His majesty Sir Muda Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah of Brunei, better known as the Sultan of Brunei, is the leader of Brunei and the 29th sultan of Brunei. He was born in Bandar Seri Begawan on July 15, 1946 and has been the sultan since October 5, 1967, after the abdication of his father Sir Oman Ali Saifuddin, and has been leader of Brunei since it became independent from Britain in 1984.

The Sultan is the supreme executive authority. Since the country resumed full political independence in 1984 he has also been the prime Minister. Being the eldest son, he became Crown Prince in 1961 and ascended the Throne on 5th October 1967 following the voluntary abdication of his father, Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien. His Majesty the Sultan was crowned on 1st August 1968 in pomp and pageantry befitting Brunei's ancient customs and traditions. [Source: Rozan Yunos,]

Titles: The sovereign is styled His Majesty and is the Kebawah Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Sri Baginda Sultan dan Yang di-Pertuan Negara Brunei Darussalam (Sultan and Yang di-Pertuan of the State of Brunei Darussalam). [Source: Netty Royalty]

Mark Seal wrote in Vanity Fair: “Once upon a time, on a corner of the large island of Borneo, in Southeast Asia, there was a tiny nation the size of Delaware called Brunei, where for 600 years its royals had married their cousins. Few people took notice of the place until 1926, when oil was discovered there. The current sultan, the 29th in a long line of rulers subservient to Great Britain, hit the jackpot when his country gained independence, in 1984. By 1987 he was the richest man in the world, worth $40 billion. Unleashed from obscurity and unable to tell friends from sycophants, the sultan, then 41, quickly gravitated to the gambling clubs of London and began transforming men into moguls: bankrolling the early exploits of the Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, allegedly financing the purchase of Harrods department store, in London, for the Egyptian entrepreneur Mohamed Al Fayed. As word spread of the sultan’s gaping wallet, merchants from all corners of the globe swarmed into Brunei, selling him practically everything they had to offer—17 private jets, thousands of luxury cars, what one diamond dealer called “a Smithsonian” of major jewels, and a trove of art masterpieces, including a Renoir for a record $70 million. [Source: Mark Seal, Vanity Fair, July 2011]

Life of Sultan of Brunei

His Majesty was born on July 15, 1946 at the Istana (Palace) Darussalam in Brunei Town (now Bandar Seri Begawan). His Majesty is the son of Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam (1914-1986) and Paduka Suri Sri Begawan Raja Pangiran Anak Damit (1924-1979). His father, the former sultan, Sir Oman Ali Saifuddin, among other things was fond of traveling around his county in a London taxi.

His Majesty received his early education in the form of private tuition at the Istana Darul Hana and attended top institutions in both Brunei and Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia) before furthering his studies in the United Kingdom where he later qualified for admission as an officer cadet at the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy and was commissioned as a Captain in 1967. He left Sandhurst in October of the same year to ascend the throne. [Source: Rozan Yunos,]

His Majesty was installed as The Crown Prince in 1961 at the age of 15. Following the voluntary abdication of his late father, Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, His Majesty was proclaimed as the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam on 5th October 1967. His Majesty was crowned as the 29th Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam on August 1, 1968 at Lapau di-Raja, Brunei Town. [Source: Prime Minister's Office, Brunei Darussalam]

Family and Private Life of Sultan of Brunei

His Majesty is married to Her Majesty the Duli Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha. The Sultan and Saleha are first cousins. They have has six children together. His Majesty has 12 children: five princes and seven princesses. He has married and divorced two other wives. The sultan's second wife, Mariam, was hostess for Brunei Airlines and the daughter of a customs agent.

The Sultan of Brunei often appears in a medal-studded military uniform or traditional tunic made with gold and silver thread, with a jewel-studded dagger in his belt. Among his good friends are Prince Charles of England. His Majesty plays polo, squash and badminton. He is also a qualified pilot of both aeroplanes and helicopters. The Sultan has played polo with Prince Charles on several occasions and has excelled in matches against international teams both locally and outside of the State. His Majesty's official residence is the Istana Nurul Iman, which is also the country's seat of administration.

The Sultan of Brunei married: 1) in 1965: Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajjah Saleha (born 1946, six children with the sultan); 2) in 1981 (divorced 2003): Mariam Abdul Aziz (born 1956, four children with the sultan); 3) in 2005 (divorced in 2010) Azrinaz Mazhar Hakim (1979, two children with the sultan).

Children: 1) by first wife: Princess Rashidah (born 1969). Married (1996): Pangiran Anak Haji Abdul Rahim (1970). They have three daughters: Rahima (1997), Hariisah and Raqeeqah (2009). And two sons: Abdul Raqib (2002) and Abdul Hasib (2006). 2) by first wife: 1) Princesss Muta-Wakkilah (1971). 3) by first wife, Crown Prince Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah (Istana dar ul-Hana, Brunei Town, now Banda Seri Begawan, February 17th, 1974). Married (2004) Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Anak Sarah (1987). They have one son: 'Abdul Muntaqim (2007) and a daughter Muneerah Madhul (2011). 4) by first wife: Princess Majeedah (1976). Married (2007): Pangiran Anak Khairul Khalil (1975). They have one son: 'Abdul Hafeez (2008) and a daughter Raihaanah (2010). [Source: Netty Royalty]

5) by first wife: Princess Hafizah (1980); 6) by second wife: Prince 'Abdul 'Azim (1982); 7) by first wife: Prince 'Abdul Malik (1983); 8) by second wife: Princess 'Azemah (1984); 9) by second wife: Princess Fadzillah (1985); 10) by second wife: Prince 'Abdul Mateen (1991); 11) by third wife: Prince'Abdul Wakeel (2006); 12) by third wife: Princess Ameerah (2008).

Brunei Under the Sultan of Brunei

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, the 29th ruler of his line, has led his nation into the forefront of regional and Islamic states. According to to Royal Ark: “His people enjoy a standard of living, educational, health and other benefits, unrivalled almost anywhere on the planet. The former Brunei Town, renamed Bandar Seri Begawan in honour of his revered father, has changed out of all recognition from the sleepy water-town of old. It now boasts some magnificent buildings and monuments of world architectural merit. In recent years, the experiment in democracy that had been abandoned after the rebellion of 1960, has been revived. The Asian financial crisis of the 1990s has long passed, and the recent sharp rise in world oil prices has returned the sultanate to a period of economic boom. [Source: Royal Ark]

During the reign of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, the 29th Sultan of Brunei, a fast-paced modernization program, building upon the nation’s oil wealth, has resulted in a noted improvement in quality of life for all Bruneians. Now leading the nation into the 21st century, His Majesty’s government is responsible for the booming construction and infrastructure expansions which have turned Brunei into one of Southeast Asia’s most developed nations. Attracting foreign investment, improving the nation’s human resources base, and tourism development are all measures that His Majesty and the government are promoting to prepare the nation for the challenges of the future, when oil and gas reserves will have been depleted and a diversified economy will be needed to maintain the high standards of living currently enjoyed by the Bruneian people. [Source: Brunei Tourism ~]

In 1998 the sultan’s son, Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, was proclaimed heir to the throne and began preparing for the role as Brunei’s next ruler and 30th sultan. That preparation included the 30-year-old prince’s wedding in September 2004 to 17-year-old Sarah Salleh, in a ceremony attended by thousands of guests. While Brunei may not be facing the same promise of prosperity that existed when the current sultan took the throne in 1967, it’s clear that the sultan sees the crown prince’s careful apprenticeship as crucial for the continuing (and absolute) rule of the monarchy.

There was a whiff of reform in November 2004 when the sultan amended the constitution to allow for the first parliamentary elections in 40 years. However, only one-third of parliamentarians will be publicly elected and the rest will still be hand-picked by the sultan, when and if the election ever happens (Bruneians are still waiting). In February 2007, Brunei joined Malaysia and Indonesia in signing a pledge to conserve and/or sustainably manage a 220,000-sq-km tract of rainforest in the heart of Borneo.

In 1987. University of Brunei Darussalam opened. In 1988, the Malay Technology Museum opened. In 1989, the first convocation of University Brunei Darussalam took place. In 1990, the first Al-Hafiz of Brunei Darussalam occurred. In 1991, the Brunei Islamic Trust Fund (TAIB) was set up. In 1992, Brunei joined Non Aligned Movements (NAM). In 1992, the Silver Jubilee of the reign of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam was celebrated.

Sultan of Brunei as the Ruler of Brunei

In 1978, His Majesty led a Mission to London for discussions with Her Britannic Majesty’s Government on the change of status of Brunei Darussalam to that of a sovereign, independent state. The outcome was the Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation between Brunei Darussalam and Great Britain under which the British Government relinquished its responsibilities for the conduct of Brunei Darussalam’s Foreign Affairs and Defence on 1st January 1984. [Source: Prime Minister's Office, Brunei Darussalam]

In addition to being the Sultan and the Ruler, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah is serves as the Prime Minister, Defence 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. Being a working monarch, he is involved in the conduct of the State affairs internally and internationally.

Rozan Yunos wrote: “Like his illustrious father, who is fondly remembered as the Architect of Modern Brunei, His Majesty is a caring monarch and tirelessly works for the continued well-being of his people. In addition to the usual day-to-day administration of the government and receiving foreign dignitaries. His Majesty is always on the move, visiting government departments and related institutions, security forces on military maneuvers, and villages including remote parts of the State. This brings him very close to the people, who love and revere him. [Source: Rozan Yunos,]

“The promotion and strengthening of relations with the outside world also get top priority from His Majesty. He has traveled widely in Southeast Asia, East Asia, The Middle East, Europe, and the United States. He addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Brunei Darussalam's admission to the UN in September, 1984. One of His Majesty's remarkable achievements was the setting up of the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Foundation in 1992. The foundation is a gift of His Majesty to his people and is devoted to, among other things, financing research-related works, particularly in the fields of knowledge. [Ibid]

In the mid 2000s changes to the Brunei constitution gave the sultan more powers. "I never thought he would go this far. You cannot even say anything bad about him. I would be imprisoned or fined if I said these things in Brunei," said his brother Prince Jefri told The Telegraph. "He can change almost anything he likes by decree. I worry about what will happen when the oil runs out – 90 per cent of the economy is dependent on oil and gas," added Prince Jefri, who argues that after four decades a "state of emergency" should be lifted. [Source: Richard Fletcher, The Telegraph, December 1, 2006 |=|]

Relations Between the Sultan of Brunei and His Two Brothers

Richard Behar wrote in Fortune, Brune “is more than a tale of unbridled spending. It is also a bizarre story — often veering into farce — about a decades-long rivalry among the three brothers, a feud that often seems more concerned with politics and the settling of old scores than with any actual financial crimes. As one of Jefri's aides explains it, "You're basically dealing with a little medieval kingdom, a little medieval court, which goes back to brother against brother, to the power struggles you've read about down the ages, whether in Florence or Venice or anywhere else. That's life. Times don't change." [Source: Richard Behar, Fortune, February 1, 1999 +]

“Indeed, the Shakespearean plot lines are hard to miss. In 1968 the Sultan — then just 22 — inherited the throne from his increasingly addled father, who'd been hustled into early retirement by his British overlords. Some years later Hassanal, the new Sultan, became smitten with an airline stewardess and decided to make her his second wife. (He, like his father before him, was already married to one of his first cousins.) The old Sultan was furious and until his death in 1986 refused to accept the commoner into the family. Mohamed, convinced he would have made a better ruler than his slightly older brother, had bitterly resented his father's choice of heir. Nevertheless, faced with Hassanal's affront to the family, Mohamed — a pious, conservative Muslim with only one wife — sided with the old man. Jefri — who enjoys four wives, the most allowed under Muslim law — cast his lot with the love-struck junior Sultan. +

“In the years that followed, Mohamed apparently grew jealous of Jefri's friendship with the Big One. The two drove sports cars and played polo and badminton together in Brunei, while away from home they indulged similar playboy appetites. Mohamed, in contrast, was short on fun and long on prayer. To make matters worse, in the mid-1980s he was also a prominent shareholder in two major corporations in Brunei that suddenly collapsed, causing the Sultan considerable embarrassment. The failures weren't Mohamed's fault, but P.J. seized the chance to make some political gains. "Jefri drove the needle fiercely into Mohamed and made him look worse in the eyes of the Sultan," admits one of Jefri's top advisers. Thus alienated from the throne, Mohamed stewed, awaiting his moment. It would be more than a decade before it came. “ +

Mark Seal wrote in Vanity Fair, ““In true fairy-tale style, the kingdom eventually woke up, some insist at the prodding of a third Bolkiah brother, Prince Mohamed, who disdained the fast-living Jefri and his influence on the sultan. “Up until March 1998 Prince Jefri enjoyed a very close relationship with the Sultan,” Jefri’s attorneys declared in a legal filing. “In this respect, Prince Jefri had incurred the enmity of another of his brothers, Prince Mohamed, whose views are cast in a much more conservative and religious mold.” Watching his brothers from the wings, Mohamed, who had only one wife and flew commercial, waited for his chance to stop the party. He found it in 1997, when a former Miss USA named Shannon Marketic sued Jefri and the sultan for $10 million, claiming that she and six other young women had been hired for $127,000 each to travel to Brunei for professional appearances, supposedly involving “intellectual conversations” with visiting dignitaries, but instead were forced to serve as “sex slaves.” [Source: Mark Seal,Vanity Fair, July 2011]

Sultan of Brunei’s Inner Circle

Richard Behar wrote in Fortune, The closest he could get “to the Sultan himself was one Yusof Sepiuddin, a vague, quasi-ambassadorial figure stashed away inside the Big One's diplomatic residence in London. One of Jefri's aides had told me Yusof "speaks to the Sultan every day. He knows the innermost secrets of everything." Perhaps, but when I spoke to the man, the experience only underscored the absurdity of the place. He demanded that I reveal where I'd gotten his phone number; when I declined, he told me to deliver the source the following message: "Never mix politics with the real thing. This is dangerous!" He warned that he would pay me a visit in the future if I misquoted him. "I'm not threatening you, but if anybody lied to me, I will give them a slap," he said. "Are you scared of that?" [Source: Richard Behar, Fortune, February 1, 1999 +]

“Just after my return from Brunei, I met Yusof in the flesh. He was short, owlish; a security monitor on his desk threw a Mephistophelean glow over the office. After reminding me that I was on "diplomatic soil," Yusof opened a mouth full of crooked teeth and let fly with a series of evasions, contortions, and non sequiturs that would have done the royals proud. The conversation drifted to the question of why it was so hard to get any officials in Brunei to talk with me. "We're busy, but you don't understand the word 'busy.' You wanted to go to Brunei, eager beaver." But isn't that how a free press operates? "That's like saying if I punch you in the face, this is freedom." Yusof defended his country's censor board ("When stories are unfounded, why should they be allowed in?") as well as his government's state of emergency ("We haven't had any elections — so what? — the people are happy"). On the split between the Sultan and Jefri: "I do know there are a little bit of conflicts here and there — whatever I read in the paper.... This is none of our business. If you have a fight with your wife, what do you think, you should ask me?" Even getting him to say what he does for the Sultan was next to impossible: "If there's a message, I pass it on." Does that make you a messenger? "It's up to you how you label me — a messenger, a full messenger, a high messenger — I don't give a shit." +

Brunei Under the Sultan of Brunei in the Mid-2000s

On the state of Brunei at the time of Sultan of Brunei’s 60th birthday celebration in 2006, Nick Meo wrote in The Times, ““One guest was conspicuous by his absence — the sultan's disgraced younger brother Prince Jefri. He is accused of embezzling $15 billion during a disastrous tenure as finance minister of the oil-rich state and blamed for turning the royal family's private life into tabloid fodder. The 2006 party was notably less excessive than the one 10 years ago, when Michael Jackson was flown in to celebrate Hassanal's 50th birthday. Then Jefri was a heroic figure, basking in the prestige of massively ambitious construction projects designed to put the nation on the international tourist map. Now the hotels he built are mainly empty, and half the rides are shut at the theme park, once billed as the world's largest. Jefri, whose 13-year stint as finance minister ended not long after his older brother turned 50, has only this year managed to fight off Hassanal's attempt in a London court to have him jailed for his misdeeds. [Source: Nick Meo, The Times, July 16, 2006 ==]

“The six-centuries-old dynasty's international prestige has rarely been so low. At home, however, the royal troubles have barely affected Hassanal's standing, and officials are confident that Saturday's celebration showed he is loved as sincerely by his 350,000 people as were any of his 29 forebears. The last 10 years have been tough. There is the very public fall-out of royal siblings, endless court proceedings between the brothers abroad, allegations of high-class prostitution rings in the palaces, the never fully explained disappearance of billions of dollars into a financial black hole, grumbling about human rights abuses by the U.S. State Department and an almost total lack of accountability to Brunei's population. ==

“None of it seems to have dented the sultan's popularity — although the actual pulse of the people is hard to ascertain, since no political opposition is tolerated. Royal gossip gets around by the Internet and word of mouth. "We like our sultan very much," one Bruneian said. "He is very rich, and he shares it with us." The man gave an embarrassed giggle when Jefri's name was mentioned, "No comment. That is big trouble." ==

“The 215,000 barrels of oil pumped daily allow Hassanal to rule in feudal style and to pay for a generous welfare state. There are no taxes, education and health care are free, and prices are low for fuel and food — including beef raised on ranches the sultan owns in Australia, where his properties cover a larger area than Brunei, which is 5,270 square kilometers, according to the CIA World Factbook, or 1.3 million acres. ==

His majesty takes full credit for his people's happiness. He is, after all, monarch, prime minister, defense minister, finance minister, supreme commander of the armed forces, supreme head of Islam, chief of the Brunei police, head of the petroleum unit and head of broadcasting services. He only grudgingly allowed the legislative council to reconvene two years ago after a 20-year hiatus, and he rewrote the constitution to declare: "His majesty the sultan can do no wrong in either his personal or any official capacity." ==

“Bruneians, with oil wealth flowing into their pockets, seem unconcerned at his excesses. Last year there was barely a murmur when Hassanal divorced one of his three wives, the mother of four of his children, and married a 26-year-old Malaysian television personality who gave birth to his 11th child last month. The good times may not last however. When the sultan celebrates his 70th birthday, geologists say, Brunei's oil and gas reserves — which now account for about 93 percent of national exports — may be starting to run out. ==

Sultan of Brunei Imposes Sharia

In April 2014, the Sultan of Brunei imposed full sharia law— including chopping of hands for thievery and stoning to death for adultery—in Brunei, with many of the laws applying to both Muslims and non-Muslims and citizens and non-citizens. When he announced his plans to introduce sharia he warned critics they could be prosecuted and said: “It is because of our need that Allah the Almighty, in all his generosity, has created laws for us, so that we can utilise them to obtain justice.”

Andrew Buncombe wrote in The Independent, “The decision sparked condemnation from activists, and the leaders of other religions in Brunei expressed concern that they could suffer. The spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights said he was “deeply concerned” about the move. But the thrice-married sultan has ignored such concerns and pressed ahead with his plans. “Today I place my faith in, and am grateful to Allah the almighty, to announce that tomorrow, Thursday, 1 May, 2014, will see the enforcement of sharia law phase one, to be followed by the other phases,” he said. [Source: Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, April 30, 2014 :]

“Brunei has long implemented some sharia, mainly for civil matters such as marriage. But in 2013 the sultan said he wanted to introduce full sharia to guard against the “challenges” of globalisation, including the impact of the Internet. “When rulers do this, it is usually for domestic political reasons,” said Dr Anicée Van Engeland, a lecturer in law at SOAS, University of London. Among the offences included in the laws are insulting the Prophet Mohamed, drinking alcohol, getting pregnant outside of marriage and “sodomy”. The latter will be punishable by stoning. :

“The British the Ministry of Defence said it was in discussion with the authorities in Brunei to clarify whether the new laws would have any impact on the British troops. The decision to impose sharia has been met with widespread condemnation. A number of celebrities, including Stephen Fry, urged people to boycott the Dorchester Collection chain of hotels owned by the sultan – among them the Dorchester Hotel in London – because the new law will make homosexuality punishable by death. Amnesty International said Brunei’s new laws will introduce stoning to death for acts that should not even be considered crimes. “[The new laws] will take the country back to the dark ages,” said Amnesty’s Rupert Abbott. :

“While Brunei, which has a total population of 400,000, has sizeable Christian and Buddhist communities. There are an estimated 30,000 Filipino citizens in Brunei, many of them Catholic, and the Philippine embassy has held meetings to explain to its citizens the implications of the new laws. Christian leaders have expressed concern that even baptisms could be in breach of the regulations.” :

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 2020

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