PASSING BY: This is a tale of two sultans – one from Johor, Malaysia and the other from the tiny but wealthy sultanate of Brunei. They are virtually neighbours – well, just separated by the South China Sea – share the same faith but worlds apart in their thoughts and views on certain issues many may consider ‘sensitive’.
Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, 57, of Johor had very recently encouraged his subjects of all races to join in each other’s festive celebrations be it Hari Raya, Christmas, Chinese New Year, Deepavali or Gawai Dayak by declaring that “we should all celebrate this in peace and harmony.”
“It promotes closeness, tolerance and mutual respect for each other regardless of race and religion,” he pointed out.
In contrast, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 67, has banned his Muslim subjects from even wishing Christians or each other “Merry Christmas” threatening them with fines of up to B$20,000 and imprisonment for five years.
There couldn’t be a more stark comparison of contrasts between the very much loved and admired Sultan of Johor, whose citizens number the second largest in the 13-state nation of Malaysia.
Johor has a population of 3.2 million as at 2010, with 54 per cent of them Malay Muslims, 30 per cent Chinese and 16 per cent others, mainly Indians and other indigenous people.
Johor as an independently administered state within Malaysia has had a long and traditional close tie with its nearest neighbour Singapore towards its south; and its successful Iskandar Malaysia development at 2215 km² is two-and-a-half times bigger than Singapore and 48 times the size of Putrajaya.
It is intended to draw investment and business to Johor and will be among the biggest development projects in Malaysia. Singapore is one of its biggest investors there.
The Johor Sultanate is currently ruled by a royal family whose members number among the most outspoken, liberal thinking and open minded of all the Malaysian royal families. Besides that of Perak, one cannot think of another more liberal minded family from the ranks of the present Malaysian royalty.
Brunei, on the other hand, has a population of 416,000 (*2013) comprising of 66 per cent Malay Muslims, and 10 per cent Chinese, with 24 per cent of other mixed ethnic and expatriate races.
Last year Sultan Bolkiah who has been in power since 1967, had caused worldwide controversy by introducing Syariah Criminal Law in Brunei, which allows for punishments including stoning, whipping and amputation.
However political discontent has been low-keyed and widely suppressed as the sultanate still maintains a “closed door policy” with regards to keeping writers, journalists and film makers out of the country.
Brunei’s relatively high standard of living coupled with free education and health services have been attributed to the reasons why its citizens have mainly been on ‘good behaviour’ with no social activism nor any political unrest reported.
However the “double-standards” of the members of the royal family have been widely reported in the western media. Extravagant lifestyles like the reported RM50million fee paid to Michael Jackson for his appearance at the sultan’s 50th birthday celebrations in 1996, to the well known fact that all of the sultan’s collection of polo horses and luxury cars are being kept in air conditioned comfort within a fantastical palace with 1,788 rooms!
On the one extreme we have within Malaysia, the Johor Royal Family who urges and encourages its citizenry to celebrate each other’s festivals to their hearts’ content. On the other, we have in Brunei where the authorities have proclaimed that “we cannot do anything that amounts to respecting their religion and against Islamic faith, (and) we must keep it away as it could affect our faith!”
Johoreans may not be as lucky as Bruneians who are entitled to free education and free health services, but they can surely take pride in a ruler who is compassionate and understanding and one who truly respects his multi-racial and multi-religious subjects.
During this season of goodwill towards all men, peace on earth for all mankind, let us wish each other the very best for Christmas and may the conclusion of another successful year be as fulfilling as our future hopes for the new year!
We wish you a Happy Christmas and abundant blessings for 2016. – The Ant Daily