Associate Professor Sher Banu A. L. Khan visits to the Academy of Brunei Studies

  • 2.30 pm

Adat, Islam and Queenship in Seventeenth Century Aceh dar al-Salam

DATE:     Tuesday, 13 July 2021

TIME:     2:30 pm

VENUE: G21.B, Academy of Brunei Studies, UBD


From both the cultural and religious perspectives women rulers are usually seen as unnatural calamities, a violation of nature, or even forbidden. Women rulers are usually depicted as weak figureheads or pageants. This talk based on my book Sovereign Women in a Muslim Kingdom interrogates this view by examining in-depth the fifty-nine-year reign of four sultanahs who ruled Aceh Dar al-Salam from 1641-1699 using contemporary indigenous texts and the archival records of the Dutch East India Company. Drawing on findings from the book, this talk demonstrates how the first sultanah Safiatuddin Syah (r.1641-1675) steered her kingdom through turbulent times and succeeded in maintaining her kingdom’s sovereignty whilst most other Malay/Muslim kingdoms such as Makassar and Banten fell to the European companies. As a woman in a male-dominated court, how did the sultanah manage a very fractious elite who jostled for power which resulted in conflicts which not only threatened the existence of her kingdom but her own life? This talk illuminates a model of leadership in the Malay world from the perspective of customary norms (adat) and Islam. Veering away from the more dominant understanding of successful leadership based on male prowess and pomp, this talk illustrates that the sultanah’s reign based on piety, moral capital and a soft and humane disposition was not only accepted by her male elites but it was successful in maintaining her kingdom’s independence in the seventeenth century.

Speaker Bio

Sher Banu A. L. Khan is Associate Professor in the Malay Studies Department at the National University of Singapore. She received her Ph.D. from Queen Mary, University of London. Her research interest is the Malay world and Southeast Asia in general in the early modern period focusing on history, gender studies and Islam. She has published in numerous journals and chapters in books amongst which are “Ties that Unbind: the Botched Aceh-VOC Alliance for the conquest of Melaka 1640-1641”, Indonesia and the Malay World, “What Happened to Syaiful Rijal?” in Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde, “Men of Prowess and Women of Piety: The Rule of Sultanah Safiatuddin Syah of Aceh 1641-1675” in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, and “The Jewel Affair: The Sultanah, her Orangkaya and the Dutch Foreign Envoys”, in M. Feener, P. Daly & A. Reid, (eds) Mapping the Acehnese Past, (KITLV: Leiden, 2011). Her book Sovereign Women in a Muslim Kingdom: The Sultanahs of Aceh, 1641-1699, has been published by Cornell and NUS Press, 2017.


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