Muslim Countries of the World: Brunei

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Brunei is a tiny state on the island of Borneo (Kalimantan), most of the southern part of which is occupied by Indonesia while the smaller northern part belongs to Malaysia. Brunei wedges into Malaysia from the coast of the South China Sea, on the opposite side of which is located Vietnam and to the west is Singapore and the remaining part of Malaysia. The official language of Brunei is Malay.

The history of the sultanate has not been precisely established. It is known that in 1362 a Malaysian called Awang Alak Betatar appeared on the Malaysian island of Borneo, converted to Islam (in Malaysia, Islam had already become widespread through Indian missionaries by that time) and under the name of Muhammad Shah became the first sultan of Brunei. After him, his two brothers became sultans, after whose death the son-in-law of the last brother, Sharif Ali, was elected sultan in 1425 under the name of Barkat. Barkat’s grandson Bolkiah was the founder of the current ruling Bolkiah dynasty.

In the 16th century, Brunei was a powerful state that occupied the entire island of Borneo. This is how Fernand Magellan, who arrived here in 1522, saw it. Over time, Brunei lost its territories, which went to Malaysia and Indonesia, and in 1839 became a British protectorate. In 1959, Great Britain granted autonomy to Brunei, but the Bruneian did not agree with the plans for their country to become part of Malaysia and responded with a series of uprisings. As a result, Brunei gained full independence only in 1984.

Brunei is an absolute monarchy. The Sultan is the head of state, Minister of Defence and leader of the country’s Muslims. A Religious Council operates under the Sultan to resolve administrative issues. Currently, the throne of the Sultan of Brunei is occupied by Hassan Bolkiah (74 years old, on the throne for 53 years). Issues of Muslim fiqh and consulting the monarch on fatwas are referred to the competence of the Supreme Mufti of Brunei. This post is held by Shaykh Abdul Aziz Juned.

In Brunei, there is Sunni Islam of the Shafi’i madhhab. This madhhab is typical for the countries of Southeast Asia, since Islam was brought to this region by missionaries from Yemen, where this madhhab was widespread. The Sultanate has abundant oil reserves, the proceeds of which are used to generously subsidize Muslim organizations and activities in the country, including subsidies for the Hajj, the construction of mosques, and the expansion of the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Brunei has a special attitude towards women. They are defined as persons of “particularly high status”. Laws protect their rights, immunity and freedom, especially in terms of protection from domestic violence. For example, women in Brunei are not required to wear the traditional tudong headscarf for the Malay region (all women wear it voluntarily). Women have access to education, serve in the police, the army, and government agencies. Brunei fuqahah especially carefully cite the provisions of the Holy Quran and Hadith in those places where the Holy Books speak of women having the same rights as men, especially with regard to divorce, inheritance, and so on.

The main feature of the religious and social life of Brunei is that at the centre of its entire political and social system is the personality of the Sultan – a religious, administrative and judicial leader, whose inviolability and sacredness is protected by the numerous laws of the country.