Education About Asia: Online Archives

Sinbad the Sailor and the Eastward Journey of Islam

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By Joan Brodsky Schur

The rapid rise of Islam is typically depicted in textbooks as the consequence of conquests made by the Umayyad and Abbasid empires and the diffusion of Islam into Central Asia along the Silk Roads. Rarely is the spread of Islam attributed to the importance of seafaring Muslim traders. Yet Muslim mariners, plying the waters of the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and South China Sea, played a key role in transporting their religion throughout Southeast Asia. At the Village Community School in New York City, I discovered a means to help my seventh-grade students understand why today this vast region is predominantly Muslim. With the world’s attention focused on the tragic consequences of the tsunami of December 2004 from the Malay Peninsula to Indonesia, the teaching strategies described here seem ever more timely. They are easy to adapt for high school world history courses as well.