Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Latest Brunei Report 2016 by International Monetary Fund

The International Monetary Fund posted their latest Article IV Consultation report on Brunei Darussalam. You can read it here.


IMF Executive Board Concludes 2016 Article IV Consultation with Brunei Darussalam

September 26, 2016

On September 2, 2016, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the 2016 Article IV consultation 1 with Brunei Darussalam.

Brunei Darussalam has responded to sharply lower oil prices by launching policy reforms to transform its oil and gas-dependent economy. While the country is able to absorb the oil revenue slump for several years by drawing on buffers built over the past decades, the authorities have begun a process of structural reforms to reconfigure the government towards enhanced economic performance, combined with fiscal adjustment to ensure long-term sustainability and intergenerational equity.

Real GDP in 2015 registered a smaller decline than in the preceding two years. Oil production, in particular, has been recovering since the second half of 2015 from protracted disruptions since 2012 related to oil facility maintenance and refurbishment. Activity in the non-oil and gas sector slowed due to fiscal consolidation and lower services linked to the oil and gas sector, but was partially offset by government infrastructure construction projects. Inflation averaged -0.4 percent in 2015, driven by the appreciation of the Singapore dollar to which the Bruneian dollar is pegged, relative to neighboring countries which are major sources of Brunei’s imports. The current account surplus narrowed mainly on lower oil and gas exports, while the fiscal balance turned into a large deficit.

Real GDP is projected to turn positive in 2016 on the back of a recovery in oil production, but growth will remain moderate until 2019. Lower oil prices are projected to keep the fiscal position in deficit for several years. The current account is projected to register small deficits in 2017 and 2018 due to low oil prices and imports associated with the construction of FDI projects. Nevertheless, growth and macroeconomic balances are expected to strengthen markedly from 2019 onwards as new energy downstream facilities come on-stream. Main risks arise from lower-for-longer oil prices that could severely erode the fiscal position, while delays in production from these new facilities could dampen the medium-term outlook. Slow progress in structural reforms could dim prospects for economic diversification.

The Brunei authorities are implementing measures to adjust to lower oil prices, raise productivity, enhance efficiency, and promote economic diversification. Fiscal adjustments began in the latter part of 2015, aiming to better prioritize expenditures toward economic diversification and efficiency. A cabinet reshuffle in October 2015 led to a reconfiguration of ministries and agencies, resulting in an institutional structure that is better synchronized to improve economic performance and government delivery. Newly created agencies would reinforce this, with the Foreign Direct Investment Action and Support Center facilitating a clear and efficient process for FDI in Brunei, and Darussalam Enterprises providing a one-stop venue for wide-ranging support to small and medium enterprises. Ongoing reforms have been reflected in recent improvements in business environment indicators. In addition, Brunei continues to use its participation in recent international trade agreements to widen market access and transform the domestic economy by raising competitiveness and making the business climate more predictable and transparent in order to attract new investment.

Executive Board Assessment 2

Executive Directors noted that, after over a decade of sizable fiscal and external surpluses from high oil prices, Brunei Darussalam’s economy is adjusting to a challenging environment of a prolonged period of low oil prices. While the country has sizable buffers, Directors commended the authorities for using the opportunity provided by the low oil prices to reconfigure policies to support enhanced economic performance, long term fiscal sustainability, and intergenerational equity. Against this backdrop, Directors underscored the importance of continuing to push ahead with fiscal and structural policy reforms to strengthen and diversify the economy.

Directors agreed that the FY2016/17 budget provides an appropriate target for fiscal adjustment, but it needs to be buttressed by tight spending controls, increases in non-oil revenue, and improvements in public financial management. Directors noted that the fiscal policy strategy should be anchored in a multi-year program of structural fiscal reforms to improve the efficiency and composition of public spending, while supporting growth. In this regard, they called for measures to tackle price and wage distortions in order to increase the attractiveness of private sector employment as well as promote growth in the non-energy sector. Directors urged freezing the wage bill and reducing untargeted subsidies, particularly through fuel subsidy reform, accompanied by mitigating measures to protect the vulnerable, where appropriate.

Directors noted the banking system’s strong capitalization and liquidity. At the same time, they observed that an uptick in non-performing loans and shifts in the domestic banking landscape involving the entry and exit of foreign banks, call for close monitoring. In this regard, the exit of the largest foreign bank should be well phased and coordinated to minimize disruptions and preserve financial stability. Directors encouraged the authorities to strengthen bank supervision in response to emerging pressures on asset quality and to further develop domestic financial markets.

Directors considered that the currency board arrangement with the Singapore dollar has served the country well and remains appropriate as it provides a credible nominal anchor.

Directors commended the recent progress in structural reforms, and encouraged the authorities to sustain efforts to improve the ease of doing business, and promote economic diversification and private sector development. They emphasized the importance of developing human capital, enhancing labor productivity, and expanding international trade linkages. Directors concurred that the high standards embedded in Brunei Darussalam’s international trade agreements could broaden market access and help drive reforms to raise competitiveness and productivity. They welcomed the continued efforts to improve statistics and build technical capacity, and encouraged the authorities to undertake a data ROSC.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Appreciating Brunei's Landmarks in Digital Game


Brunei’s Landmarks in the Digital Game

By Rozan Yunos

The current worldwide phenomena of the new digital augmented reality game, ‘Pokemon Go’ has also caught on by many in Brunei Darussalam. The usage of Brunei’s landmarks and architectural icons as ‘Pokestops’ or places where game enthusiasts can collect their balls to be used to catch their digital monsters have led to a number of Bruneians visiting some of these places for the first time ever in their lives.
The car parks around the various recreational parks and places were suddenly seeing record number of cars which were virtually unimaginable before. At the Damuan Park, much to the chagrin of regular runners and joggers, many new visitors can be seen wandering around the park with a number of them reading the various signboards which described the ASEAN sculptures which have been there since 1987, almost thirty years ago. 

It would be good if those same players during their visits to the various stops would also take time to appreciate the landmarks and the heritage of what Brunei Darussalam has to offer.

There are a few stops in front of the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. During the height of the game’s popularity, the road in front of the mosque would be jammed solid full of cars slowly crawling in front of the mosque as the players and occasionally the driver too, could be seen swiping their fingers across the screen of their mobile phones trying to collect balls and catch the digital monsters appearing on their screens. 

At the same time, it would be nice if those same players should also note that the mosque is not just another stop but an important icon for Brunei. It will be celebrating its 58th anniversary on this 26th September. 

It was 58 years ago that His Highness Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien officially opened Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. During that official opening on Friday, 13th Rabiulawal 1378 Hijra, the 26th September 1958, many visitors came including the Sultans of Pahang and Selangor, the Acting Sultan of Johor, the Prime Minister of the Federated States of Malaya, the British High Commissioner and also representatives from Singapore and the Saudi Arabian Governments. More than 5,000 people turned up for the occasion.

There are many things about the mosque we do not know. The floor and the walls of the prayer hall are laid with marble imported especially from Carrara, a city in Tuscany, Italy and famous for its white or blue gray marble. Carrara marble has been used since Ancient Roman time. Some of the major Roman architectures such as the Pantheon were made from its marble. Michelangelo’s David was also carved from the same marble as well as the Marble Arch in London.

In the lagoon, lay a stone barge, a replica of a 16th Century Sultan Bolkiah’s ‘mahligai’ used to stage Al-Quran reading competitions. It was built to commemorate the new millennium of the Muslim Calendar Year of 1400 and cost $¼ million. This was completed in 1967, almost ten years after the mosque was completed and not built together as many people had assumed.

On the site of the SOAS Mosque before the mosque was constructed was a sawmill run by someone called Si Pinggang. The entire area was full of businesses cutting and sawing wood. It was said that the site was full of ‘abuk kayu’ or wood chips.

The sawmill provided planks for the entire Kampong Ayer. The wood or tree trunks were brought in through the river from Limbang. So wood trunks would be floating on the water and brought onshore to the sawmill. It was a big business and everyone who lived in the area at that time knew the sawmill.

Right across the mosque is another stop which is currently where the site for the raising of the giant flag to commemorate the beginning of the celebration of His Majesty’s birthday celebrations as well as the beginning of the National Day celebration. Before the car park and the small park for the flagpole was placed there, that site used to house the Brunei Town Police Station.

This Police Station was built a few years before the mosque was completed which was around the early 1950s. It remained there until it was demolished to clear the entire Padang for the Independence declaration in 1983. The new police station is a few hundred metres away from the old site at Jalan Stoney.

Right across the field is also another stop which is a small park to commemorate the silver anniversary of the change of name from Pekan Brunei or Brunei Town to Bandar Seri Begawan.

Pekan Brunei was first built on land around 1906 when the first British Resident declared that he wanted the town to be on dry land. It was not so easy as many people were used to living their lives on the water. It was Peter Blundell in his 1923 book ‘City of Many Waters’ who wrote about Brunei at the end of the 19th century said “… the town was unique, the only one in the world built almost entirely over the water, and the Bruneis were justly proud of it. They were folks who live a semi aquatic life, and their methods of living, household arrangements, family life, and town government, adapted as they had been to life over the water ...” 

Despite the first British Resident McArthur‘s efforts to move the Bruneis to dry land in 1906, not much progress were made. By December 1941, the dry land in Brunei Town was a small town with one major road going through it with all the houses made out of wood with nipah roof and one wooden cinema built in 1923 for night entertainment. There was a wooden mosque popularly known as Masjid Marbut Pak Tunggal, though the official name is Masjid Pekan Brunei. There was not much other than that. 

It was Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien III who worked hard to bring development to the capital city from a ruined city after the end of World War II. At the end of the war, after heavy aerial bombardment by the Allied Forces, Brunei Town lay in ruins. Even the wooden mosque Masjid Marbut Pak Tunggal was completely destroyed. According to Captain T.S. Monks in his book ‘Brunei Days’, one of the first British military administrators who came immediately after the war, there was “… hardly a building left standing in Brunei Town. The main street was a mess of bomb craters and fallen telegraph poles … there was not a soul in sight anywhere. It was a shattered ghost town … so severe had been the bombing damage that it was difficult to imagine what the town had been like ...”

It was rightly so that on 4th October 1970, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzadin Waddaulah in recognition of his father’s contribution towards the modernizing of Brunei Town, renamed Brunei Town as Bandar Seri Begawan which was the title of Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien III as the Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan when he abdicated on 4th October 1967.

There are a few other stops also historical ones in the other areas in Bandar Seri Begawan such as the Secretariat Building, the Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka Building and the General Post Office along Jalan Elizabeth II. Others include the Royal Regalia Building which used to be the Churchill Memorial Museum along Jalan Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien, the stops in front of the Royal Wharf which used to house the Customs Building and the stops along Jalan Kianggeh comprising of the Lapau Building, the Youth Centre, the Chinese temple and the Tamu Kianggeh.

A player can still enjoy the game but he or she should also take time to be aware of the surroundings as well as the historical lessons from the various locations of those stops.

/End of Article

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Brunei Darussalam To Sustain Agricultural Growth


Brunei Darussalam looks to sustain agricultural growth

Rising productivity and higher output from the processing segment is keeping Brunei Darussalam’s agriculture sector on track to meet the government’s medium- and long-term goals.

Strong performance in most areas of the agriculture and agri-foods sector saw the industry’s revenue rise by 6.8% year-on-year (y-o-y) in the first quarter of the year to reach BN$97.1m ($71.2m), according to data issued by the Department of Agriculture and Agri-food (DAA) in late July. This came despite dry weather conditions, which impacted the production of rice, vegetables and cut flowers.

Growth was supported in large part by double-digit growth in the livestock and processed agricultural products segments. Livestock output was up 14.1% y-o-y at BN$6.9m ($5.1m), while processed agricultural goods expanded by 16.9% over the same period, bringing the agri-food segment’s earnings to BN$28m ($20.5m).

By contrast, the broader economy expanded by 3.6% y-o-y in the first three months of the year, the Autoriti Monetari Brunei Darussalam reported at the end of July.
Long-term plan for value-added growth

In its long-term development plan, Wawasan Brunei 2035, the government has set a target of boosting agricultural output to BN$1bn (733.3m) by 2020 and BN$3.9bn ($2.9bn) by 2035 – almost 11 times the sector’s contribution to GDP last year.

While ambitious, the last five years have already seen significant progress in agricultural development. Gross agricultural output increased from BN$230m ($168.6m) in 2010 to BN$366m ($268.4m) last year.

Future growth is expected to be fuelled by a combination of improved technology, higher levels of foreign direct investment in the sector, the use of high-yield crop varieties and the expansion of the downstream value-added component.

Boosting value addition should take on greater importance in the coming years if Brunei Darussalam it to reach its ambitious agricultural targets. With relatively limited land available for agricultural purposes, and the increasing encroachment of built-up areas into farming districts, the Sultanate will have to create more value from the land it has.

The whole country is approximately 577,000 ha in size, with only 7193 ha in use for agriculture as of 2013, according to the most recent figures from the DAA.
Halal niche

A key avenue for bringing in investment and increasing value addition in agricultural production is the Sultanate’s burgeoning halal segment, which feeds into the growing focus on processed foods.

In March of last year Brunei Darussalam invited investors from countries such as China and the UK to take part in a $300m halal industry park, known as the Bio-Innovation Corridor, located north-west of the capital Bandar Seri Begawan.

Led by the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources, the 500-ha park aims to transform Brunei Darussalam into a regionally and internationally recognised destination for halal industries.

The worldwide halal food market is worth an estimated $1.1trn, according to a study by Thomson Reuters, and is considered one of the fastest food segments in the world.
Growing youth

While specialisation in value-added niches such as halal could go some way towards achieving the government’s goals, a dwindling workforce in rural areas presents something of a challenge.

According to the most recent Labour Force Survey conducted by the Department of Economic Planning and Development, out of a population of 411,900, and a total labour force of 203,600, the percentage working in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector was around 0.6% in 2014.

As young Bruneians increasingly opt for professions in urban centres, the ageing of the rural workforce also presents productivity challenges, according to Suria Zanuddin, the head of the agricultural extension division at the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism.

“We try to involve and recruit young farmers as most of our current farmers are now ageing,” she told local media at the end of May.

The government is stepping up efforts to reverse the flow of young Bruneians into urban centres by expanding educational programmes and promoting the business opportunities of the agriculture sector through training courses.

At the Rice Farmer Field School, for example, close to 300 paddy farmers have been trained since the programme was founded in 2010.

While the expected increase in technology in the agriculture industry could help ease some of the workforce requirements, primary production is likely to remain a labour-intensive industry, meaning that government efforts to promote farming as an attractive and viable career path will be crucial to developing both food security and the broader sustainability of the sector.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Culinary Tour Around Tutong District


A Culinary Tour Around Tutong District
by Ikhwan Salleh

WALLED in between Belait and Brunei-Muara rests the third largest district in the sultanate that muffles itself in quietude.

Nevertheless, when the blanket of stillness is lifted, Tutong is actually home to different indigenous groups — creating its own name as a museum that houses timeless traditions, powerful literatures and even breathtaking natural wonders.

Just like any rich heritage, this one too, promises a compulsive adventure when it comes to finding great eats that are usually served with a side plate of culture.

Therefore, The Brunei Times has taken up the role as a guide for a culinary history tour around the riverside burg and have a go at various menu highlights.

Located roughly 40km away from Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), the ideal way to reach Tutong Town is by car. Other means include renting a car and hiring a taxi.

A more affordable method is to hitchhike or simply muster up the strength and demonstrate great valiance by taking the inter-district buses that route through the region — excluding Temburong.

Best thing about the latter, the fare starts as low as $1. Worst thing, there is no definite schedule and the operation ends at 8pm sharp or way before.

A trip should take an hour or two at most that starts from the main terminal at Jln Cator in the capital.

Depending which roads the bus takes, do take the time to appreciate the stretch of verdant landscape, definitely a treat for the eyes.

Upon arrival, the bus should station itself in front of OG Complex — a building that has gradually aged from pink to faint grey and decks a huge Mum’s Bakery signage — that faces the Tutong River.

Now, ready for a precarious journey for one’s gastronomy? Most foremost, ensure nothing is missing or left behind.

After, if the view up North is the water way, then head over to the row of quaint buildings along Jln Enche Awang, located on the left side of the retail compound.

Here, exists Chop Mei Fang or best known as Mei Fang Café that is very popular for its signature pulut panggang — savoury fillings, with a choice of beef or prawns, stuffed into sticky glutinous rice and then, wrapped in fresh banana leaves — at only 60 cents.

Quick local trivia, the eatery is a landmark that has stood against time for more than 60 years and day-to-day, without fail, all 500 pieces of chewy-goodness would be completely sold out even before the clock strikes 12 noon.

Next on the list of tasty legacies is a household name when it comes to mamak delicacies.

Situated two doors down from the first location, this next stop is known as KK Koya.

Though relatively newer in the kopitiam scene, just a mention of its name would send anyone — who is familiar with the label — to salivate over its best-selling rojak. It is a mixture of the finest deep fried edibles, yam, slices of vegetables — all topped with the restaurant’s very own homemade piquant sauce.

The aromatic dish, albeit its Indonesian background, has found its way to thousands of hearts, right through the local stomachs.

Priced at only $4, one can either pick rojak ayam or rojak sotong or splurge an extra $2 for rojak special, which is a combination of both.

Both venues receive outstanding attendances from the public starting from 6.30am and even up until 9.30pm.

Except for Mei Fang Café, the grilled doors are usually shut tight between 12pm to 2pm.

These tantalising hors d’ouevres are one thing, now the main entrées are another.

At least three out of five Bruneians would have questioned restaurant attendants if they serve the all-time favourite roti kosong, Indomee served with a Sunnyside up or any fried noodle garnished in generous meats.

For a tongue burning experience, do challenge oneself with nasi ayam penyet or nasi katok.

In the vicinity too, there is Aminah Arif that prepares ambuyat, a must-try national feast that comes along with ever so tasty condiments.

Another advice from The Brunei Times, do add ping — a lingo used by everyone for ‘iced’ — when ordering thirst-quenching coolants, just to battle the blazing weather.

Remember the building what used to be painted in coral or rosy? The right guess should be OG Complex and yes, step inside to witness a different set of table d’hote.

Check out Mum’s Bakery, simply because of four words — fresh from the oven —perfect for quick bites.

The selections get better if one journeyed deeper inside, from GS Seafood Restaurant with seashells and crustaceans galore to Lee Loi Fatt, marked by its homemade cultural delights.

At the end of the tunnel, scan the area and one can see family bakeries, generic hawker stalls and WYWY Restaurant with its menu of plethora options — all up-ended on the very ground since the businesses first commenced.

Take a stroll further South down OG Complex.

There will be another building that has aged in white.

To make sure it is the right one is easy, there should be a narrow store named Syarikat Asyakur Masrikil that serves refreshing coconut juice for only $1 to $2.

Now, beyond Halim Plaza, further up on the hill is where there is a breath of fresh air.

Take the yellow brick road to have a change of scene, from traditional to a bit more trendy.

At first glance, the Hjh Rafiah building may seem forsaken but after dusk, it is a food fiesta that bustles and hustles up until midnight.

Looking for a place to sit down while chattering with close friends and family? Well, have a seat in Chit Chat Bistro.

The avenue dishes up a variety of tasteful grilled goods — tongkeng, chicken wings, satay — and the place is bedecked with fairy lights flag garlands, all the while adopting an al fresco concept.

Indeed, a good spot after the sunset.

Loosely translated to ‘ocean ark’, each homemade patty sets sail an explosive taste of flavours. The Brunei Times challenges for an eat-off by taking a bite of its meat lover combo that is trickled and smeared with its own downright-serious-spicy sauce.

Owned by 26-year-old Alim Shah, the business recently embarked down as a food-venture early this year after coming out online a few months before.

The Seri Begawan Religious Teachers University College (KUPU SB) graduate shared the calm ambiance would be popular among younger crowds and families who choose to eat out as a way to spend quality time.

The Brunei Times

Monday, September 19, 2016

Brunei, the First Southeast Asian Muslim Kingdom?


Brunei, the First Southeast Asian Muslim Kingdom?
By Rozan Yunos

When did Islam come to Brunei? Most western historians argued that Brunei Darussalam only began to accept Islam in the 16th century, that is, after the fall of the Malacca Sultanate in 1511. A number of historians such as K.G. Tregonning in his book ‘From Earliest Time to 1511’ (1957), D.G.E. Hall in his book ‘Sejarah Asia Tenggara’ (1979), J.F. Cady in his book ‘South East Asia: Its Historical Development’ (1963) and Nicholas Tarling in his book ‘South East Asia: Past and Present’ (1966) all wrote that Brunei replaced Malacca as the new centre to spread the teachings of Islam.

Robert Nicholl in his book published by the Brunei Museums entitled ‘European Sources for the History of the Sultanate of Brunei in the 16th century’ (1975) compiled a number of European sources which also suggested that the Brunei Sultanate was still not a Muslim nation during the early 16th century.

Pengiran Dato Seri Setia Haji Mohammad bin Pengiran Haji Abd Rahman, the former Minister of Religious Affairs in his book entitled ‘Islam di Brunei Darussalam’ (1992) noted that the western historians did not seem to take into account that Islam had spread widely in Southeast Asia even before the 16th century. Gravestones found in Brunei indicated that Muslims had been buried in the cemeteries with the stones dating a few centuries earlier than the 16th century date.

One of the earliest known was a Chinese Muslim by the name of Pu Kung who died in 1276 A.D. Therefore there must be a Muslim community in Brunei which enabled him to be buried as a Muslim when he died. This according to Pengiran Dato Seri Setia Haji Mohammad is not impossible. He noted that the evidences in a number of places in Southeast Asia that showed Islam was already being accepted much earlier. In Leran, East Java a gravestone bearing the name of Fatimah binti Maimon Hibatullah was found dated 1082 A.D., in Champa, Vietnam, a gravestone belonging to Abu Kamil Ahmad was dated 1039 A.D., and in Pasai, it was a gravestone belonging to Sultan al-Malik al-Saleh dated 1297 A.D.

An article which recently came to light in support of this was found in a book published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2000 entitled ‘The Silk Roads Highways of Culture and Commerce’ which contained a small selection of papers from the international seminars organized during UNESCO Silk Road expeditions.

One of the articles was written by a Chinese scholar by the name of Chen Da-sheng entitled ‘A Brunei Sultan of the Early Fourteenth Century: A Study of an Arabic Gravestone’ which comprised Chapter 8 of the book.

We are very fortunate that the paper was included as Brunei at that point in time was not a member of UNESCO. Chen Da-sheng sailed on the expedition ship the Fulk-al-Salamah visiting several countries including Brunei. Chen Da-sheng was from Quanzhou and he was interested in the gravestone of Pu Kung who was also from Quanzhou. During his visit he visited the various cemeteries in Brunei.

In his research he was attracted to an article in the Brunei Museums Journal (1987) where two former senior Museum officials Metassim bin Haji Jibah and Suhaili bin Haji Hassan wrote about ‘Tomb of Maharaja Brunei’ which was found at the Dagang Cemetery at Jalan Residency. He was very surprised that the undated gravestone was very similar to the gravestones that had been found in Quanzhou.

Quanzhou was an important trading harbour during the Song Dynasty. The Ashab Mosque or the Qingjing Mosque is a mosque found in Quanzhou constructed in 1009 A.D. and this remained as the oldest Arab style mosque in China. In the city, there is also the Yisalangjiao Sheng Mu or Islamic Holy Graves built on the Ling Shan, the mountain of spirits on the East of Quanzhou city. The Yisalangjiao Sheng Mu graves are the resting places of early Islamic missionaries of the 7th century.

Chen Da-sheng immediately recognised that the gravestone belonging to the Emperor of Brunei was similar to the Muslim gravestones that were once used in Quanzhou and he deduced that the gravestone in Brunei was made in Quanzhou as the material for the gravestone which was ‘diabase’ was not found in Brunei. Diabase or also known as dolerite is a subvolcanic rock similar to volcanic basalt.

The front of the gravestone had Arabic inscriptions and these were translated to read:

This tomb belongs to the late matyr
Sultan, a learned and just man
a protector and conqueror. He was called
Maharaja Bruni. Forgive him
Allah with His grace and Pleasure
May Allah bless
Muhammad and all his descendants

The back of the stone had this engraving:

Every soul must taste
of death, and ye shall only be paid your hire
upon the resurrection day
But he who is forced away from the fire

This stone was not dated and neither was the king who died identified other than as the Maharaja Brunei. As such, this king could not be cross referenced to the royal genealogy of the Sultans of Brunei; and the genealogy began with Sultan Muhammad said to reign from 1363 A.D.

Chen Da-sheng noted that in Quanzhou, when excavations were made of these ancient Muslim graves, the majority of gravestones were made from diabase. In the 1920s and 1930s, a great number of these gravestones were excavated when the ancient wall of Quanzhou was demolished. The current collection of Arabic and Persian stones inscriptions of the Quanzhou Foreign Maritime Museum is the richest of all museums in China.

After studying and cross referencing with the gravestones that had been recovered in Quanzhou, Chen Da-sheng discovered that the inscriptions on the Brunei gravestone were very similar to another gravestone belonging to Fatimat bin Naina Ahmad who died in Quanzhou in 1301 A.D. Chen Da-sheng believed that the two stones were inscribed by the same people as the writings were identical. No other similar stone has been found in Brunei. Upon discussion with the Brunei Museum officials, it was also confirmed that all the inscriptions for subsequent Sultans were written in Jawi with the exception of this gravestone which was written in Arabic.

With regard to the age, Chen Da-sheng explained that the Muslims in Quanzhou were massacred after they lost a war known as the Ispah Rebellion in 1366 A.D. and the winning army killed all the Muslim population they could find. After 1366, it was very hard to find any Arabic inscriptions on any gravestones in Quanzhou. The few that could be found in the outlying villages are different in style, shape and paleography.

Chen Da-sheng argued that based on the facts above, this provided evidence that the Muslim kingdom established in Brunei was certainly during the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century. In Chen Da-sheng words, “the Arabic gravestone of Sultan Maharaja Brunei presented evidence that a Muslim kingdom already existed in Brunei about A.H. 700 (A.D. 1301). It sheds new light on the study of the early history of the Muslim kingdoms established in Brunei and even in Sumatra.”

 If this is true, and supported with the written records of the Boxer Codex, this mean that the official date when the first Brunei Muslim Sultanate of 1376 A.D. needed to be adjusted, and that Brunei could be one of the early Malay Muslim kingdoms or there is even the possibility that Brunei could even be the earliest in the Southeast Asian region. Currently Pasai in Sumatra is considered to be the earliest Muslim kingdom because a gravestone belonging to Sultan al-Malik al-Salleh dated 1297 A.D. was found there. Who knows when exactly did the Brunei Muslim Sultanate began? It could be earlier than that of Sultan al-Malik al-Salleh.

In the original publication in The Brunei Times, the name Pu King was printed as Pu Kung Chih Mu. I have been told that is wrong as Pu Kung Chih Mu means the Tomb of Master Pu (Pu Kung = Master Kung, Chih Mu = tomb of). This Master Pu has been identified as Pu Zongmin which matched correctly with a written account preserved in China about Pu Zongmin who was sent to Brunei and later died here and left two sons Ying and Jia.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Brunei Peacekeepers in Mindanao Philippines


Rabiatul Kamit

BRUNEI continued its commitment to protect the ceasefire in Mindanao, Philippines, following the deployment of new peacekeepers in the International Monitoring Team (IMT).

A send-off ceremony was held at the Rimba Air Force Base yesterday, where Deputy Defence Minister First Admiral (Rtd) Dato Seri Pahlawan Abdul Aziz Hj Mohd Tamit presented the national flag and IMT arm badge to members of the 13th contingent.

Headed by Lieutenant Colonel Abidin Hj Timbang, the peacekeeping mission comprised seven Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) personnel and a Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) officer.

Brunei joined the Malaysian-led IMT in 2004 with the primary mission of monitoring the ceasefire agreement between the Philippines military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), who have been seeking for the autonomy of the Moro people since 1970s.

“To be able to lead this contingent is a great honour and I am grateful to have been presented with this opportunity,” said Lieutenant Colonel Abidin in a previous interview with local media.

Speaking at a religious ceremony in honour of the 13th contingent of IMT on Tuesday, he said the Bruneian peacekeepers underwent a two-week pre-deployment training and were briefed with updates of the ceasefire ahead of their deployment.

The contingent head explained among their responsibilities will be to monitor the situation in Mindanao and maintain the security to prevent “any undesired outcomes”.

“We are always training and we will always be prepared, because that is part of our job. Due to being part of the IMT, we have gone through our regular training regiment and fine-tuned it in a way that will benefit us once we’re there,” he added.

Meanwhile, emotions ran high yesterday morning as family members bade farewell to loved ones prior to their departure onboard the Royal Brunei Air Force CN-235 aircraft.

Harniyanty Abdullah said she was proud that her brother, Captain Haren Suhandy Abdullah, was among the few selected to participate in IMT, but added she felt sad to be away from him throughout the year-long deployment.

“Four of my siblings and my brother-in-law are in the military, but he’s the first to be deployed on a peacekeeping mission,” she said.

Hj Awang Hj Besar, whose brother-in-law Second Warrant Officer Sablee Hj Damit joined the latest contingent of IMT, echoed similar sentiments and prayed for the well-being as well as safety of the Bruneian peacekeepers in Mindanao.

“I hope they will always be in good health, so they are able to carry out their responsibilities. My advice to other families would be to remain patient and pray for their safe return,” he said.

Present at the ceremony alongside family members were RBAF Commander Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Major General Dato Paduka Seri Mohd Tawih Abdullah and RBPF Commissioner Dato Paduka Seri Hj Mohd Jammy Hj Muhd Shah Al-Islam.

Also in attendance were Ministry of Defence Permanent Secretary Datin Paduka Hjh Suriyah Hj Umar and Philippines Ambassador to Brunei Nestor Z Ochoa among other officials.

The Brunei Times

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Brunei National Land Use Council

Brunei establishes National Land Use Council
Borneo Bulletin, September 15, 2016
James Kon

HIS Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam has recently consented to the establishment of the National Land Use Council, which will be chaired by the Minister of Development and the members will include relevant ministers and permanent secretaries.

The announcement was made yesterday by Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Bahrin bin Abdullah, the Minister of Development, in a statement which was read out by Dato Paduka Eddie bin Dato Paduka Haji Sunny, the Permanent Secretary (Technical and Professional) at the Ministry of Development, during a dinner held in conjunction with the annual general meeting of the Institution of Surveyors, Engineers and Architects (PUJA).

One area that the council will be looking at, the minister said, “is plot ratio, to address at least two main inter-linked aims. First, limited availability of land suitable for development means it is important that we allow high-density development in appropriate zones to accommodate our present and future needs.

“Secondly, one of our national key performance indicators (KPI) going towards 2035 has increased in gross fixed capital formation. We need more investments. Again, with limited land, the only way this will be possible is by allowing higher density development, which may also make better commercial and financial sense for investors.”

Outlining some of the recent initiatives to attract more investment, the minister also touched on the topic of ‘Ease of Doing Business’ in dealing with construction permits.

He said, “In the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’, we ranked 21 out of 189 economies in dealing with construction permits. The rank was based on the fact that we had 14 procedures and took 119 days to issue various approvals.”

The Authority for Building Control and Construction Industry (ABCi), he said, “has worked hard to improve the process further, and we informed World Bank officials who visited us in May, that we now had five procedures and took 37 days. Continuous monitoring has shown that since March this year, we have managed on weekly average, to meet our target dates for issuing approvals.”

The improvement, he said, “was possible, because ABCi worked together with some members of PUJA.”

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Top Religious Figures in 19th Century Brunei



DURING the 19th century, there were a number of religious scholars born, a number of whom are considered as prominent religious figures of Brunei. They were documented in a special publication done by the Brunei Museums Department entitled ‘Tokoh-Tokoh Agama di Negara Brunei Darussalam: Pengenalan Ringkas written by a few writers based on interviews and documentation with senior religious officials. The book was published in 1992.

The first was Dato Hj Ahmad Hj Abdul Latip. Dato Hj Ahmad was well known in the 19th century as an Islam preacher. He was born in Banjarmasin, Kalimantan and was said to have come to Brunei during the reign of Sultan Abdul Momin (24th Sultan of Brunei 1852-1885).

According to Dayang Hjh Joriah Hj Metali who wrote an article about him in the Pusaka journal, Dato Hj Ahmad was born in a cemetery when his pregnant mother died and was buried. He lived in Kampung Burong Pingai and taught the Quran, Islamic Laws and other religious material to the people of Kampung Burong Pingai, Kampung Buang Tekuruk and Kampung Lurong Dalam.

Sultan Abdul Momin appointed him as the Supervisor for Islamic Development and he was also appointed a kadi. He turned down the title of Datu Seri Maharaja. He taught a number of Bruneians and was buried at the Jalan Residency cemetery when he died.

Pehin Siraja Khatib Abdul Razak Hassanudin (1879-1939) was born in Kampung Burong Pingai Ayer, and learnt from religious teachers around the village. He also travelled to Sibuti and Kelias and while there, he was appointed as the imam for the mosques in Sibuti, Kelias and Papar.

He was an active writer, especially in writing syair, under the pen name of Abdul Fatah. Many of his syairs featured the society and their way of life then. He has many students, and he was appointed to a number of positions in the government.

In 1913, he was appointed as a kadi, in 1918 as Pehin Khatib, and in 1919 Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam II appointed him as Pehin Siraja Khatib Al-Kadi Brunei. He was also appointed as a member of the State Legislative Council.

Pehin Khatib Muhammad Hassan (1860-1941) was born in Kampung Lurong Sikuna, and his father frequently brought him to visit Semporna and Sundar to find work. During those visits, he learnt about Islam from the Islamic scholars in the area. He taught Islam from his own home voluntarily, and many students came to learn from him. His house was frequently visited, and a special prayer hall was built nearby to avoid congestion at his house. He died when he was 80 years old.

Mudim Hj Yahya Sidek (1890-1942) was taught religious education by his own grandfather, Allahyarham Pehin Udana Khatib Saidi. He also learnt from other religious scholars, such as Pehin Datu Imam Haji Abdul Mokti and Pengiran Digadong Pengiran Haji Mohammad Salleh.

He was very firm in teaching and his students studied diligently under him. He was also active in writing, and he wrote about the rules of nikah (marriage) entitled ‘Kaifiyat Bernikah-nikahan’ and this handwritten rules was dated September 4, 1936. He died when he was 52 years old.

Pehin Khatib Abdul Razak Abdul Rahman Sambas’ (1875-1943) family was originally from Sambas, and his father moved to Brunei after migrating to Sarawak. He married a Bruneian and Pehin Khatib Abdul Razak was born at Kampung Limbongan. Pehin Khaib learnt religious education and also mastered English, Chinese and Tamil.

He was an active writer but none of his writings had survived. He continued to educate himself on various aspects of the religion and would often call a preacher to the mosque to discuss and learn from him.

He also travelled to Sabah and Sarawak to learn from the religious scholars there. He was conferred the title ‘Mudim’ by Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin in 1930, and appointed as Jurunikah in 1939. He was conferred the title Pehin Khatib before he died.

Tuan Imam Abdul Rahman Awang Matseruddin (1872-1945) was taught religious education by his father, and he furthered his knowledge by learning from other religious scholars. He actively taught religious education to many students and for that he was awarded the title Pehin Khatib. In 1939, he was conferred the title Pehin Tuan Imam.

Marbut Awang Tunggal Chuchu (1880-1945) was quite well-known. He was the Marbut for the Pekan Brunei Mosque, the country’s main mosque prior to the Second World War. The mosque was sometimes known by his name as Masjid Ujung Tunggal or Masjid Tunggal or Masjid Marbut Tunggal as he spent the majority of his life at the mosque.

He considered the mosque as his own house, and he looked after it diligently. He built his own house very near the mosque. He was born in 1880 at Kampung Ujong Bukit, and he looked after the mosque until he died in 1945. He learnt a lot of religious knowledge and he spent his time teaching other people especially Al-Quran and Zikir. He also taught the policemen who lived in the police barracks nearby before the second world war.

The mosque was destroyed by bombings from the allied forces when they wanted to recapture Brunei from the Japanese. Marbut Awang Tunggal had to leave the mosque and stayed at Kampung Ujong Bukit until he died.

Pehin Datu Imam Hj Mokti Hj Nasar (1864-1946) was born in 1864 in Kampong Burong Pingai Ayer. He studied religious knowledge under Dato Ahmad Hj Abdul Latif and Syeikh Ahmad Khatib Sambas, another religious scholar from Indonesia. Pehin studied Tariqat Qadariah from the scholar and also from books from Indonesia and Sumatra such as ‘As-Sirat Al-Mustaqim’.

He also travelled widely to spread the religion by going to Sarawak and Sambas. He was able to perform his haj in Makkah and stayed there for four years and this enabled him to learn and speak Arabic.

Upon his return, he established a special hall which he used for teaching. He travelled internally too, to the interior such as Pudak, Pulau Berbunut and Labu Estate to spread the religion further. He also taught at Padas in Sabah. Among his many students included His Highness Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam and His Highness Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien III.

In 1920, he officiated at the opening of a new mosque in Labu Estate in Temburong. He left a number of writings including duaas and fatwa, the genealogy of Tariqat Qadariah, description about the cholera outbreak in 1290 and 1322 hijrahs, and the history and advices of Lukman Al-Hakim.

Other religious figures born in the 19th century will be described further in the next article.

The Brunei Times

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Life in Brunei at the Turn of the Century

The Golden Legacy, The Brunei Times 4 June 2012

Life in Brunei at the Turn of the Century
by Rozan Yunos

THIS writer recently came across an interesting book entitled "The Sea Road to the East: Gibraltar to Wei-hai-wei" written by A J Sargent and published in London by George Philip & Son Ltd exactly 100 years ago in 1912.

The book contained six lectures prepared for the Visual Instruction Committee of the British Colonial Office. Most interestingly it contained a description about Brunei in Lecture Five entitled the Malay Region.

What does it say about Brunei? This is an excerpt from the lecture:

"If we cross the wide bay between the island and the mainland, we shall get a glimpse of past history, and better appreciate the reason for the failure of Labuan."

"At the southeast corner of the bay we enter the Brunei river. The forest comes right down to the river bank, and the trees appear to be growing in the water, with a tangle of interlaced roots showing above the surface; we are passing a swamp of mangroves, or bakau, as the natives call the tree. Then the land begins to rise in low hills covered still with forest, and the mangrove gives way to the coconut palm. We pass native canoes with their double rows of paddles, and here and here on the bank a group of native houses among the palms."

"Finally we round a sharp bend in the river and come upon the old native town of Brunei. It is a kind of eastern Venice, with its houses built on piles driven into the mud, and. its streets all waterways. Here, is one of these streets, fin Brunei, as all over Borneo, the bamboo, the palm and the creeping rattan, provide the builder with material free of charge for post's, flooring, roofs and lashings for the houses are tied, not nailed together."

"There is fish in abundance in the river, and we pass a fleet of market boats, with women in large sun hats, bringing the catch for sale in the town; while in the forest all round there is fruit to be had for the picking. Nature has supplied the Malay with most of his necessaries at his very door."

"Centuries ago Brunei was a large city, the capital of a kingdom. It gave its name to the whole island and its rulers extended their sway across the neighbouring seas. Early voyagers from Europe seem to have been much impressed by its barbaric magnificence. Most of the territory shown on the old maps has been ceded to the British North Borneo Company or to Sarawak."

"One local industry of some importance Brunei still possesses; this is the working of brass, particularly of brass gongs, which still pass as a kind of currency in the interior."

"We can visit a whole village of brass workers, on a creek close by, and see them working in the open air with primitive bellows made of bamboo, and producing castings of old-fashioned design. This is merely a survival; internal decay and attacks from outside have left Brunei only a shadow of its former power."

"The trade with China and the Malay Archipelago, which contributed to its former power, was destroyed by the attacks of the fierce pirates from the islands to the north; and British influence came too late to save the kingdom from its own internal weakness."

The description is familiar enough to most people who are knowledgeable about Brunei in the early 20th century.

The more interesting question is who is the Colonial Office Visual Instruction Committee for whom the lecture about Brunei and other parts of the Malay Region?

James R Ryan in an article entitled "On Visual Instruction" published in "The Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture Reader" in 2004 wrote a short piece about the Colonial Office visual Instruction Committee (COVIC). COVIC started life in 1902 and ended after the World War One.

It developed an Empire-wide scheme of lantern-slide lectures together with illustrated textbooks to teach "first, the children of Britain about their Empire and, second, the children of the Empire about the Mother Country".

COVIC was composed of representatives of both imperial and educational organisations chaired by the Earl of Meath with two mainstays, Charles Lucas from the Colonial Office who was then an influential figure in geographical education and Halford Mackinder who prepared the lectures and at that time was the Director of the renowned London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

There were several sets of lantern-slide lectures. The first set was of the Eastern Colonies of Ceylon, the Straits Settlements and Hong Kong which was shown in 1904. Between 1905 and 1907, there were more sets for Mauritius, West Africa, the West Indies, India, Canada and South Africa. By 1907, over sixty four lantern-slide sets made up of about 23,000 individual slides were sent around the British Empire.

These were also published in book form. The first seven lectures on the United Kingdom was the first book to be published written by H J Mackinder in six editions namely the Eastern Colonies Edition (1905), Mauritius Edition (1906), West African Edition (1906), West India Edition (1906), Indian Edition (1907) and Indian Edition for use in the United Kingdom (1909). The second was the Eight Lectures on India published in October 1910 and the third is the six lectures on the Sea Road to the East published in 1912.

The six lectures are made up of Gibraltar and Malta in Lecture One, Malta to Aden in Lecture Two, The Indian Ocean in Lecture Three, Ceylon in Lecture Four, the Malay Region in Lecture Five and the Chinese Stations in Lecture Six.

Brunei was in Lecture Five with two slides of illustrations of Brunei, both being pictures of scenes of Kampong Ayer. The first showing "Market Boats, Brunei" where a group of padians were gathering in the middle of Kampong Ayer and the second entitled "A Street in Brunei' showing a few houses on water.

Brunei obviously then was in the backwaters. The British government took over the reign of governing Brunei via the 1906 Agreement which government via the residency system. The first British Resident was Malcolm McArthur in 1906 who introduced a new administrative system.

We do not know when the article was written but obviously by then not much progress had taken place in the new town. It was also very unlikely that these lantern slides were ever shown in Brunei then.

However the lecture obviously was proud of the imperial achievement "though, under the guidance of British officials, and by the help of British capital, the fragment which remains seems likely to recover some of its prosperity ".

Rozan Yunos, the writer of The Golden Legacy the longest running column in The Brunei Times also runs a website at bruneiresources.com.

The Brunei Times

Brunei in 1776

Thomas Forrest wrote about Brunei in 1776

The Golden Legacy, The Brunei Times 21 May 2012

Brunei in 1776 - As Seen Through The Eyes of European Travelers
by Rozan Yunos

Most European writers who wrote about Brunei in the past can be identified easily. However one in particular called Thomas Forrest was not as easily identifiable.

Thomas Forrest wrote about Brunei in his book with the typical long title for books during those period entitled “A Voyage to New Guinea and the Moluccas from Balambangan: including an account of Magindano, Sooloo and other Islands and Illustrated with Thirty Copperplates belonging to The Honourable East India Company during the Years 1774, 1775 and 1776”. The book was printed by G Scott in London in 1780.

Printed in the old English style, he described Brunei very vividly in February 1776: “… the town of Borneo is fituate, as has been faid, about ten miles up the river from Pulo Chirming. The houses are built on each fide the river upon pofts, and you afcend to them by ftairs and ladders, as to back doors of warehoufes in Wapping. The houfes on the left fide, going up, extend backwards to the land, each in a narrow flip. The land is not fteep, but fhelving: every houfe has therefore a kind of ftage, erected for connexion with the land. There is little intercourfe from houfe to houfe by land, or what may be called behind: as there is no path, and the ground is fwampy: the chief communication proves thus in front, by boats …”

He continued, “… on the right, going up, the houfes extend about half a mile backwards, with channels like lanes, between the rows; fo that it would feem, the river, before the houfes were built, made a wide bafon of fhallow water, in which have arifen three quarters of the town, refembling Venice; with many water lanes, if I may fo fay, perpendicular and parallel to the main river, which is here is almoft as wide as the Thames at London bridge, with fix fathom water in the channel; and here lie moored, head and ftern, the China junks; four or five of which come annually from Amoy, of five or fix hundred tons burden. The water is falt, and the tide runs about fiour miles an hour in the fprings. Some of the houfes on the right fide of the water, are two ftories high, which I never faw in any other Malay country, with ftages or wharfs before them, for the convenience of trade …”

Judging by the description, Captain Thomas Forrester most likely had visited Brunei himself and did not rely on other people’s accounts. However despite his contribution describing in vivid detail and adding to our knowledge about Brunei in the 1770s, he is not widely known.

A search in ‘The Dictionary of National Biography’ published in 63 volumes between 1855 and 1890 showed an entry about him that appeared in Volume XX: From Forrest to Garner. That particular volume was edited by Leslie Stephens and published by Macmillan, Smith, Elder & Co in New York and London in 1889.

According to the entry in the biography, Captain Forrest served for some time in the Royal Navy, and served as a midshipman in 1745. A midshipman is an officer in the Royal Navy in the 17th century and was so named because the officer was stationed amidships. He ranked above naval cadet and below sub lieutenant.

Reading his book, it was most likely that he was stationed in Indian waters from 1753 almost continuously. He said that during the Seven Years War, he was on the royal navy ship Elizabeth under Admiral Charles Steevens although the paybook of the time did not contain his name. The Seven Years War was a global military war between the great powers of the time.

It was not until 1762 that Captain Forrest commanded one of the British East India Company ships and by 1770 he was in Balambangan and in 1774 he was engaged to form the new settlement there. British East India Company concluded an agreement with the Sultan of Sulu 13 years earlier to allow British to occupy the island which is situated off the coast what is now known as Kudat in Sabah. The port eventually failed and British left in 1805.

Captain Thomas Forrest after forming the new settlement went on to explore more areas in New Guinea, the Sulu Archipelago and the southern coasts of the Philippines. He commanded a ship called ‘Tartar’, a local boat weighing about ten tons fully loaded, with a crew of two English officers and eighteen Malays.

Forrest visited other places in 1780s and 1790s before dying in India in 1802. Before he died he published a few books including the book which interested us the most “A Voyage to New Guinea”.

Forrest’s descriptions about the Kampong Ayer market makes for vivid imagination, “… in thofe divifions of the town, made by the water lanes, is neither firm land nor ifland; the houfes ftanding on pofts, as has been faid, in fhallow water; and the public market is kept fometimes in one part, fometimes in another part of the river. Imagine, a fleet of London wherries, loaded with fifh, fowl, greens &c. floating up with the tide, from London Bridge towards Weftminfter; then down again, with many buyers floaing up and down with them; this will give fome idea of a Borneo market. Thofe boats do not always drive with the tide, but fometimes hold by the ftairs of houfes, or by ftakes, driven purpofely into the river, and fometimes by one another: yet in the courfe of a forenoon, they vifit moft part of the town, where the water lanes are broad. The boat people (moftly women) are provided with large bamboo hats, the fhade of which covers great part of the body, as they draw themfelves up under it, and fit, as it were, upon their heels …”

Forrest described the international trade then at Brunei Bay, “… confiderable is the commerce between China and Borneo, fome what like the trade from Europe to America. Seven junks were at Borneo in 1775. They carry to China great quantities of black wood, which is worked up there into furniture, &c. it is bought for about two dollars a pecul; and fold for five or fix; alfo ratans, dammer, a kind of refin, clove bark, fwallo, tortoifhell, birds nefts &c. articles fuch as are carried from Sooloo to China …”

Not many may know this but in those days, ships were also built in Brunei, “… at Borneo town, the Chinefe fometimes build junks, which they load with the rough produce of the ifland Borneo, and fend thence to China. I have feen a dock clofe to the town, in which a China junk of 500 tons had lately been built, worth 2500 taels, and 8000 in China …”

Forrest had other entries about Brunei and Borneo, perhaps this subject can be visited again in the future.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Prominent Religious Figures in Brunei History (15th to 18th Century)


Prominent Religious Figures in Brunei History (Part 1)
by Rozan Yunos

There are two short roads leading to the Arabic Secondary School near the Batu Satu area at Jalan Tutong. The roads are named Pehin Dato Perdana Menteri Sheikh Haji Abd Rahman and Pehin Dato Perdana Menteri Sheikh Haji Abd Halim. The many people who drove past these road signs everyday probably have no idea who they were. It is not surprising. Not many people know who the prominent religious figures in our Islamic history were and not much has been written about them.

One of the major publication in this area was a book published by the Brunei Museums in 1992, more than 24 years ago. It was entitled ‘Tokoh-Tokoh Agama di Brunei Darussalam: Pengenalan Ringkas’ or ‘Prominent Religious Figures in Brunei Darussalam: A Short Introduction’. The book was compiled by a few writers who were assisted by a number of Brunei Islamic Scholars and senior officers of the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

The book was divided into two parts. The first part consisted of prominent religious figures from the 15th to 18th centuries and the second part consisted of religious figures born in the 19th century. The book also contained a substantive introduction which can easily become a third part, that is about the history of the spread of Islam to Brunei and the role of the religion in Brunei’s society and administrative system.

It is not known when Islam first appeared in Brunei Darussalam. Though generally by 1376 AD, local historians accepted that Awang Alak Betatar accepted the Islamic faith with his marriage to the princess of Sultan Johor (Sultan Iskandar Shah Tumasik). Awang Alak Betatar became Sultan Muhammad. It was the third Sultan, Sultan Sharif Ali which spread the religion further. He built a mosque which had a seven layer roof structure believed to be around the Kota Batu area.

The main evidence of the spread of Islam in Brunei was through the design of the ‘batu nisan’ or grave markers or gravestones marking the graves of the religious figures. These were in general elaborately designed with Muslim motifs and carved with Arabic and Jawi lettering. One of the earliest was a gravestone belonging to a Chinese Muslim Pu Kung Chih Mu dating back to 1264 AD. The others included the princess of Sultan Abdul Majid (who died in China) dated 1402 AD and Syarif Hud who died in 1499 AD. In Tutong, one of the earliest Muslim graves was dated 1561 AD.

Among the prominent figures responsible for spreading Islam in Brunei in the early 15th centuries were Sultan Syarif Ali and Syarif Mu’faqih. Syarif Ali came from Taif in today’s Saudi Arabia in 1370. He was a descendant of Prophet Muhammad through the Prophet’s grandson, Sayidina Hassan bin Ali bin Abi Thalib.

Sultan Syarif Ali married Sultan Ahmad’s princess and on the demise of Sultan Ahmad in 1425 AD, he ascended the throne and became the third Sultan of Brunei. It was during his reign that the spread of Islam was said to have taken place widely in Brunei Darussalam. Up to now he was known as ‘Sultan Berkat’.

Another Muslim preacher during the same time period was Syarif Mu’Faqih and most probably assisted Sultan Syarif Ali in spreading Islam in Brunei. He was also known as Syarif Alwi Ba Faqih and also came around 1375 AD. Many of the Syarifs who came to Brunei during those times came to teach the Quran and the Islamic laws to the local people. The Bruneians then were very respectful to the Syarifs who came from the Middle East and they were considered as ‘Wali Allah’ and ‘Keramat’. Syarif Mu’Faqih left behind a special supplication (doa) as told by Allahyarham Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Haji Abu Bakar bin Mohd Salleh who lived in Kampong Kiulap.

Another Muslim scholar who came to Brunei was Sheikh Adam. He was not known in the Brunei history but was identified when his gravestone was discovered in Kota Batu. He died in 1454 AD. It is widely believed that he was among a number of Muslim preachers who came during the time of Sultan Syarif Ali. Another was Syed Abu Bakar who was said to have stop over in Brunei in 1450 AD on his way to Sulu. In 1515 AD, another Muslim preacher, Zainal Abidin the son of Syarif Ali came over from Malacca. Several other gravestones have been found in Rangas with one not so legible other than the words ‘Al-Syeikh’.

In 1932, T.F. Carey writing in an article published in the Royal Asiatic Society journal wrote about ‘The Two Early Muslim Tombs in Brunei’ who noted that another Muslim preacher was buried in Brunei. He was Syarif Hud. Carey wrote that ‘in the year of Hijra 905, Syarif Hud died returning to the Mercy of Allah on 20 Rabiulawal Monday and was buried in the morning’. The year 905 Hijra is the year 1499 AD. Unfortunately that gravestone had not been discovered since then.

Another figure identified through the gravestone was Sulaiman bin Abdul Rahman. He died in 1418 AD and his gravestone was carved in both Arabic and Sanskrit. Sanskrit was the predominant language of the time before Jawi took over influenced by the Arabic script.

There were a number of other Muslim preachers who did their work in the regions under the control of Brunei. These included Syarif Jaafar in Lingga, Syarif Sabudin and Syarif Sahib in Sadong; and Syarif Mollana in Melaka.

In the latter centuries, among the prominent religious figures in Brunei was Imam Yaakub. Imam Yaakub was responsible for keeping the history of the Sultans of Brunei from the first Sultan Muhammad up to Sultan Muhammad Tajuddin. These were later carved on the Genealogical Tablet. According to Yang Berhormat Pehin Datu Seri Maharaja Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Dr. Haji Awang Abdul Aziz bin Juned, the State Mufti writing in Beriga (1987) a Dewan Bahasa Pustaka Brunei publicaton, Imam Yaakub came to Brunei around 1680 AD during the reign of Sultan Muhyddin. He came from Macassar and studied in Makkah before coming to Brunei.

The final prominent figure identified born before the 19th century, was Maulana Pengiran Haji Abdul Momin bin Pengiran Sabtu. Maulana Pengiran Abdul Momin was from Kampong Pengiran Siraja Muda. According to Allahyarham Pengiran Dato Haji Abas bin Pengiran Aliuddin, Maulana Abdul Momin studied in Makkah in the early 1800s. He married an Arab when he studied there.

The prominent religious figures born in the 19th century will be dealt with in a separate article.

/End of Article (Part I)

Inspirational Quotes