New frontiers and conversion

Robert Launay*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Introduction: By the beginning of the nineteenth century, despite Europe’s superior maritime and military power, Islamic commercial networks established along the fringes of the Islamic world, notably in Africa and South-East Asia, remained in place, linking the interior with coastal ports. These fringes were not exactly ‘frontiers’; in most cases, a substantial Islamic presence had existed for centuries. However, the majority of the population was not Muslim. These areas were to become the arena of substantial conversion to Islam in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in large measure because of and not simply despite the imposition of European hegemony.The nature and extent of Islamic expansion along these fringes depended on the interplay of various factors: the social organisation of specific local societies; the prior history of Islamisation and of the integration of Muslims into these societies; and the ways in which different regions of the world were ultimately integrated into European-dominated global economic networks. In South-East Asia as well as East Africa, the spread of Islam was inextricably linked to maritime trading networks, with Islam initially confined to ports along the coast. However, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, most of the interior of Java was at least nominally Islamic, although Islam was still expanding to parts of the Sumatran interior. At the outset of the modern era, Muslims in East Africa remained exclusively along the coast, and it was only in the course of the nineteenth century that Islam began to expand into the interior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe New Cambridge History of Islam
Subtitle of host publicationMuslims and Modernity Culture and Society Since 1800
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781139055925
ISBN (Print)9780521844437
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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