Brunei Darussalam had gone through five periods in upholding Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB) or Malay Islamic Monarchy as the state concept. She has experienced:
- the MIB basis period (1368 – 1485)
- the MIB golden period (1485 – 1578)
- the MIB trial and resilient period (1578 – 1957)
- the MIB restoration period (1957 – 1983)
- the MIB firm period (1984 – current)
1. The MIB Basis Period (1368 – 1485)
Awang Alak Betatar laid the foundation for MIB as Brunei Darussalam’s state concept immediately after he became a Muslim and took the title of Sultan Muhammad. His conversion to Islam made him, in effect, the first Sultan of Brunei who led his Malay subjects to gradually emulate the Islamic way of life.
The year in which Sultan Muhammad embraced Islam was not recorded in written form. This resulted in conflicting interpretations among local historians. According to Pengiran Haji Muhammad (1992 : 75), Awang Alak Betatar became Sultan Muhammad between 1406 to 1408. Haji Abdul Aziz (1992 : XXIV) concluded that Islam was introduced to Brunei prior to 1306, but only after Awang Alak Betatar became a Muslim and Islam officially accepted as the state religion. However, Pehin Jamil (1990 : 9) maintained that Brunei became an official Islamic state in 1368 after Awang Alak Betatar took the name of Sultan Muhammad. Unofficially, therefore, MIB became the state concept commencing from 1368. The willingness of the Malays who made up the population at that time, to embrace Islam after their sultan and their adherence to the teachings, values and principles laid down by the Quran and the Hadis (Prophet Muhammad’s Traditions) was a manifestation that MIB was accepted as the state concept.
In line with Islam’s preference for male Muslims to be chosen as leaders or rulers of Islamic nations, Brunei Darussalam faced this dilemma when Sultan Ahmad (the second Sultan) passed away. There was a vacuum in leadership and as such the Malay population and the royal family could not find a suitable successor, as the former sultan had no male heir. Based on the consensus of the Malays, the son-in-law of the late sultan by the name of Sharif Ali, was asked to lead the sultanate and became the third Sultan of Brunei in 1426 (Pehin Jamil, 1992 : 6).
The Islamic-based public administration was recognised and enhanced during Sultan Sharif Ali’s reign beside retaining some of the positive Malay traditional ways of life which were in conformity with Islam (Othman, 1989 : 23). Sultan Sharif Ali’s invaluable contribution towards the maintenance of MIB was the construction of mosques with Malay Arabic architecture. He advocated that a mosque should be the centre of learning and religious activities.
The efforts shown by Sultan Sharif Ali in upholding MIB as the state concept were continued by his son and successor, Sultan Sulaiman who was to become the father of Sultan Bolkiah, the fifth ruler of Brunei and the founder of Brunei’s empire which included Borneo, most of the Philippines and a part of Java.
2. The MIB Golden Period (1485 – 1578)
This was the period in which Sultan Bolkiah elevated Brunei Darussalam’s status from that of a small sovereign state to that of a respected big empire in the Southeast Asian region.
During his reign, Brunei’s territories multiplied in the time span of 39 years. Among the qualities that made Sultan Bolkiah well respected and feared by his rivals and enemies were his expertise in warfare, his willingness to interact and socialize with his subjects, and his personal character and values : honesty, sincerity and accessibility (Pehin Jamil, 1971 : 19 – 45). The mentioned qualities enabled him to expand Brunei’s territories through armed invasions to hostile states or by diplomatic means to friendly states (Pengiran Haji Muhammad, 1992 : 101).
By expanding Brunei’s territories, Sultan Bolkiah had made the following contributions:
a) that he had made Brunei a respected military power besides that of Malacca, Acheh and Siam,
b) that he had strengthened the economy of Brunei by the acquisition of natural resources available in the territories,
c) that he had expanded the usage of Malay as the ‘lingua franca’ of his new territories,
d) that he had helped the propagation of Islam as the new religion of the inhabitants of the territories,
e) that he made it possible to nominate able individuals to administer each conquered territory.
Sultan Bolkiah’s contributions toward the expansion of Brunei Darussalam’s as an empire and, indirectly, his contributions to further the influence of MIB as state concept enabled him to be the envy of his rivals and enemies. Consequently efforts were made to subvert his growing power. Moreover the wealth of Brunei Darussalam along with the strong spiritual and Islamic will of the Brunei people were the contributing factors which prompted colonialist countries in the West such as Spain, Holland and Portugal to increase their efforts in exploiting a number of prominent people in Brunei to become their stooges, in order to halt the Islamic missionary activities implemented by Brunei. However the opportunity to disintegrate the unity and integration of Brunei as an empire and to stop the spread of Islam could only be achieved after Sultan Bolkiah died on his return voyage to his state capital.
Sultan Bolkiah’s demise was a great loss to Brunei. The official version that his death was due to an accidental infliction of a gold needle (Pehin Jamil, 1971 : 43) could not be verified. The only witness to his ‘accidental’ death was his mysterious wife whose country of origin was still a mystery. She purposely kept the death of Sultan Bolkiah to herself until she committed suicide. The only probable logical explanation for Sultan Bolkiah’s death and suicide of his wife was a cover-up conspiracy to assassinate the sultan by foreign forces. The wife could be a foreign agent who sacrificed herself for the sake of her own country.
The demise of Sultan Bolkiah was not the contributing factor for the decline of Brunei Darussalam as an empire. If the history of Brunei were to scrutinized in detail, the contributing factor for Brunei’s decline was due to greed, self-interest, untrustworthiness, and abuse of power by a number of officials who were entrusted to administer and manage the affairs of the state. In other words, the principles laid out by MIB were ignored which ultimately resulted in Brunei suffering for more than four centuries.
3. The MIB Trial and Resilient Period (1578 – 1957)
The period is identified as the most turbulent in the history of Brunei and in the development of MIB as the state concept. It is divided into five stages or phases, each with events that were disintegrative or fragmentative in nature. The five stages were:
a. The Spanish Occupation during the Castillian War (1578)
b. The Quest for power during the 12 year Civil War (1661 – 1673)
c. The Direct Involvement of the Brooke family (1839 – 1888)
d. The Direct Implementation of the Inequal 1888 Protectorate Agreement (1888 – 1905)
e. The Implementation of the 1906 Supplementary Agreement (1906 – 1959)
4. The MIB Restoration Period (1957 – 1983)
The official assertion by the British Government that Brunei must uphold the MIB as the official state concept was a culmination of the efforts put up by loyal citizens and Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien, in particular. Prior to 1957, a series of talks and consultations were held between the Brunei delegation (headed by the Sultan) and the then British Government on the future of Brunei which focused mainly on the revision of the 1906 Agreement. In effect, what Brunei really needed was a written constitution from which Brunei would chart her sovereignty and destiny. Practically, therefore, Brunei wanted to have an internal self government and no longer wanted the protectorate status.
The draft constitution agreement was finally discussed in London in the middle of March 1959 between the Brunei delegation (with the Sultan as leader) and the British Government (represented by Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd, Secretary to the Colonial Office). The official constitutional agreement was formally signed on 29th September 1959 by Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien and Sir Robert Scott, the British Commissioner-General for South-East Asia.
With the signing of the 1959 Brunei Constitution, Brunei “had made a positive stride towards a full independent self-government ….. which relies on the loyalty of the people, the maturity of the political thinking, unlimited services to the public and the inculcation of brotherhood and compromise among the people.” (Sir Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien, 1959 : 45).
The 1959 Brunei Constitution provided three dominant sections, namely: Section 3 which states Islam as the official religion of the state, Section 4 which outlines the executive authority of the Sultan and Section 82(1) which states Malay as the official language of the state (The Constitution of the State of Brunei, 1959 : 33, 35 & 123). The dominant inclusion of the three sections of the 1959 Constitution, in effect, was a restoration of the dominance of MIB as the state concept in shaping the future sovereignty of Brunei Darussalam.
A series of negotiations to abrogate the advisory power of the British High Commissioner, as provided in the 1959 Constitution, resulted in the 1971 Treaty of Friendship in which a Brunei subject would take over the responsibility. Finally in the years 1978 and 1979, a new treaty, which formally endorsed the British Government’s termination of her foreign and defence responsibilities towards Brunei by the end of 1983, was signed.
5. The MIB Firm Period (1984 – Current)
Four years after the signing of the 1979 Agreement and the preparations to accept full responsibilities as an independent nation had been irriplemented, Brunei Darussalam stepped into the international arena one minute after midnight on 1st January 1984 bringing with her an Islamic identity through the holy call of ‘Allahuakbar’ (Allah is Great). Shortly after the holy call, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah proclaimed that:
….. Brunei Darussalam is and with the blessing of Allah (To Whom Be Praised and Whose Name Be Exalted) shall be for ever a sovereign, democratic and independent Malay Islamic Monarchy upon the teachings of Islam according to Ahli Sunnah Waljamaah and based upon the principle of liberty, trust and justice.
(Information Department, 1984)
The contents of the proclamation officially acknowledged the Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB) as the state concept and simultaneously to become the guide-line and driving force for Brunei Darussalam to face the challenges ahead.