Brunei is one of only two absolute monarchies left in Asia. The other is in Bhutan. The Sultan is descended from a centuries-old royal line, maintained by intermarriage among cousins. No political opposition and almost no political activity are allowed. Bruneians are proud to have the world’s oldest reigning monarchy and the only remaining Malay Islamic Monarchy.

Since gaining independence from the British in 1984, Brunei has adopted the national philosophy of the Malay Islamic Monarchy (Melayu Islam Beraja), a system that encompasses strong Malay cultural influences, stressing the importance of Islam in daily life and governance, and respect for the monarchy as represented by His Majesty The Sultan. It is a philosophy of tolerance, which allows other cultures to follow individual traditions and to practice other religions.

People in Brunei regard the monarchy with deep reverence and awe. People are very careful not to offend the sultan. Brunei has lèse majesté laws and it has used them to prosecute insults to royal family members. It is an offense to disclose information about royal family’s wealth. Bruneians honor the sultan on his birthday July 15th with festivals and parades. On that day the sultan releases prison inmates.

Maureen Callahan wrote in the New York Post: “According to a 2013 report issued by the independent watchdog organization Freedom House, journalists face up to three years in jail for “reporting ‘false and malicious’ news.” Any criticism of the Sultan or the royal family is also criminal, and the government retains the right to shut down any media outlet they like. As for the Web, only 60 percent of the population has access, and it’s both restricted and monitored. [Source: Maureen Callahan, New York Post, May 10, 2014]

Rules of Succession: Male primogeniture amongst the legitimate heirs and successors of the sultan. The sons of royal wives take precedence over the sons of commoners. According to Netty Royalty: “The Council of Succession determines, subject to the Constitution and the Succession and Regency Proclamation 1959, the succession of the throne in the event of that need arising. The order of succession is determined by the Constitution and arrangements for a Regency are similarly laid down. The sultan appoints the member of the Council of Succession. The hereditary succession is limited to legitimate descendants of Sultan Hashim Jalal ul-Alam. The succession runs via male primogeniture. The sons by royal wives take precedence over sons by commoner wives. The wife of a Sultan has to profess the Islamic religion. The Sultan has to proclaim her as his consort in the Gazette.” [Source:Netty Royalty]

Duties of the Sultan of Brunei

The Sultan of Brunei is the head of state, supreme executive authority and absolute monarch of Brunei. He is head of government as Prime Minister. Since independence from the British in 1984, only one Sultan has reigned, though the royal institution dates back to the 14th century. In 1991, the Sultan introduced something called the Malay Muslim Monarchy which made the monarchy the defender of the Muslim faith in Brunei. The full title of the Sultan is: His Majesty The Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam.

In addition to being Prime Minister, the sultan also is the Defense Minister, Finance Minister, Superintendent of Police, chancellor of the national university, supreme commander of the armed forces, and supreme leader of the Islamic faith. He appoints all of the directors to the Brunei Investment Agency, the Bruneian government’s investment arm. In performing his duties, His Majesty is assisted by the following Councils: the Privy Council, the Council of Succession, the Religious Council, the Council of Ministers and the Legislative Council. His Majesty holds the Sovereign and Chief of the Family Order of the Crown of Brunei (Darjah Kerabat Mahkota Brunei — DKMB) as well as other orders of Brunei Darussalam. In addition, His Majesty has also received foreign orders and decorations. [Source: Prime Minister's Office, Brunei Darussalam]

The Sultan's Birthday on July 15th is one of the most important events in the national calendar with activities and festivities taking place nationwide. The day begins with mass prayer throughout the country. On this occasion, His Majesty the Sultan delivers a 'titah' or royal address followed by investiture ceremony held at the Istana Nurul Iman. The event is also marked with gatherings at the four districts where His Majesty meets and gets together with his subjects.

Early History of the Brunei Monarchy

Brunei’s monarchy has the distinction of being the oldest unbroken reigning dynasty in the world. The Sultanate of Brunei and its Malay sultans have been around for around 700 years. It was established it is said in the 13th century, when a prince from western Borneo became a sultan. According to the national epic poem the origins of the present sultanate started when Dewa Emas Kayangan came down from heaven in an egg. One of his children converted to the Islam and became the first sultan. Not much is known about the first sultans. Under the reign of the 5th sultan Bolkiah (1485-1521) the influence of the sultanate was extended. This prosperous era continued until the end of the reign of the 9th Sultan, Hassan. After his death, the country entered a period of decline. [Source: Netty Royalty]

According to Royal Ark: “The early history of Brunei and its ruling dynasty is clouded in mystery, due not only to the paucity of records but also to attempts to construct an official Islamic version of history which blots out anything else. The officially published Royal genealogies are often at variance with verifiable foreign sources at certain periods in history, as well as with the national epic poem, the Syair Awang Semaun. Although parts of the latter have come to light, publication of the full text remains prohibited because it does not always confirm the published official texts. [Source: Royal Ark =]

“According to the official version of events, Brunei was founded by a band of fourteen saudara (brothers and first cousins), who eventually settled in the Brunei river near the present capital and chose one of their number as the first ruler. Some known versions of the Syair Awang Semaun state that they were all the sons of Dewa Amas of Kayangan, a part supernatural being who descended to earth at Ulu Limbang in an egg. Discovered by the Sang Aji, he was married to that ruler's daughter by whom he fathered one son. He travelled to thirteen settlements in the region in search of an auspicious ox. At each of the villages, he fathered thirteen (or twenty-two) other sons by thirteen different aboriginal wives, daughters of the local penghulu. Official accounts attempt to Islamise his origins but several elements of the story clearly emanate from the Hindu concept of the cosmic egg, hiranyagarbha. The Islamised Silsilah Raja-Raja Brunei also mentions a ruler named Sang Aji. However, it is clear from the histories of other states in the region that Sang Aji is actually the title used by Hindu rulers in the region, not necessarily the name of any particular ruler. =

“The first ruler chosen by the saudara to rule the newly founded state was Awang Alak Betatar, the son of Dewa Amas and the Sang Aji's daughter. He was not necessarily the eldest among them, but chosen to rule because of his fitness to do so. The official account states that he journeyed to Johor, embraced Islam, married the daughter of a Sultan "Bahkei" of Johor and received the title of Sultan Muhammad Shah from him. Alas, these events are dated to 1363 AD, some 150 years or so before the sultanate of Johor came into existence. Neither the Malay Annals, nor other records, show any connection between the Johor and Brunei dynasties, nor do they make mention of any Sultan "Bahkei". The earliest mention of any marriage connection with Brunei is in the sultanate of Pahang, an offshoot of the Malacca-Johor dynasty, much later in the sixteenth century.” =

List of Sultans and Current Line of Succession to the Bruneian throne

The Sultan of Brunei comes from a family line that dates back over 600 years to 1405 when the first Sultan ascended the throne, founding a dynasty of which the current Sultan, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, is the 29th ruler. The early history of the nation’s unique monarchy can be pieced together from accounts taken from Chinese, Javanese and local Bruneian records. The first ruler, Sultan Muhammad Shah, known as Awang Alak Betatar, is said to be responsible for introducing Islam to Brunei, forever altering the course of the nation’s history and cultural landscape.

The second ruler was Sultan Ahmad, followed by a third Arab Sultan, Sharif Ali, considered to be a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad. Also known as Sultan Berkat, he married the daughter of Sultan Ahmad and consolidated the monarchy with the Islamic faith. Following him was Sultan Sulaiman, who was succeeded by the most renowned ruler in Brunei's early history, Sultan Bolkiah. Under the rule of Sultan Bolkiah, Brunei began to expand into an empire, with territorial holdings that would eventually encompass the island of Borneo and parts of the Philippines.

Brunei's golden age centred on the reign of two remarkable rulers, Sultan Bolkiah and Sultan Hassan. Under their rule, Brunei’s Royal Court developed a splendour rivalling that of any other monarchy in the world, and the territorial and cultural influence of the country reached its peak. Visitors today can still marvel at the dignity of Brunei’s Golden Age as a great deal of historic relics from the era have been carefully preserved.

The following is the list of Sultans of Brunei since 1363 (Name, Reign, Remarks, From, Until): 1) Muhammad Shah, 1363, 1402; Abdul Majid Hassan (Maharaja Karna), 1402, 1408, Died in Nanjing, China; 2) Ahmad, 1408, 1425; 3) Sharif Ali, 1425, 1432; 4) Sulaiman, 1432, 1485; 5) Bolkiah, 1485, 1524; 6) Abdul Kahar, 1524, 1530; 7) Saiful Rijal, 1533, 1581, Castille War broke out between Brunei and Spain; 8) Shah Berunai, 1581, 1582; 9) Muhammad Hassan, 1582, 1598; 10) Abdul Jalilul Akbar, 1598, 1659; 11) Abdul Jalilul Jabbar, 1659, 1660; 12) Muhammad Ali, 1660, 1661; 12) Abdul Hakkul Mubin, 1660, 1673; 13) Muhyiddin, 1673, 1690; 14) Nassaruddin, 1690, 1710; 15) Hussin Kamaluddin, 1710, 1730, First reign; 16) Muhammad Alauddin, 1730, 1737; 17) Hussin Kamaluddin, 1737, 1740, Second reign; 18) Omar Ali Saifuddin I, 1740, 1795; 19) Muhammad Tajuddin, 1795, 1807; 20) Muhammad Jamalul Alam I, 1804, 1804; 21) Muhammad Kanzul Alam, 1807, 1826; 22) Muhammad Alam, 1826, 1828; 23) Omar Ali Saifuddin II, 1828, 1852, Brunei ceded Sarawak to James Brooke; 24) Abdul Momin, 1852, 30 May 1885, Brunei ceded North Borneo (later known as Sabah); 25) Hashim Jalilul Alam Aqamaddin, 30 May 1885, 10 May 1906, United Kingdom established protectorate over Brunei in 1888; 26) Muhammad Jamalul Alam II, 10 May 1906, 11 September 1924; 27) Ahmad Tajuddin, 11 September 1924, 4 June 1950; 28) Omar Ali Saifuddien III, 4 June 1950, 4 October 1967, Abdicated; died on 7 September 1986; 29) Hassanal Bolkiah, 4 October 1967, Present, Brunei regained independence from the United Kingdom in 1984.

Succession to the throne of Brunei is amongst the legitimate heirs and successors of Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam Aqamaddin. The sons of Royal wives take precedence over the sons of commoners. The current sultan, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, was eldest son of the late Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III. Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah became the Crown Prince on August 10th , 1998.

Current line of succession: 1) HRH Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah (born 1974) — eldest son of Hassanal Bolkiah by his first wife; 2) HRH Prince Abdul Muntaqim (born 2007) — grandson of Hassanal Bolkiah, son of Al-Muhtadee Billah; 3) HRH Prince 'Abdu'l Malik (born 1983) — second son of Hassanal Bolkiah by his first wife; 4) HRH Prince Haji 'Abdu'l 'Azim (born 1982) — eldest son of Hassanal Bolkiah by his second wife; 5) HRH Prince 'Abdu'l Mateen (born 1991) — second son of Hassanal Bolkiah by his second wife; 6) HRH Prince Anak 'Abdu'l Waqeel (born 2006) — eldest son of Hassanal Bolkiah by his third wife; 7) HRH Prince Haji Muhammad Bolkiah (born 1947) — brother of Hassanal Bolkiah, second son of Omar Ali Saifuddien III; 8) HE Prince 'Abdu'l Qawi (born 1974) — nephew of Hassanal Bolkiah, eldest son of Muhammad Bolkiah; 9) HE Prince 'Abdu'l Fattah (born 1982) — nephew of Hassanal Bolkiah, second son of Muhammad Bolkiah; 10 ) HE Prince 'Abdu'l Mu'min (born 1983) — nephew of Hassanal Bolkiah, third son of Muhammad Bolkiah; 11) HE Prince Omar 'Ali (born 1986) — nephew of Hassanal Bolkiah, fourth son of Muhammad Bolkiah; 12) HE Prince 'Abdu'l Muqtadir — nephew of Hassanal Bolkiah, fifth son of Muhammad Bolkiah; 13) HRH Prince Haji Sufri Bolkiah (born 1951) — brother of Hassanal Bolkiah, third son of Omar Ali Saifuddien III; 14) HE Prince Muhammad Safiz (born 1974) — nephew of Hassanal Bolkiah, son of Sufri Bolkiah; 15) HE Prince 'Abdu'l Khaliq — nephew of Hassanal Bolkiah, son of Sufri Bolkiah; 16 ) HE Prince 'Abdu'l Alim — nephew of Hassanal Bolkiah, son of Sufri Bolkiah; 17) HRH Prince Haji Jefri Bolkiah (born 1954) — brother of Hassanal Bolkiah, fourth son of Omar Ali Saifuddien III; 18) HE Prince Haji 'Abdu'l Hakim (born 1973) — nephew of Hassanal Bolkiah, son of Jefri Bolkiah; 19) HE Prince Muda Bahar (born 1981) — nephew of Hassanal Bolkiah, son of Jefri Bolkiah; 20) HE Prince Kiko (born 1995) — nephew of Hassanal Bolkiah, son of Jefri Bolkiah.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vanity Fair magazine, Brunei Tourism, Prime Minister's Office, Brunei Darussalam, Government of Brunei Darussalam, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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