Nowadays most of the Burmese Muslims as well as non Muslim brothers believe that Islam reach to Asia especially to the South East Asia through Arabs.
We tend to forget to look into the country that Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) advised to travel to seek the knowledge; China.
China’s role of spreading Islam is not a well known fact to the most of us except for the Historians. I have read about Admiral Zheng He, @ حجّي محمود شمس Hajji Mahmud Shams) (1371–1433).
If you read the following history carefully and follow the links , Islam did not spread to South East Asia by the means of Arabs marrying four wives of local people as some quarters ignorantly accused. It would rather tell you how people embraced Islam peacefully with great respect.
We should not forget the history of the Chinese Muslims involvement in bringing Islam to the South East Asia. However that history has forgotten by all of us for the reason that Islam became minority in China after Chinese Communists took over power.
We should be proud of the person like Admiral Zheng He@Hajji Mahmud Shams, who has been portrayed as a symbol of religious tolerance. The government of the China uses him as a model to integrate the Muslim minority into the Chinese republic.
Kyaw Kyaw Oo
He was the Admiral of the World’s biggest navy flotilla that would never surpass until Second World War. And in 1405 the first of what would become seven major Chinese naval expeditions set sail to explore the Indian Ocean.
The admiral of all seven fleets was Zheng He, the great-grandson of a Mongol warrior. His original name was Ma Ho, the Chinese version of Muhammad, for his father was a Muslim who had made the pilgrimage to Makkah. In 1404, the emperor conferred on him the honorific Zheng, and he was appointed Grand Eunuch, thenceforth to be known as Zheng He.
The figures given for the size of Zheng He’s first fleet seem incredible, but there is no doubting them. There were 317 ships of different sizes, 62 of them “treasure ships” loaded with silks, porcelains and other precious things as gifts for rulers and to trade for the exotic products of the Indian Ocean. The ships were manned by a total of 27,870 men, including soldiers, merchants, civilians and clerks equivalent to the population of a large town.
( Read the full text at http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200504/the.admiral.zheng.he.htm)
Zheng He and Islam in Southeast Asia
Indonesian religious leader and Islamic scholar Hamka (1908–1981) wrote in 1961: “The development of Islam in Indonesia and Malaya is intimately related to a Chinese Muslim, Admiral Zheng He.” In Malacca he built granaries, warehouses and a stockade, and most probably he left behind many of his Muslim crews. Much of the information on Zheng He’s voyages was compiled by Ma Huan, also Muslim, who accompanied Zheng He on several of his inspection tours and served as his chronicler / interpreter. In his book ‘The Overall Survey of the Ocean Shores’ (Chinese: 瀛涯勝覽) written in 1416, Ma Huan gave very detailed accounts of his observations of the peoples’ customs and lives in ports they visited. Zheng He had many Muslim Eunuchs as his companions.
At the time when his fleet first arrived in Malacca, there were already Chinese of the ‘Muslim‘ faith living there. Ma Huan talks about them as tángrén (Chinese: 唐人) who were Muslim. At places they went, they frequented mosques, actively propagated the Islamic faith, established Chinese Muslim communities and built mosques.
Indonesian scholar Slamet Muljana writes: “Zheng He built Chinese Muslim communities first in Palembang, then in San Fa (West Kalimantan), subsequently he founded similar communities along the shores of Java, the Malay Peninsula and the Philippines. They propagated the Islamic faith according to the Hanafi school of thought and in Chinese language.”
Li Tong Cai, in his book ‘Indonesia – Legends and Facts’, writes: “in 1430, Zheng He had already successfully established the foundations of the Hui religion Islam. After his death in 1434, Hajji Yan Ying Yu became the force behind the Chinese Muslim community, and he delegated a few local Chinese as leaders, such as trader Sun Long from Semarang, Peng Rui He and Hajji Peng De Qin. Sun Long and Peng Rui He actively urged the Chinese community to ‘Javanise’. They encouraged the younger Chinese generation to assimilate with the Javanese society, to take on Javanese names and their way of life. Sun Long’s adopted son Chen Wen, also named Radin Pada is the son of King Majapahit and his Chinese wife.”
After Zheng He’s death, Chinese naval expeditions were suspended. The Hanafi Islam that Zheng He and his people propagated lost almost all contact with Islam in China, and gradually was totally absorbed by the local Shafi’i school of thought. When Melaka was successively colonised by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and later the British, Chinese were discouraged from converting to Islam. Many of the Chinese Muslim mosques became San Bao Chinese temples commemorating Zheng He. After a lapse of 600 years, the influence of Chinese Muslims in Malacca declined to almost nil. In many ways, Zheng He can be considered a major founder of the present community of Chinese Indonesians.
According to the Malaysian history, Sultan Mansur Shah (ruled 1459–1477) dispatched Tun Perpatih Putih as his envoy to China and carried a letter from the Sultan to the Ming Emperor. Tun Perpatih succeeded in impressing the Emperor of Ming with the fame and grandeur of Sultan Mansur Shah. In the year 1459, a princess Hang Li Po (or Hang Liu), was sent by the emperor of Ming to marry Malacca Sultan Mansur Shah (ruled 1459–1477). The princess came with her entourage 500 male servants and a few hundred handmaidens. They eventually settled in Bukit Cina, Malacca. The descendants of these people, from mixed marriages with the local natives, are known today as Peranakan: Baba (the male title) and Nyonya (the female title).
In Malaysia today, many people believe it was Admiral Zheng He (died 1433) who sent princess Hang Li Po to Malacca in year 1459. However there is no record of Hang Li Po (or Hang Liu) in Ming documents, she is known only from Malacca folklore. In that case, Ma Huan’s observation was true, the so-called Peranakan in Malacca was in fact Tang-Ren or Hui Chinese Muslims. These Chinese Muslims together with Parameswara were refugees of the declining Srivijaya kingdom, they came from Palembang, Java and other places. Some of the Chinese Muslims were soldiers and so they served as warrior and bodyguard to protect the Sultanate of Malacca.
On his return trip from China, Parameswara was so impressed by Zheng He that he converted to Islam and adopted the name Sultan Iskandar Shah. Malacca prospered under his leadership and became the half-way house, an entrepot, for trade between India and China.
It is interesting to note that Thai Muslims of the Chinese Hui extraction are called Chin Ho in the Thai Language. Whereas the name Chin Ho can be explained to be a combination of “Chin” (China) and “Ho” (Hui), it also bears a striking similarity in pronunciation to the name of Zheng He, one of the first great Imperial Chinese diplomats to have visited Thailand in its early Siamese history, who was also of the Chinese Hui extraction. The Chin Ho people, thus, can be seen as “The People of Zheng He”—traders and emigres who carried with them Hui Muslim traditions from China.
Read full text at Zheng He ( Wikepedia)