the Spanish navy and army laid waste to the Samal forts at Balangingi, dispersed the survivors, and forcefully relocated the prisoners of war. This was the decisive moment, the turning point in the history of the century-long conflict between Spain and the slave raiders. The Balangingi were on the brink of climbing out of their Samal identity after nearly half a century of constant upheaval, and, according to Frake, “establishing themselves as a different kind of people.” But, in the aftermath of the Spanish devastation of their island stronghold in 1848, they did not succeed. After that event the Balangingi, as ‘notorious pirates’ and a construed single ethnic group, disappeared from the pages of the historical literature and geographical reports. Balangingi fortunes changed in the 1840s and with them the pattern of maritime raiding in Southeast Asia. The destruction of Tempasuk and Marudu by the English in 1845 also forced Iranun groups to relocate on the east coast at Tunku. The loss of these confederate communities made it more difficult for the Balangingi to conduct slave raids in the western sector of the archipelago. This event, coupled with the founding of Labuan by James Brooke and the appearance of steam gunboats on the northwest coast of Borneo, forced them to gradually withdraw from that area and increasingly concentrate their activities on the Dutch possessions.

At the same time, the Spanish adopted a far more aggressive policy in the south. The new governor of the Philippines, Narciso Claveria, understood the strategic importance of the control of Balangingi which became the focal point of a new Spanish strategy. A daring naval attack aimed at the throat of the Sulu, namely Balangingi, was the key to cutting the sultanate in two and stopping slave raiding in the Philippines….

After the destruction of Balangingi in 1848, the Spanish first used the Samal women and children as hostages to force their husbands and kindred to surrender and make peace. The political ploy did not work. So after a short time, the Spanish assembled their steamers and regularly swept the Visayas and the Sulu archipelago from one end to the other. Repeated punitive campaigns ended with a series of major sea battles off the coasts of Samar and Mindanao and attacks on Taupan’s bases to the south. [Julano Taupan was war leader of the Balangingi at Tawi-Tawi.] Hundreds of Balangingi were killed during the six year long war, many of their ships captured, and others destroyed. Taupan sent his raiders to prey on shipping in less troubled waters in the Moluccas, the Banda Sea, the Java Sea, and along the Bornean coasts. But their activities were short-lived. The British and Dutch dealt with the Balangingi menace by joining forces across the region, stationing steamers in all the key straits of the archipelago at certain times of the year when the slave raiders traditionally appeared in those waters. The Dutch navy concentrated on Taupan’s Balangingi operations around Sulawesi and Bonerate, and the British, with James Brooke’s full support, stationed ships at Labuan to protect the Borneo coasting fleets in the South China Sea.

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Filed under Britain, Netherlands, Philippines, piracy, Southeast Asia, Spain, war

Polynesian Languages: Useful for American Football QBs

I don’t have much interest in American football. I grew up paying more attention to baseball and sumo. But an intriguing off-topic comment by football fan BitterOldPunk in a thread on Language Hat pointed me to a story in today’s New York Times about a remarkable quarterback on the University of Hawai‘i football team.

HONOLULU — After every home game, Colt Brennan waves to his probation officer as he leaves Aloha Stadium….

Brennan, Hawaii’s star quarterback, is on the cusp of what could be a transcendent season in his senior year. He is projected to make a run at the Heisman Trophy, and his coach insists that he will be the first quarterback selected in the N.F.L. draft. His strong right arm, combined with a soft schedule, have people around college football’s most remote program believing that Hawaii’s chances of making a Boise State-like run to a Bowl Championship Series game are, well, not remote.

Those possibilities, for the player and for the team, are even more noteworthy considering the improbable, circuitous road that Brennan, 24, took to Hawaii.

Brennan backed up Matt Leinart in high school in Southern California, went 3,000 miles to a prep school in Massachusetts and was the fourth-string quarterback at Colorado as a walk-on before being arrested and thrown off the team. He then spent spring break in a Colorado jail during a year in junior college and landed at Hawaii only because a reporter showed an assistant coach there a film of one of Brennan’s junior college receivers.

The final twists in Brennan’s rise toward stardom and redemption may be the most compelling of all, however. If not for the anonymity of being a backup, the uncertainty of chasing a scholarship and the humiliation of wearing an orange jumpsuit, he probably would not have the thrill of a Heisman chase, the allure of being a possible first-round pick or the recipient of the affection of an entire state.

“The consensus between myself and Colt’s high school coaches is that Colt is the person he is today and the quarterback he is today because of the path he took,” said Dan Morrison, Hawaii’s quarterbacks coach. “I firmly believe he is who he is today because of the road he traveled.”

It’s a fine story of personal redemption and of those who had faith in him, but the bit that got notice on Language Hat was the following.

Soon after Brennan arrived, in the summer of 2005, Morrison, the quarterbacks coach, advised him that the culture of the island valued humility and character. Having spent spring break in jail that year, Brennan hardly needed a humility check.

“I had gone through a real embarrassing time in my life,” Brennan said. “I was humiliated and I needed to go find myself somewhere else. Hawaii had that appeal to it. It was my getaway, my escape.”

So he kept his mouth shut and did his best to blend in. He took three semesters of Samoan as a way to bond with his offensive linemen, all of whom are of Polynesian descent. (Morrison beamed when telling of Brennan calling an audible in Samoan last year.)

I suspect that Brennan has also learned a bit of New Zealand Māori, because Hawai‘i is one of a growing number of American football teams that psyche themselves up (and psyche their opponents out) before games by performing Māori-style haka, first introduced into international sports by New Zealand’s famed All-Blacks.

The blog A Nice Gesture has quite a compilation of commentary and video of haka being performed by, among others, New Zealand’s Tall Blacks before a basketball game against Argentina, and a whole range of American football teams from Hawai‘i to Utah to Texas.

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Filed under Hawai'i, language, Polynesia, U.S.

Outburst of Piracy in Southeast Asia, 1754-1838

From Iranun and Balangingi: Globalization, Maritime Raiding and the Birth of Ethnicity, by James Francis Warren (Singapore U. Press, 2002), pp. 53-56:

The Iranun burst quite suddenly into Southeast Asian history in the second half of the eighteenth century with a series of terrifying raids and attacks on the coasts and shipping of the Philippines, the straits of Malacca and the islands beyond Sulawesi. Their primary targets were unprotected coastal settlements and sailing boats that travelled throughout Southeast Asia bringing valuable commodities from China and the West back to the most remote parts of the archipelago. Many of these marauders were sponsored by rulers from the trading states of Cotabato, Sulu, Siak, and Sambas. They were soon described as ‘Lanun’ or ‘Illanoon’—‘pirates’—by those who suffered their depradations or either travelled with or hunted them and wrote about their widespread impact on the Southeast Asian world.

It is estimated that during the last quarter of this century (1774–1798) of maritime raiding and conflict against the Dutch and Spanish, between 100 and 200 seaworthy raiding prahus set out from the Mindanao-Sulu area each year. The sheer size of the vessels—the largest joanga measuring upward of 130 feet in length—and the scale of the expeditions dwarfed most previous efforts, marking a significant departure in the naval strategy of Malay maritime raiding as it had been traditionally understood. The Iranun were far more than mere ‘pirates’ or brigands. The colonial powers and precolonial Malay trading states had to reckon with a dominant force in their own right; a force that was capable of inflicting major defeats on the Spanish and Dutch and toppling local kingdoms. The huge numbers of these skilled sea raiders and slavers that the sultanate of Sulu could mobilize during the heyday of the China trade would henceforth have a profound impact upon Southeast Asia’s history.

The geographical range of Iranun-Balangingi slave raiding activity was enormous, spanning all of Southeast Asia and beyond. Until the latter part of the eighteenth century, the joanga of the Cotabato and Sulu Sultanates were more or less integrated into fleets belonging to the respective sultanates, but by the end of the century many Iranun vessels were also operating independently. Iranun prahus sponsored by both states had their own target areas but inevitably, there was some overlap. Cotabato and Sulu raiding vessels cruised between the Visayas and Luzon, and out into the South China Sea. Those from Tempasuk, on the northwest coast of Borneo, harassed shipping to the west of the huge island itself. Samal Balangingi, situated midway between the Iranun communities in Mindanao and those on Borneo, operated vessels throughout the Philippines and in the central and eastern parts of the Netherlands Indies.

Iranun maritime raids affected virtually the entire coastline of Southeast Asia, and even stretches of New Guinea and the Bay of Bengal were not secure from slave raids. In the east, the Iranun sailed down the Makassar Strait to cross the Java Sea and South China Sea to attack the north coast ports on Java and the large tin mining island of Banka. Iranun raided extensively in the Sangir Islands, Halmahera and, to a lesser extent, in the Moluccas. They also pushed beyond the defended limits of the Southeast Asian world, crossing the South China Sea to attack undefended stretches of the coastlines of Thailand and Cochin China. At the opposite extremity they also raided, but failed to dominate, the dangerous coasts of New Guinea. In the 1790s, Iranun slave hunters in search of captives extended the limits of their known world even further, sailing far into the waters of the Bay of Bengal, touching at the Andaman Islands and perhaps exploring the southern coast of Burma. There seemed no practical way for the colonial powers to link their respective ‘dominions’ together in an island-wide network of defense and communication, and consequently the Iranun made the most of the ill-defended seas and ravaged the coastal populations and commerce….

In the second half of the eighteenth century many Philippine ports, towns, shipyards, and monasteries were not adequately defended while others were totally defenseless. From the mid-1750s onward, the scale, ferocity and unexpected nature of the initial wave of Iranun attacks were deeply disturbing. Thousands of Filipinos perished or were seized as captives; the more so as the Iranun were Muslims and recognized none of the accepted conventions and taboos that were meant to protect the property and personnel of the Catholic Church in times of war between Christians…. This terrifying period of Iranun slave raiding activity, which lasted more than 70 years from roughly 1752 to 1832, severely hampered the overall social and material well-being and growth of the Philippine island world and the colonial state.


Filed under economics, Philippines, piracy, Southeast Asia, war

Marmot’s View of Islam in Medieval Korea

Robert Koehler at The Marmot’s Hole offers his summary of early relations between the Islamic world and Korea, based on a 2005 Korean-language piece in the Hankyoreh Shinmun by Professor Jeong Su-il. Here are a few excerpts.

Following the establishment of the Goryeo kingdom, the Muslim presence in Korea would reach new heights. At first, it was mostly Arab traders flooding into the kingdom, but in the late Goryeo era, when Korea was dominated by the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, Muslims would come to Korea as soldiers and administrators, and the Muslim faith would begin putting down roots in the country.

Historical records show that in the early years of the Goryeo era, large Muslim — probably Arab — tribute delegations came to the Korean capital of Gaegyeong (present day Kaesong) in 1024, 1025 and 1037, presenting such rare gifts as mercury and myrrh. The Goryeo king prepared for these travelers special lodging and presented them with gold and silk upon their return to their homeland….

Professor Jeong noted the historic irony that Islam was brought to Korea on the (horse)back of non-believers. This irony could be taken even further by noting that the afore mentioned non-believers were not just your garden-variety infidels, but the very same enemies of God who that year had single-handedly stuck a fork in the Islamic Golden Age with the “Mother of All Sackings” of Baghdad.

Following the Mongol conquest of Goryeo, the saengmokin, regarded by the Mongols as highly cultured and educated (many Central Asians, particularly Uighurs, served as administrators for the empire — even the Mongol script was invented by a Uighur), came to Korea as guards, military aide-de-camps and attendants to the Mongol princesses sent to Korea to marry the Goryeo princes. At the same time, many Muslims came to Korea in a civilian capacity as traders, with many settling down for good.

An update links to another article in English by Don Baker in Harvard Asia Quarterly entitled Islam Struggles for a Toehold in Korea. Here’s the abstract.

This paper explores the history of Islam in Korea from its first introduction on the peninsula in as early as 11th-century to the present day. Although Korea is rightfully perceived as a country whose religious landscape has been traditionally dominated by Buddhist temples, Confucian study halls, and shrines for Korea’s own folk religion, Islam has also secured a foothold in this East Asian country. The author reveals the traces of the early contacts with the Muslim civilization in Korea’s own culture, ranging from the adoption of advanced calendrical techniques to the import of a sophisticated distillation technology that came to be used for the production of soju, Korean rice wine. Against the backdrop of this historical overview, the paper goes further to analyze why Islam has not made more headway in Korea. This research concludes suggesting that Islam’s failure to adapt itself to local customs accounts for its status as a minority religion that attracts primarily foreign residents of Korea and has only a small number of Korean adherents.

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Filed under Islam, Korea

Hans Rosling on Global Trends Since the 1960s

Dr. Hans Rosling, cofounder of the Swedish branch of Doctors Without Borders, has a fascinating video presentation about how much the world—especially Asia—has changed since the days of Mao and Nehru, when many of today’s world leaders (and my generation of baby boomers) formed their increasingly obsolete impressions of global trends.

What sets Rosling apart isn’t just his apt observations of broad social and economic trends, but the stunning way he presents them. Guaranteed: You’ve never seen data presented like this. By any logic, a presentation that tracks global health and poverty trends should be, in a word: boring. But in Rosling’s hands, data sings. Trends come to life. And the big picture — usually hazy at best — snaps into sharp focus.

via Belmont Club

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Filed under Africa, Asia