Friday, 15 February 2013

Brunei Darussalam Brief History


Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque Kampong Kiarong brunei

About Brunei darussalam, The power of the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam was at its peak from the 14th to the 16th centuries. The Sultanate's suzerainty is thought to have extended over the coastal regions of modern-day Sarawak and Sabah, the Sulu archipelago, and the islands off the northwest tip of Borneo.

It has been debated when Islam first arrived in Brunei. A number of relics show that Islam may have been practiced in Brunei by the 12th century.


Among these relics are tombstones found in the various Islamic graveyards in Brunei, particularly the tombstone at Rangas [location required] graveyard of a Chinese Muslim by the name of Pu Kung Chih-mu. He was buried there in 1264. This is more than a hundred years before the conversion of Awang Alak Betatar who became the Islamic Sultan Muhammad Shah, the first Sultan of Brunei.


Pu is a common surname that, according to Chinese historians, identifies a person as a Muslim. The tombstone also identified Pu Kung Chih-mu as having originated from Ch'uan-chou City in China. During the Song Dynasty, Arab and Persian Traders flocked to Canton (Kwang Chow) in Kwangtung Province and Chuan-chou in Fukien Province.

The tombstone of Pu Kung Chih-mu is not the only Chinese Muslim grave in Rangas graveyard. Another grave nearby belonged to another Chinese Muslim by the name of Li Chia-tzu from Yung Chun (Fukian) who died in 1876. Yung Chun is another city in China where Muslim travellers frequently traded.

According to Chinese records, stated in the “Notes on the Malay Archipelago and Malacca Compiled From Chinese Sources” written by WP Groeneveldt in 1880, one Chinese Islamic trader arrived in Brunei in the 10th century. His name was P’u-lu-shieh. He was both a trader and a diplomat. P’u-lu-shieh name is akin to Abu al-Layth.

The Brunei King at that time was named Hiang-ta (Bongto). The arrival of the diplomat-trader from China was greeted with great ceremony. If this is so, Islam has actually arrived in Brunei in the year of 977.

One may discount the fact that the Muslim diplomat-trader did not do anything in Brunei but merely brought greetings and therefore one should not read too much into this. However the interesting thing was that the Brunei King’s delegation to China to return the Emperor’s greetings was headed by another Muslim by the name of P’u A-li (Abu Ali).

Based on this fact alone, Abu Ali must have held an important position in the Brunei Government if he was tasked to be Brunei’s Ambassador in those days and even if the King of Brunei then was not himself a Muslim, some members of his royal court were Muslims.

A number of European historians claimed that Brunei was still not a Muslim nation until the 15th century. However, the Ming Shih, Book 325, a Chinese reference book noted that the King of Brunei in 1370 was Ma-ho-mo-sa. Some say that this should be read as Mahmud Shah. But local Brunei historians take this to refer to “Muhammad Shah” the first Islamic Sultan of Brunei, during his reign Brunei was also visited by Arab, Persian and Sindhi merchants.

Robert Nicholl, a former Brunei Museum Curator argued in another paper entitled “Notes on Some Controversial Issues in Brunei History” in 1980 that the name Ma-ho-mo-sa could be pronounced as Maha Moksha, which means Great Eternity. Maha Mokhsa would make it a Buddhist name. Nicholl goes on to argue that even the Brunei Sultan who died in Nanjing in 1408 was not a Muslim. Another European Historian, Pelliot, Ma-na-jo-kia-nai-nai was reconstituted as Majarajah Gyana (nai). But the closest title would have been Maharaja Karna. However Brunei historians have stated that the King was Sultan Abdul Majid Hassan who would have been the second Sultan of Brunei.

Nicholl further argued that Sultan Muhammad Shah converted to Islam as late as the 16th century and not during the 14th century as is widely known. However according to Brunei historians, Sultan Muhammad Shah converted to Islam in 1376 and that he ruled until 1402. After which time, it was Sultan Abdul Majid Hassan, who died in China who ascended the throne. That was when Sultan Ahmad reigned in Brunei beginning 1406, during his reign Brunei was visited on various occasions by the Chinese Muslim Admiral Zheng He.

Most likely there were two waves of Islamic teachings that came to Brunei. The first was brought by traders from Arabia, Persia, India and China. The second wave was brought about by the conversion of Sultan Muhammad Shah. With the coming of the second wave, Brunei’s Islamisation hastened.

The propagation of Islam in Brunei was led by a Syarif with the name of Syarif Ali who was a descendant of The Prophet Muhammad through his grandsons Sayydinia Hassan or Sayydinia Hussin.

Syarif Ali arrived from Taif. Not long after he arrived in Brunei, he was married to a daughter of Sultan Ahmad. Syarif Ali built a mosque in Brunei. Syarif Ali was closely connected to a few other well known Islam propogationists in the region such as Malik Ibrahim who went to Java, Syarif Zainal Abidin in Malacca, Syarif Abu Bakar or Syariful Hashim in Sulu, and Syarif Kebungsuan in Mindanao.

Syarif Ali ascended the throne as the third Sultan of Brunei when he took over from his father-in-law. Because of his piousness, he was known as Sultan Berkat (Berkat means ‘blessed).

The mosque, especially the pulpit, was used by Sultan Syarif Ali himself. Sultan Syarif Ali himself conducted the sermons during Friday prayers. So he was not only the Sultan but he was also the Imam and brought the religion directly to the Brunei people.

According to Thomas Stamford Raffles in his book The History of Java, the Islamic activities of Sultan Syarif Ali were not limited to Brunei. He was also known to have gone over to Java to propagate Islam, where he was known as Raja Chermin. He tried hard to convert the Majapahit King named Prabu Angka Wijaya.

The efforts of the Brunei Sultans in spreading Islam helped to spread the religion not only in Borneo but also as far north as to the southern Philippines islands. When Malacca fell to the Portuguese in 1511, it was Brunei that played a major role in the spread of Islam in the region[12] (see also: Ottoman expedition to Aceh).

By the 16th century, Brunei had built one of its biggest mosques. In 1578, Alonso Beltran, a Spanish traveler described it as being five stories tall and built on the water. Most likely it had five layers of roofs to represent the Five Pillars of Islam.

Islam was firmly rooted in Brunei by the 16th century. This mosque was destroyed by the Spanish in June that same year.

European influence gradually brought an end to this regional power. Later, there was a brief war with Spain, in which Brunei's capital was occupied. Eventually the sultanate was victorious but lost territories to Spain.

The decline of the Bruneian Empire culminated in the 19th century, when Brunei lost much of its territory to the White Rajahs of Sarawak, resulting in its current small landmass and separation into two parts. Brunei was a British protectorate from 1888 to 1984, and occupied by Japan from 1941 to 1945 during World War II.

There was a small rebellion against the monarchy during the 1960s, which was suppressed with help from the United Kingdom. This event became known as the Brunei Revolt and was partly responsible for the failure to create the North Borneo Federation. The rebellion partially affected Brunei's decision to opt out of the Malaysian Federation.


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