Sher Banu Khan


What can modern Muslims learn from Sultanah Safiatuddin Syah of Aceh dar al-Salam in the seventeenth century about conflict-resolution and peace-making? Drawing evidences from the Sultanah’s reign (1641-75), this paper delineates the approaches, methods and principles this queen used to steer 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 that not only threatened the existence of her kingdom, but her own life? In doing so, this paper 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 paper illustrates that the politics of piety based on Islamic ethics, moral capital and a soft and humane disposition may just be the key ingredients Muslim societies need in dealing with a myriad of internal and external conflicts facing them today.


“The World of the Adat Aceh”, p. 178

Annabel-Teh Gallop, “Gold, silver and lapis lazuli: Royal letters from Aceh in the 17th C” in Reid, Feener & Daly (eds.) Mapping the Acehnese Past, Leiden: KITLV Press, 2011

Bob Reece, “The Little Sultan”: Ahmad Tajuddin II of Brunei, Gerard MacBryan and Malcolm MacDonald”, Borneo Research Bulletin, vol. 40, p. 81-128, p. 95

Jacobus Anne van der Chijs et al., ed., Dagh-Register Gehouden int Casteel Batavia vant Passerende daer ter plaetse als over Geheel Nederlandts-India Anno 1624–1682 [The Daily Journals of Batavia Castle], 31 vols, Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Batavia: G. Kolff, 1887– 1931, Dagh-Register, 1659, p. 103–4

Khalid Abou Fadl, “Conflict Resolution as a Normative Value in Islam”, in Douglas Johnston, Faith-Based Diplomacy Trumping Realpolitik, Oxford: Oxford Scholarship Online, 2008, p. 1-39, p. 10

Khalid M. Hussain, ed., Taj us-Salatin, Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1992, p. 60

Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Nonviolence and Peace Building in Islam: Theory and Practice, Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2003, p. 67

NA, VOC 1143, Dagh-Register gehouden  bij  Pieter  Sourij (Daily Register of Pieter Sourij),  1642,  ff.  567V– 568R

NA, VOC 1143, Dagh-Register gehouden bij den Oppercoopman Pieter Willemsz (daily Register of Upper Trader Pieter Willemsz), 1642, ff. 503R–503V

NA, VOC 1143, Dagh-Register gehouden bij Pieter Sourij, 1642, ff. 671V–672R; see also Takeshi Ito,“Why did Nuruddin al-Raniri leave Aceh in 1054 A.H.?”, in Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 134, 4 (1978): 489−91

NA, VOC 1171, Dagh-Register gehouden bij Johan Truijtman, Daily Register of Johan Truijtman, 1649, ff. 205R–205V

NA, VOC 1143, Dagh-Register gehouden bij Pieter Sourij, 1642, ff.   671V–673R

NA, VOC 1143, Dagh-Register off Journael gehouden bij den Pieter Sourij, 1642, f. 565V

NA, VOC 1171, Rapport substanteel aen d’ Ed Heer Cornelis van der Lijn, 1649, Report to the Honourable Cornelis van der Lijn, f. 185R

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Sher Banu Khan, Sovereign Women in a Muslim Kingdom: The Sultanahs of Aceh 1641-1699, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2017, p. 179

Sher Banu Khan, Sovereign Women in a Muslim Kingdom, p. 186

Siti Hawa Haji Salleh, ed., Bustan al-Salatin, Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1992, p. 62

Sūrah al-Baqarah: 190

Sūrah al-Baqarah: 216

Sūrah al-Hajj: 39-40

Sūrah al-Hujurāt: 13

Sūrah al-Mumtahanah: 7-8

Sūrah an-Nisā: 128

Sūrah as-Sūrā: 37

Sūrah at-Tawbah: 5

Takeshi Ito, The World of the Adat Aceh: A Historical Study of the Sultanate of Aceh, PhD thesis, Australian National University, 1984, p. 155

Tuanku Abdul Jalil, ed., Adat Meukuta Alam, Banda Aceh: Pusat Dokumentasi dan Informasi Aceh, 1991, p. 1–2

Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, The Acehnese, trans. A.W.S. O’Sullivan, with index by R.J. Wilkinson, Leiden: Brill, 1906, vol. 1, p. 64–77

Willem Phillipus Coolhaas, ed., Generale Missieven van Gouveneurs-Generaale en Raden aan Heren XVII der Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, [General Correspondence of the Governor Generals and Council to the Seventeen Gentlemen of the Dutch East Indies Company], vol. 2, Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1964. This news was received on 13 and 25 August 1651: Generale Missiven, vol. 2, 1639 to 1655, p. 519−20