Interfering in Islamic affairs

Darul Aqsha

bookrevTHE race to source rich spices throughout Southeast Asia, and the fierce rivalry between Europeans to monopolise their power, launched the era of European exploration, to be soon followed by colonialism and imperialism.

During their explorations, the Spanish and Portuguese still bore hostilities against Muslims, who had conquered and ruled large parts of the Iberian Peninsula for hundreds of years. They brought their Crusade spirit complete with their divide-and-rule and intervention politics.

And they were not alone. The British, Dutch and French also had their eyes on the region. Not only did they drain the archipelago of its natural resources, but also altered the mindsets, lifestyles and even faiths of the locals, and introduced new systems of administration and technology.

It is against this background that the 462-page tome Islam Di Brunei Darussalam Zaman British (1774-1984), or “Islam in Brunei Darussalam during the British Era (1774-1984)”, is set. The book was written by Pengiran Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohammad Pengiran Haji Abd Rahman, the former acting rector of the Islamic University of Sultan Sharif Ali (Unissa) and now Deputy Minister of Education of Brunei Darussalam. He is also a leading poet.

Published by the Language and Literature Bureau of Brunei Darussalam (DBPB), the book is based on his dissertation proposed at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1992.

The book aims to improve understanding of the national philosophy Melayu Islam Beraja (Malay Islamic Monarchy) from an Islamic historical perspective, and describes the important role of Brunei in the propagation of Islam in the region, specifically in Sabah and Sarawak.

In this latest offering, organised into six chapters, the writer starts with the identification and condition of Brunei before and after the arrival of Europeans; the arrival and spread of Islam; British intervention in Islamic affairs; the formation and development of Islamic institutions; and Islam in the Constitution.

YB Pengiran Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Muhammad bin Pengiran Haji Abdul Rahman

YB Pengiran Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Muhammad bin Pengiran Haji Abdul Rahman

The writer studies the arrival and development of Islam in British Borneo, namely Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei (excluding southern Kalimantan), with focus on Brunei as the centre of Islamic propagation in the region since its arrival in the 14th century through to independence in 1984.

Although Sabah and Sarawak were once part of Brunei, under the Brunei-British treaty of 1888, the three were brought under the British protectorate. Brunei’s control over the two states ended, coinciding with Brunei no longer being the centre of Islamic propagation.

The book asserts that not only did the British manage civil, political and economic administration, but also intervened in customary and religious affairs. Local and foreign Muslim preachers, for example, had to report to the British Resident before teaching or propagating Islam. The mandate is similar to that of the Dutch East Indies colonial administration, which in the same period enacted the Ordonansi Sekolah Liar (Illegal School Order), under which Muslim teachers had to register and report their activities to the Dutch colonial government.

The writer also analyses the development of Islam in Brunei, including its arrival, prevalence, waning and revival in Brunei. One influential factor in Islamic development in Brunei was the arrival of Europeans, especially the strong influences of the British. Fortunately, several decades before full independence, Brunei had prepared a solid foundation for a Malay Islamic Sultanate the likes of which had existed for centuries before.

The writer gives a “bonus” by adding the history and role of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Islamic propagation in the country after independence.

Regarding intervention, the writer compares Spain with Britain. In the early 16th century, Castille Governor-General of Manila Dr Francisco de Sande asked the Sultan of Brunei to stop sending Muslim preachers to propagate Islam in the Philippines and the Borneo interior, but also asked the Sultan to let missionaries propagate Christianity in Brunei and the Borneo interior. The Sultan refused de Sande’s request and the Castille War erupted.

Learning from that incident, the British instead negotiated and bound Brunei in an agreement. After the 1906 Brunei-British treaty, the British created the Kadi Court, enacted Mohammedan Law and established the Syariah Legislative Council. The writer notes that the motives of both Spain and Britain were similar, namely to eliminate or at least to weaken Islam in Brunei. The difference was that “Spain was using plain and vulgar tactics, while Britain was using milder and diplomatic tactics through legal, administrative and educational systems to weaken Islam in Brunei”, the author wrote.

The book fills a literary gap in the Islamic historiography of Brunei that had not yet been touched both by local or foreign researchers, and can be used to encourage all layers of community, especially the young generations, to respect and be inspired by the Islamic values that have been upheld in the country for centuries.

The book, written using a historical approach, includes maps, tables, attachments, interviews, documents, bibliography, all showing diligent research.

They make the book a valuable resource, but unfortunately there is no index at the end.

The Brunei Times
Sunday, June 14, 2009


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