Islamic Revivalism in Southeast Asia

A review of The Social Dynamics of Islamic Revivalism in Southeast Asia: The Rise of the Patani School, 1785-1909, by Francis Bradley.

In the introduction of his dissertation, Francis Bradley describes his thesis as an intellectual history of the Patani School of Islamic revivalism. As such, the work is an account of how a turn to Islamic scholarship and textual production could become so important in Patani society. As the text proceeds, however, this circumscribed description soon gives way to reveal an extremely ambitious project. The work is a sweeping, and indeed, richly detailed account of Patani’s wholesale transformation over several centuries. Bradley’s history of the Patani School turns out to be nested within a layered and rewarding exposition of the complex and large-scale processes swirling around Patani from the 1600s to the twentieth century. These processes, according to Bradley, contributed to Patani’s gradual relegation: from a mercantile and courtly centre in the 1600s and 1700s; to an unquiet and culturally-neglected province at the southern margin of the Siamese/Thai geo-body from 1909.

For Bradley then, the dislocations these interventions produced gave rise to the mobility and dispersal of the widespread networks which constituted the Patani School. They also catalyzed the emergence of a deterritorialized Islamic revivalism developed in the Middle East and later, across the Indian Ocean; even while it remained infused with a particularly Patani sensibility and responded to “socio-moral” concerns arising from this society’s search for renewed moral cohesion. Through its intellectual efforts to meet this need, the networked Patani School ultimately became sufficiently influential to transform the trajectory of Islamic thought and scholarship — especially in relation to fiqh (jurisprudence), and the relationship between shari’a and Sufism — across a much wider Malay milieu, both peninsular and diasporic. The scholarship produced by influential thinkers associated with the School developed as “a new form of cultural capital, created after the destruction of old forms, and built through and by networks of these people” (p. xvi).

The dissertation is divided in seven chapters, through which its ambitious set of narratives is progressively built. The first of these is an account of Patani’s pre-1785 position as an entrepot for South China Sea trade, host to a lively resident courtly and mercantile community. Patani’s courtly and merchant lineages competed for power and status in two spaces geared for social and status reproduction, namely the marketplace and the court. The growing Dutch presence in the region, however, first began to erode Patani’s position as a marketplace, while successive Siamese interventions exacerbated the polity’s economic decline.

The second chapter, named “The Shattering of Patani,” shows that the polity was unable to escape from Siam’s decisive exercise of its power to territorialize its southern tributaries, so decisively demonstrated when it incorporated Patani in 1785. Bradley shows that Siam’s move unleashed new levels of violence upon both the landscape and its population, culminating in the “destruction and dismemberment of the polity” (p. xvi). Siam is shown to have systematically dismantled Patani’s structures of courtly authority and shattered its demographic integrity through agricultural destruction, slave-taking, and killing. The outcome, for Bradley, was the final destruction of both marketplace and court as spaces for accumulating markers of material and non-material authority, leaving the mosque intact as the only remaining “arena for the acquisition of social power” (p. 11), and the last “refuge of moral order and social power in Patani society” (p. 21).

Having established the broader social stakes in Patani’s destruction, Bradley then turns to its aftermath. In Chapter 3, the narrative focus narrows to examine the life and intellectual trajectory of Shaykh Da’ud bin ‘Abd Allah al-Fatani, the scholar who founded the Patani School, and whose life path best exemplified its development. A refugee displaced in 1786, Shaykh Da’ud reached Mecca in the early 1800s, drawn by its capacity as a locus both for advancing scholarship and regrouping politically by taking positions in contests over Islamic theory and Muslim practice active in the Middle East at the time. In constant dialogue, if not agreement, with the ascendant Wahhabi networks, Shaykh Da’ud developed new approaches to shari’a, and most notably to the regulations governing the familial and institutional practices through which a new Patani could be built. Producing a written corpus which began to circulate around networks of his followers, Shaykh Da’ud “mapped out an intellectual space that, in turn, transformed the socio-moral geography of Patani and surrounding regions” (p. 192). Shaykh Da’ud also expounded at one point that jihad was appropriate against unjust rulers, who included, in Patani’s case, Siam.

The ideas elaborated by scholars like Shaykh Da’ud and his followers, while developed in diasporic exchange, were also reterritorialized and emplaced on the Patani landscape, taught in the networks of pondok schools which functioned both as transmission nodes and as “legitimating institutions designed for the validation of prestige within the new social system” (p. 35). The fourth, fifth and sixth chapters of this dissertation evaluate the legacies these networks left behind in Patani elsewhere, which collectively informed efforts to reinvigorate a distinctly Patani identity, albeit without the opportunity to access and reinvent courtly and/or mercantile “traditions”. Here, Bradley elaborates the contents and circulations of individuals and texts in detail, tracing the movements and nodes built by Patani School networks across the Indian Ocean, and transforming Patani in to the preeminent learning center for scholars of Islam across the Malay Peninsula and more broadly.

Having completed these elaborations, Bradley turns in Chapter 7 to the distinctive, and “modern” print culture built up by the diasporic Patani networks, and outlines the development of Malay publishing efforts in Mecca, Constantinople, Bombay, Cairo and the Malay Peninsula. Bradley locates this print culture in its relationship with “pan-Islam,” a series of intellectual developments advanced by leading Muslim scholars, supported by the Ottoman Empire and Caliphate, and spanning the period of global geopolitical upheaval on either side of the First World War. The Patani School figure most closely connected with these developments was Shaykh Ahmad Fatani, a scholar who had trained in Mecca with students of Shaykh Da’ud, and who had been appointed head of the Ottoman press in Mecca by the 1880s.

In elaborating his multiple, nested narratives, Bradley also engages in a series of asides. These include one on developments in firearm technology and distribution, in dialogue with Australian scholar Anthony Reid’s “low casualty thesis” on Southeast Asian warfare. Another is on the nature of British interest in Patani, and the lack of British intervention to prevent Siam’s territorialization of this particular Malay polity. There is also another on John Voll’s work on the relationship between colonial intervention and the development of movements for Islamic reform. Bradley recasts this discussion in light of the non-Western nature of Siamese territorialization in Patani, to argue that “socio-moral” disruption was the key driver for reform, which was seen as “a way for re-establishing moral order in what had become a fractured and disparate community” (p. 190). Bradley also makes it known that he is influenced by the work of French sociologist and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu, especially that on “symbolic capital and social power” (p. 23).

Bradley concludes with some comments on Patani’s post-1909 status as a polity whose Muslim intellectuals had not succeeded in removing from Siamese control, despite having understood its struggle against Siamese incorporation as “similar to much of the rest of the Islamic world against the British, French, and other imperial powers” (p. 508). Such a conclusion, stated after such a sweeping historical trajectory, demonstrates the historiographical impact that this thesis can be expected to create. Bradley’s work is important because it demonstrates how and why the idea of Patani remains enmeshed in extra-territorial networks, to the point where the unpublished textual sources for the thesis could largely be accessed only via Malaysia. Bradley’s dissertation also shows how and why Patani remains invested with longing for a form of political liberation shaped by the globalist Islamic grammar in which it is articulated.

Amrita Malhi
Hawke Research Institute
University of South Australia

Primary Sources: Main Collections

Unpublished Manuscripts from National Library of Malaysia
Unpublished Manuscripts from Islamic Arts Museum, Kuala Lumpur
Unpublished Manuscripts from Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur
Unpublished Manuscripts from National Museum of Indonesia

Dissertation Information

University of Wisconsin-Madison. 2010. 657 pp. Primary Advisor: Thongchai Winichakul.


Image: Patani Central Mosque. Photograph by Clerkhai Thongnaul, Portfolios*Net.

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