Dr. Max Gross, a trained historian, has written a baseline history of Islam in Southeast Asia. Starting with basic questions such as how did Islam come to this region, he connects the interaction of local authorities, colonial powers, and governments with the challenge Islam has presented to governance for more than a thousand years. Especially strong are the introductory and concluding chapters. The former provides a short scan of the history of the expansion of Islam into Southeast Asia and of the relationship of colonial legacies of the British, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, and Americans to Islam today in the region. The last chapter traces the development of the idea of an Islamic state from the time of Mohammad in Medina to its present-day role in the politics of Southeast Asia.
Still, this is a book with a contemporary focus. Dr. Gross’s purpose is to use history to explain today’s Islamic insurgencies in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines and to offer perspectives for the future. These four countries fall along a spectrum. Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, is about 90 percent Muslim, and the conflicts which Dr. Gross examines are largely between a secularization of Islam, especially Sukarno’s Pancasila mixing Islam and nationalism, and the much more traditional Islamic orthopraxy among the Acehnese and others. Malaysia has a different context; its population is 53 percent Muslim, and the central question concerns accommodation between the majority Muslims and the minority Christians and ethnic Chinese. In Thailand and the Philippines, where the Muslims are minorities themselves (approximately four and five percent respectively), the question is political accommodation in the opposite direction. Underlying most of these confl icts are separatist histories based not only on religious differences but also on geographic, ethnic, racial, and social disparities.
This book’s unique contribution is that it brings together in one reference a mass of information on the insurgencies in Southeast Asia. The country accounts are detailed and thorough as to events, organizations, dates, and participants. The chronological context provides Dr. Gross the opportunity to give his insights about historical causality. His accounting highlights the interaction of the insurgencies within Southeast Asia and their international connections outside the region. Especially good are the detailed presentations in the chapters on Indonesia and the Philippines.