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.