The Wiki page on the spread of Islam in Indonesia stresses that our knowledge of this macro-historical process is fragmentary, for instance often we don’t how the religion diffused out into the general populace after a ruler converted. Bali seems to be the most prominent example of non-conversion, as opposed to say Java, earlier the site of the Hindu kingdom Majapahit. Javanese courts like the one in Yogyakarta retained a lot of Indic cultural features like court ritual, dance, and costumes while becoming Muslim. What prevented Balinese courts from going the same route?

Possible factors: Bali was isolated from the trade routes that spread Islam; conditions after the fall of Majapahit made Bali a refuge for fleeing Javanese aristocrats; charismatic Hindu mystics like the Shaivite Dang Hyang Nirartha (see Wikipedia) helped rejuvenate Hinduism on Bali at the same time as Java was going Muslim. And if not at that time, why not later as with Lombok and other islands to the east?

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    I think you've pretty much got the answer yourself: Bali was kind of a Hindu remnant that survived the Muslim states' eastern expansion. The religious exodus of Hindu intellectuals to Bali probably also helped fortify it against Islam's influence, unlike Lombok.
    – Semaphore
    Sep 15, 2014 at 5:15
  • Thanks, although my sense is that Islamization in Indonesia was less a dynamic of state conquest than one of cultural imitation. And I'd like to know more about Java/Bali interactions during and after Majapahit, Wikipedia doesn't tell us much.
    – neubau
    Sep 17, 2014 at 4:57
  • This is a good question; hope to see an answer soon. Jul 21, 2016 at 6:54

3 Answers 3


It's an interesting question (although it has been 2 years without satisfying answer; maybe you've found the answer), because it is located between Jawa Timur (East Java) and Nusa Tenggara Barat (West Nusa Tenggara), both of them have about 96% muslim population [1, 2].

Usually people will follow their leader, especially before this modern era. They respected their leader (tribal chief, king, emperor, etc) and believed what their leader said because they knew the capability and intelligence of their leader. So, my first guess is that the leader in Bali did not accept Islam as his religion.

Unfortunately, according to [3], there is no enough historical records about how Islam came to Bali.

Enough with Wikipedia which is considered "less scientific", there is an article written by a lecturer I got from a blog of Universitas Gadjah Mada's staff/lecturer [4].

1. Geographical reason

This reason is not strong enough because the distance between Jawa (Java) and Bali is only 2.4 km, they are separated by a strait.

2. Historical reason

Based on the opinion of Robert Pringle, there are some probabilities. It is only his opinion, but let's get it as a starting point.

  1. Bali has never opposed Islam openly, so it was never attacked by any Islam sultanate/kingdom. UPDATE – I am not sure about this since I found a new source about Dewa Agung who attacks or wants to attack Mataram (Lombok). I don't know if Mataram (Lombok) had been muslims or not yet then.

  2. When Majapahit Kingdom collapsed, Gelgel Kingdom raised. Mataram which superseded Majapahit was not strong enough yet. The article doesn't explain enough, but based on my knowledge: Majapahit was the superior kingdom at the time and other kingdoms in Nusantara (Indonesia) subjected (pay respect, usually also tax) to it; Mataram was an Islamic kingdom/sultanate; and Gelgel was a Hindu kingdom which controlled Bali.

  3. When Mataram raised and strong enough, and Gelgel weakened, Dutch (Netherland) came and Mataram had to resolve this external attack, so it could not handle Gelgel.
  4. Dutch became stronger and Mataram became weaker, so there was no advantage for Gelgel to convert to Islam. However, eventually Gelgel divided into 9 small kingdoms and Dutch could conquer these kingdoms easily.

There were several reasons, many of which you listed.

First, Bali was a relatively isolated part of the country, after Sumatra, Java, and Borneo, far from the main trade routes (near today's Malaysia). That meant that it was less susceptible to Muslim influences. (It's true that Bali is only a few miles from "Java," but that's east Java, the less accessible part of the island.)

Bali was historically a more "traditional" part of the country, a more resistant one to change. After Indonesia had adopted Hinduism, Bali, unlike the rest of Indonesia, had resisted conversion to Confuciansism.

Because of the factors outlined in the previous two paragraphs, Bali became the refuge of choice for Hindus elsewhere in Indonesia, who wanted to flee the conversion to e.g. the Muslim religion.

Finally, during the European colonial era (after the 16th century), Bali was at the geographical (as opposed to population weighted) center of the country*, and benefited from the balance of power politics involving various European and indigenous forces.

*As an example, St. Louis it at the geographical center of the U.S., but the population weighted center is further east, because of the heavy concentration on the east coast.

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    1. Where are your sources. 2. It is because of the Mahajapit Empire collapsing and falling and giving its Hindu-Buddhist culture to Bali while the rest of Indonesia required help from the Muslim kingdoms in India and the Muslim Zheng He to gain independence from Mahajapit.
    – user44626
    Jun 4, 2020 at 15:18

Maritime networks shifted Mahajapit vassals to Islam, moving it away from the Hindu-Buddhist faith. Islam had an advantage over other religions, because it was founded by merchants! Converting places to Islam only required books, while converting places to Hinduism required temples, which were much costlier. So in the 13th century, many locals in Indonesia began converting to Islam. Why? Well, we know that many Mahajapit vassals and enemies may have wanted some level of secure autonomy. This meant that those kingdoms would look to foriegn powers fro security. Before this, they would either look to Hindu India or Buddhist China for help. This is why Indonesia used to be Hindu-Buddhist. But in the 13th century, Islam was accepted in China under the Mongols. Islam also brought advanced Arabic writing, paper, and, most importantly, good relations with Muslim powers in India. This meant that the vast knowledge from the science of Hinduism and Buddhism could be translated to Arabic, and combined with the science from the Arabic World. And even more importantly, nations that wanted autonomy from the Mahajapit empire looked to Indo-Muslim powers or China, where the Mongols allowed Muslims to live. Later on, Zheng He was one of the main Chinese explorers who went on diplomatic missions into Southeast Asia. He was Muslim as well. So now the options for most kingdoms in Southeast Asia were this: Either stay as part of the Mahajapit empire(which was in a civil war), Declare themselves not loyal to the Mahajapit rule and then get crushed by Mahajapit navies, or convert to Islam, gain the favor of INDIA AND CHINA, learn Arabic knowledge, and then declare yourself independent. The Mahajapit empire can't do anything because you have two strong powers on your side.

In addition, Ibn Battuta was in Indonesia, and that helped Islam to spread into Indonesia.

Anyway, the year was 1398. The great Mahajapit empire was very strong and it indirectly controlled much of Indonesia. It sent ships to conquer the weaker kingdom of Singapore. Why? Because Singapore was the last bit of their old, strong rival Srivijaya. All the last remains of Srivijaya were taken to Singapore. Singapore is one of the example cities for converting to Islam. They had the expansionist Thai kingdom to the north to worry about as well. So while Singapore was being invaded, the king of Singapore (Srivijaya) fled to a strategic location. He converted to Islam, to gain support of India and Zheng He, and collected taxes from traders. He was right on the Strait of Malacca so he was prime to get rich from trade. He called his new empire the "Sultanate of Malacca". After getting a secure relation with China and India, he started to spread his influence through Indonesia.

The deal between China and the Sultanate of Malacca was this: China would get a check on Thai and Mahajapit power, and Malacca would get a strong navy and be secure. The deal between India and other Muslim powers and the Sultanate of Malacca was this: Convert to Islam, and I'll make sure I buy from you, paying taxes when I trade. Like this, many kingdoms freed thenselves of Mahajapit rule and converted to Islam. Mahajapit power began falling, and on top of that, the civil war hurt Mahajapit even more. Mahajapit was the last Hindu-Buddhist kingdom in Indonesia. They began losing money as the trade in Indonesia was shifting to Muslim powers. Eventually, Sumatra rebelled, and all Mahajapit controlled now were Java, Bali, the Spice Islands, and various small islands. However, eventually, Java itself was captured by a coalition of various Muslim kings. Now, Mahajapit was basically dead, as the Spice Islands had changed sides. Then, Mahajapit surrendered, but gave their culture to Bali. Bali continued to be a Hindu-Buddhist Island to this day, and still preserves old Mahajapit culture. Mahajapit theatre was one of the greatest forms of art, and Mahajapit history eventually became the spark that created the fire of Nationalism in Indonesia, which stopped the imperial Dutch rule centuries later. None of the previous answers really satisfy the question. The reason is clear: Bali is the last stronghold of Mahajapit culture after the rest of the Mahajapit empire converted to Islam, to get protected from Mahajapit by India and China.

Check out Extra Credits' video on this topic. You should also look at his previous videos for information on the Mahajapit Empire. You should also check out this histomap of the Mahajapit empire.

Hope this answers your question.

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