A Sultan for Brunei people


Darul Aqsha

THERE have been at least two great Islamic leaders with the name Omar who are renown for travelling incognito among the common people, although their lives were 1,400 years apart.

The first Omar was Omar (Umar) ibn Khattab, the second Caliph of Khulafa al-Rasyiduun (The Rightly Guided Caliphs, 581-644). Early in his life, he was a fierce opponent of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), but after embracing Islam he became a strong defender of the faith.

He was a humble leader, but creative. One of his great initiatives was the introduction of the Islamic calendar Hijriyah, which starts from the time the Prophet migrated from Mekkah to Madinah in 622.

One night while travelling incognito, he saw a mother boiling stones to feed her crying, hungry children. As a leader, this sight worried him, and occupied his thoughts all the way home. Then, he returned to her with a sack of wheat which he bore by himself. Even when he handed the mother the sack, she still did not recognise him.

soas3The second Omar was Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien III (1914-1986), the 28th Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam. He often travelled incognito, in the city or in rural areas, to see how and in what conditions his people lived.

One day, while driving along Jalan Tutong, he saw an old woman trader waiting for a bus to Kianggeh Market in Bandar Town and offered her a ride. Arriving at the market, the woman tried to pay him, but the kind Sultan refused, and even handed her a $100 note.

This fine example of the Sultan is recorded in his memoir Memoir Seorang Negarawan (Memoir of a Statesman), though the book does not indicate whether the act was inspired by Omar (Umar) ibn Khattab.

Muslim leaders know and learn many things from Omar (Umar) ibn Khattab’s leadership, whose grandson, Omar ibn Abdul Aziz, continues to inspire Muslims to avoid corruption.

The memoir was written by local senior historian Dr Muhammad Hadi Muhammad Melayong and published by the Brunei History Centre early this year. The writer now is the Director of the Department of Information of the Prime Minister’s Office.

soas2The book details the life of Sultan Omar so that Brunei’s younger generation can learn the struggle and merits of their past leaders.

The 149-page tome has 12 chapters. In the first, the writer explains his methods and motivation for writing the memoir. Throughout the rest of the book, the writer follows the life of Sultan Omar, from his birth during World War I to the Japanese occupation (1941-1945), which fuelled his passion to make his country politically independent from the British and to make his country and people progressive, modern and prosperous.

soas5The writer recounts key events from Sultan Omar’s marriage to HM Pengiran Anak Damit in 1941; his ascension to the throne in 1950, replacing his brother Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin; his coronation in 1951; his plans to develop Brunei after WWII; his critical role in creating Brunei’s written constitution of 1959; his handling of the 1962 rebellion; to his handing over of the throne to his first son, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, in 1967.

The memoir also covers the important role Sultan Omar played in supporting and guiding his son in leading the country to full independence in 1984, up to his death in 1986.

The book closes with Chapter 12, which contains a timeline of key events throughout Sultan Omar’s life.

soas6An interesting tale that has become part of the book is that when the writer was conducting research at the National Archives in London, he found many documents about Britain-Brunei relations, including Limbang. Some of the documents are still sealed at the library and cannot be revealed to the public until the British statute of limitations allows them to be disclosed in the coming decades.

This memoir was published not long before Limbang made local headlines after Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s visit in March.

The writer also reveals Sultan Omar’s favourite pastimes, from traditional games to sports such as rowing, pencak silat, shooting, golf, gasing, tug-of-war, squash, badminton and football.

Sultan Omar also enjoyed writing poetry and was regarded as one of the leading poets in Brunei. He put forward his political thought in the form of poetry in Syair Perlembagaan Negeri Brunei (Brunei Constitutional Poems), which is reminiscent of Ibn Malik, who delivered his thoughts on Arabic grammar and morphology through his collection of poems Matan Alfiyah Ibn Malik.

Sultan Omar’s works of poetry include Syair Asli Rajang Hari, Syair Nasihat, Syair Perkakas Perkarangan, Syair Laila Cinta, Rampaian Laila Syair, Syair Laila Jenaka and Syair Kemerdekaan.

The memoir is interesting because it’s not only a biography, but it explains the socio-historical context of Sultan Omar’s life, making it a valuable reference.

The writer also offers a huge amount of data and information gathered from his research in several foreign countries, interviews with leaders of neighbouring countries and with local people and leaders.

The book also contains rare pictures of Sultan Omar and scenes of Brunei in years gone by. Unfortunately, some of the pictures do not have captions, such as one showing the writer with Gen (rtd) Abdul Harris Nasution and Roeslan Abdulgani of Indonesia. Perhaps some readers may know who the prominent leaders pictured are, but many will be left guessing.

Another downside is that the book has neither bibliography nor glossary, or any details about the author so that readers, especially researchers, can easily conduct further research or contact the writer.

The Brunei Times
Sunday, May 31, 2009



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