Secret Desire: Islam, Mysticism, and Peace-Making in Hikayat Hang Tuah

Student Author(s)

Joshua Chun Wah Kam

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Curtis Gruenler, English

Document Type


Event Date



This paper analyzes the peace-making role of Islam in Hikayat Hang Tuah, a 17th-century Malay epic, and its implications for the imagined glorious past in modern Malaysian politics. Hang Tuah, the legendary protagonist, remains a fiercely loved but hotly contested national hero, claimed by various ethno-religious factions in present-day Malaysia. My argument hopes to establish that Muslim piety in HHT is portrayed as a resource for resolving interpersonal conflict, reimagining the honor-based rivalry depicted in its earlier chapters. As Salleh comments in the introduction of his translation, the second part of HHT enters a “sober…mature phase” (XXI), painting scenes of reconciliation between brothers, foreign kingdoms, and between humans and Allah. Hang Tuah’s personal mysticism too reflects the role of faith as a conduit of cross-cultural camaraderie. Islam in HHT connects the Malay world to its neighbors and to the divine, just as the classical Malay author sought to connect the audience through literature to divine insight. Drawing on Braginsky and Errington’s scholarship, my paper adopts the traditional reading of the Malay hikayat, in which the audience received literature as both a mirror of contemporary events, and as a guide to navigate human society. My paper hopes to establish that HHT’s depiction of peace, Malay identity, and Islam runs in antithesis to its factional conscriptions in modern politics. Ultimately, it encourages a reevaluation of Hang Tuah not as a symbol of polemics but of peace, and of the latent inclusivity woven into the nation’s literary fabric.


This project was supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Scholars Program.

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