Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam: A Passionate Leader

Manuscript Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam kept at the Library of Congress, Washington DC

Manuscript Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam kept at the Library of Congress, Washington DC

IT IS debatable that the use of Jawi script has played a vital role in the development of Malay civilisation on the island of Borneo. Some may also contest that globalisation was a factor in the growth of Brunei on the island.

This might be true, but we cannot deny the fact that all local historical findings and those of the world throughout the years have shown that Brunei was once a prominent nation that interacted with many different outsiders – and their primary language for communication was the Malay language, written in both Jawi and Rumi.

This is evident from the manuscript correspondences of the 21st Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam throughout his reign from 1807 – 1926, which showed that Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam continuously exchanged letters with William Farquhar, a Brit who was appointed as Governor of Singapore.

To have William Farquhar reading and writing letters in Malay Jawi to Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam shows the respect he had for Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam, who was also admired by William Farquhar for their like-minded interest in the economic development of Singapore.

From a simple letter exchange written in Malay Jawi, strong relations were formed between Brunei and Singapore, and subsequently with the British.

The way the outsiders interacted with Brunei – with their choice of communication medium – shows the level of dominance Brunei had in the Malay Sultanate. Bruneian influence also played a part in the development of Singapore as a trading port – ultimately becoming William Farquhar’s legacy, as reflected in the Singapore of today.

Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam, during his reign, also formed diplomatic relations with Spain, the Netherlands, and the United States.

As a Malay Sultan brought up the Islamic ways, his show of unique hospitality to international envoys who came to establish trade relations with Brunei was well received, creating peace between the nations.

Going back to 1578, the Spanish declared war on Brunei, demanding that Brunei stopped the propagating of Islam in the Philippines and let their missionaries spread Christianity instead. This went down in history as the Castillian War.

Despite such bitter history between the two countries, Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam still gave the Spanish a warm welcome. His strong passion for Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) ways had made him a strategic leader as he was able to amend broken bonds between nations and further create trade relations with the Spanish.

His political strategy allowed him to continue forming relationship after relationship, strengthening the influence of Brunei’s Sultanate on the island of Borneo without jeopardising Brunei’s language, religion and his monarchial state.

A book titled ‘The Legacy of the Malay Letter’ was published by Dr Annabel Teh Gallop in 1994. The book contains letters as old as 200 years – correspondence between the Governor of Singapore and leaders of the Malay world.

Dr Annabel Teh Gallop discovered that William Farquhar had written letters to Malay leaders of Jambi, Aceh, Malacca, Perak, Johor, Kelantan and Terengganu with the intention of forming diplomatic and trade relations, and the ultimate aim of developing Singapore.

Unfortunately, historians from the Malay world have yet to conduct in-depth studies on the Malay letters kept in these Western institutions.

The question remains: Why are such national treasures tucked away in foreign countries? Old manuscripts are not only valuable in terms of money, but the amount of information they hold is substantial and it may change our history books. They are also important in terms of aesthetic value and as a heritage of the Malay world.

Dr Annabel Teh Gallop also highlighted the characteristics of the letters written by Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam. As foretold in my previous article, the letters were decorated with elements of MIB: poetic literature with essence of Islam inscribed in the letterhead, and choices of words used to convey messages.

These were written in the Jawi script: Was-sam-u or Was-sam-si, Wal-qammari, Wan-naj-ni, interpreted as “for the sun, for the moon and for the stars”.

Poetically, the letterhead can be interpreted as: “Such that the Sun, the greater light that rules the day, and the Moon, the lesser light that rules the night.”

This can subsequently be understood as the letters which were sent from one leader (the Sun that rules the day) to another (the Moon that rules the night). But as a Moon does not create its own light, it is therefore dependent on the Sun and reflects the light to the ground; which may be interpreted as William Farquhar (the Moon) needing Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam (the Sun) to achieve his goal of bringing light into Singapore.

In Latin, Moon signifies ‘time,’ which leads to another interpretation: While the moon still exists, the friendship between Brunei and Singapore will remain.

The letter may also be taken as a message from the sender wishing to forge a long-lasting friendship with the recipient.

In Islam however, the Sun, the Moon and the Stars symbolise the signs of Allah the Almighty. When the Earth was created, this will always be during the day and night. As mentioned in Surah Ar-Ra’d, Verse 2; translation: Allah is He who raised the heavens without any pillars that ye can see; is firmly established on the throne (of authority); He has subjected the sun and the moon (to His law)! Each one runs (its course) for a term appointed. He doth regulate all affairs, explaining the signs in detail, that ye may believe with certainty in the meeting with your Lord. (translation: Allah-lah Yang meninggikan langit tanpa tiang (sebagaimana) yang kamu lihat, kemudian Dia bersemayam di atas ‘Arasy, dan menundukkan matahari dan bulan. Masing-masing beredar hingga waktu yang ditentukan. Allah mengatur urusan (makhluk-Nya), menjelaskan tanda-tanda (kebesaran-Nya), supaya kamu meyakini pertemuan(mu) dengan Tuhanmu).

Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam took pride in his letter writing and leveraged it to strengthen his country. However, his decorative literature does not end here. Written in Jawi, he began his paragraphs with words of praise to William Farquhar; this is shown, translated from the Jawi script into Rumi below:

Warkatul musyarafah walmukaramah maka dipesertakan dalamnya tulus dan ikhlas serta puteh hati hening jernih yang tiada berhingga dan bergetik selagi ada peredaraan cakarawala bulan dan matahari melimpahkan cahayanya menerangkan sekelian alam tiada menaruh lupa dan lalai iaitu daripada sahabat kita Paduka Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam ibni As-Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Al-Marhum iaitu yang mempunyai tahta kerajaan dalam Negeri Brunei Darussalam barang yang diwasalkan Tuhan shanaul alam apalah kiranya pada sahabat beta iaitu Tuan Kornil William Farqhar yang ada duduk memegang perintah kompeni dalam loji Negeri Singgapura lagi terlalu arif bijaksana padahal melakukan tolong menolong kasih-kasihan pada segala sahabat handai taulannya yang kesukaran maka termasyhurlah nama yang kepujian kepada segala buldan nulkarib wal ba’ed amin Allah huma amin.

In addition to Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam introducing his position as the Sultan of Brunei and praising the kindness and sincerity of William Farquhar for his cooperation, his use of the ‘Sun, Moon and Stars’ symbols and the choices of words he used, ie ‘Selagi ada peredaraan cakarawala bulan dan matahari melimpahkan cahayanya menerangkan sekelian alam,’ correlate to the words of the Al- Quran ‘menundukkan matahari dan bulan. Masing-masing beredar hingga waktu yang ditentukan’: Al-Quran, Surah 13, Verse 2.

His deep devotion to Islam was clearly reflected when he included verses of the Al-Quran in his letters.

The letters demonstrate how passionate Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam was as a Muslim and as a monarchial leader. He maintained his Malay Islamic status even when interacting with his Western counterparts.

Today, there are some who say that MIB is a hindrance to Brunei’s development, but Sultan Muhammad Kanzul Alam had strengthened Brunei and formed ties with Western powers without compromising Brunei’s culture and heritage, gained political and economic advantage, grew in power, spread Islam and made use of the Malay language in the regional Malay Sultanates.

All these letters show that when MIB is utilised correctly, Brunei can go far, and it is up to the leaders of the nation to lead us there.

Dr. Haji Muhammad Hadi bin Muhammad Melayong

Senior Special Duties Officer

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