We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Brunei - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."
:
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result

Brunei

By:
David W. Leake
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Brunei

Islam is the national religion of the tiny oil-rich sultanate of Brunei on the northwest coast of Borneo. About two-thirds of the population of about 360,000 is Muslim, virtually all Sunnīs of the Shāfiʿī school of legal thought, with most of these being traditionally Muslim Brunei Malays (the largest ethnic group with about half the population) and Kedayans. Most other Muslims are converts over recent decades from among members of traditionally animistic tribal groups or Chinese immigrants (the second largest ethnic group with about 15 percent of the population).

According to oral traditions, Brunei Malays adopted Islam around the fifteenth century after one of their leaders was installed as sultān (ruler) by the sultan of Johore. As head of the faith, the sultan has always been responsible for upholding the Islamic way of life, but has traditionally delegated this responsibility to appointed non-noble officials. Islam provided a unifying religio-political base that allowed Brunei, a trading center for jungle produce, to attain the status of empire during the sixteenth century. However, internal dissension and European encroachment led to disintegration, and Brunei probably would have disappeared entirely had not the British taken it on as a protectorate in 1888. In 1906 Brunei yielded control of internal affairs to a British Resident, with the sultan retaining responsibility only for matters related to Islam.

After World War II, the British began preparing Brunei for independence, returning control of internal affairs to the sultan based on the constitution of 1959, which reaffirmed the sultan as ruler but also provided for elections to district and national councils. The first elections were won by the socialist Brunei People's Party (BPP) by playing on the disaffections of commoners over the hereditary privileges of the nobility, an d by proposing Brunei as the power center of a new Pan-Islamic state that would recover Borneo territories (now the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak) lost to private British interests during the nineteenth century. The BPP was never allowed a share of power and staged a short-lived rebellion in 1962, which led the late Sultan Sir Omar Ali Saifuddin to reverse course on democracy and declare a still-in-force state of emergency under which the sultan rules by decree. Revenues from oil exports, which began during the 1930s, were fortuitously climbing, allowing the sultan to address the disaffection of his poorer subjects through the promotion of Islam and an extensive social welfare system for citizens that includes free education through the university level, free high-quality health care, and subsidies to perform the ḥajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).

Sultan Omar abdicated in favor of his eldest son Hassanal Bolkiah (the twenty-ninth sultan in the world's second longest unbroken line of royal ascension) in 1967, but he remained the power behind the throne until his son began asserting himself in the early 1980s. The resulting power struggle was often played out along religious lines, reflecting a rift between what have been called “ideologues” (allied with Sir Omar) who want a theocratic Islamic state and “pragmatists” (allied with Sultan Hassanal) who are secularly oriented and open to Western values. After Sir Omar died in 1986, Sultan Hassanal took firm control. In the ministerial form of government introduced at full independence from Britain in 1984, the sultan is also Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and Finance Minister, and other key ministerships are held by younger brothers. Brunei is officially described as a Malay Islamic Monarchy with the sultan serving as head of the Islamic religion and protector of Malay culture; study of this doctrine is compulsory in all educational institutions. During the 1990s, new government initiatives to promote Islamic values included banning the sale and public consumption of alcohol, introducing banking based on syariah (Ar., sharīʿah) principles (although the financial sector remains dominated by Western-style institutions), building Brunei's largest mosque, and opening a training institute for memorizing the whole Qurʿān and thus attaining the rank of hāfiz. In the context of the struggle between “ideologues” and “pragmatists,” these moves have been interpreted as deflecting demands for a syariah-based state, although at the same time they might provide openings to demands for further steps in that direction. In this regard, the sultan in his speeches often warns of the dangers of religious extremism and government policies explicitly promote moderation (e.g., replacement of foreign Islamic religious teachers with more moderate Bruneians). No changes appear in the offing for the current dual legal system in which Syariah courts deal primarily with Muslim divorce and the offences of khalwat (close proximity) and zinā (illicit sex) amongst Muslims, while virtually all other legal matters are handled by the English Common Law system inherited from the British.

Bibliography

  • Bartholomew, James. The Richest Man in the World: The Sultan of Brunei. London, 1989. Biography includes discussion of how Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has grappled with the issue of Islam's relationship to government and society.
  • de Castro, Christina Maria. Brunei and Malaysia: Why Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Refused to Join the Federation. I.B. Tauris, 2014.
  • Leake, David. Brunei: The Modern Southeast-Asian Islamic Sultanate. Jefferson, N.C., 1989. Succinct overview of Brunei's history and society.
  • Saunders, Graham. A History of Brunei, 2nd ed.New York, 2002. Concisely summarizes history of Brunei, with updating of first edition published in 1994.
  • Weaver, Mary Anne. “In the Sultan's Palace.”The New Yorker (7 October 1991): 56, 63–78, 80–86, 88–90, 92–93. Author's conversations with Bruneians and officials up through the sultan provide rare insights into rift between Islamic “ideologues” and “pragmatists.”
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2021. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice