The power of the Sultanate of Brunei was at its peak between the 15th to the 17th centuries, with its power extending from northern Borneo to the southern Philippines. The efforts of the Brunei Sultans in spreading Islam helped to spread the religion not only in Borneo but also as far north as to the southern Philippines islands. When Malacca fell to the Portuguese in 1511, it was Brunei that played a major role in the spread of Islam in the region.
By the 16th century, Islam was firmly rooted in Brunei, and the country had built one of its biggest mosques. In 1578, Alonso Beltrán, a Spanish traveler described it as being five stories tall and built on the water. Most likely it had five layers of roofs to represent the Five Pillars of Islam. This mosque was destroyed by the Spanish in June that same year.
European influence gradually brought an end to this regional power, as Brunei entered a period of decline compounded by internal strife over royal succession. Piracy was also detrimental to the kingdom. Later, there was a brief war with Spain, in which Brunei's capital was occupied. Eventually the sultanate was victorious but lost territories to Spain, including the island of Luzon. The decline of the Bruneian Empire culminated in the 19th century, when Brunei lost much of its territory to the White Rajahs of Sarawak, resulting in its current small landmass and separation into two parts. Brunei was a British protectorate from 1888 to 1984, and occupied by Japan from 1941 to 1945 during World War II.
There was a small rebellion against the monarchy during the 1960s, which was suppressed with help from the United Kingdom. This event became known as the Brunei Revolt and was partly responsible for the failure to create the North Borneo Federation. The rebellion partially affected Brunei's decision to opt out of the Malaysian Federation.
Brunei has a constitutional sultanate. It has a legal system based on English common law, although Islamic shariah law supersedes this in some cases.
The political system in the country is governed by the constitution and the tradition of the Malay Islamic Monarchy, the concept of “Melayu Islam Beraja” (MIB). The three components of MIB cover Malay culture, Islamic religion and the political framework under the monarchy.
Under Brunei's 1959 constitution, His Majesty Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah is the head of state with full executive authority, including emergency powers, since 1962. The Sultan's role is enshrined in the national ideology known as Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB), or Malay Muslim Monarchy. The country has been under hypothetical martial law since Brunei Revolt of 1962. The Royal family retains a venerated status within the country.
With its traditional ties with the United Kingdom, it became the 49th member of the Commonwealth immediately on the day of its independence on 1 January 1984. As its first initiatives toward improved regional relations, Brunei joined ASEAN on January 7, 1984, becoming the sixth member. It later joined the United Nations at the 39th Session of the United Nations General Assembly and became a full member on 21 September 1984 as a means to achieve recognition of its sovereignty and full independence from the world community. As it is an Islamic country, Brunei Darussalam became a full member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (now the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) in January 1984 at the Fourth Islamic Summit held in Morocco.
After its accession to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) in 1989, Brunei hosted the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in November 2000 and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in July 2002. As for other economic ties, Brunei Darussalam became an original member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since it came into force in 1 January 1995, and is a major player in BIMP-EAGA which was formed during the Inaugural Ministers’ Meeting in Davao, Philippines on March 24, 1994.
Brunei is recognized by every nation in the world. It shares a close relationship particularly with the Philippines and other nations such as Singapore. In April 2009, Brunei and the Philippines signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that seeks to strengthen the bilateral cooperation of the two countries in the fields of agriculture and farm-related trade and investments.
Brunei is a southeast Asian country consisting of two unconnected parts with the total area of 5,765 square kilometres . It has 161 kilometres (100 mi) of coastline next to the South China sea, and it shares a 381 kilometre (237 mi) border with Malaysia. It has 500 square kilometres (193 sq mi) of territorial waters, and an 200 nm exclusive economic zone.
77% of the population lives in the eastern part of Brunei, while only about 10,000 live in the mountainous south eastern part (the district of Temburong). The total population of Brunei Darussalam is approximately 408,000 (July 2010) of which around 150,000 live in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan. Other major towns are the port town of Muara, the oil producing town of Seria and its neighboring town, Kuala Belait. In the Belait district, the Panaga area is home to large numbers of expatriates due to Royal Dutch Shell and British Army housing and recreational facilities.
Most of Brunei is within the Borneo lowland rain forests ecoregion that covers most of the island but there are areas of mountain rain forests inland.
The climate of Brunei is tropical equatorial. The average annual temperature is 26.1 °C (79.0 °F), with the April–May average of 24.7 °C (76.5 °F) and the October–December average of 23.8 °C (74.8 °F).
This small, wealthy economy is a mixture of foreign and domestic entrepreneurship, government regulation, welfare measures, and village tradition. Crude oil and natural gas production account for nearly half of its GDP. Substantial income from overseas investment supplements income from domestic production. The government provides for all medical services and subsidizes rice and housing.
Brunei's leaders are very concerned that steadily increased integration in the world economy will undermine internal social cohesion although it became a more prominent player by serving as chairman for the 2000 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Stated plans for the future include upgrading the labour force, reducing unemployment, strengthening the banking and tourism sectors, and, in general, further widening the economic base.
The national airline, Royal Brunei, is trying to make Brunei a hub for international travel between Europe and Australia/New Zealand, and also has services to major Asian destinations. Brunei is increasingly importing from other countries.
The major population centres in the country are linked by a network of 2,800 kilometres of road. The 135 km highway from Muara Town to Kuala Belait is being upgraded to a dual carriageway.
Brunei is accessible by air, sea and land transport. Brunei International Airport is the main entry point to the country. Royal Brunei Airlines is the national carrier. The ferry terminal at Muara services regular connections to Labuan island (Malaysia). The speedboats provide passenger and goods transportation to the Temburong district. The main highway running across Brunei is the Tutong-Muara Highway. The country's road network is well developed. Brunei has one main sea port located at Muara. The export of its petroleum products is carried out through dedicated terminals.
With one private car for every 2.09 persons, Brunei Darussalam has one of the highest car ownership rates in the world. This has been attributed to the absence of comprehensive transport system, low import tax, inexpensive maintenance and low unleaded petrol price of B$0.53 per litre.
The official language of the nation is Melayu Brunei (Brunei Malay), the official standardized form of the Malay language used in Brunei. Brunei Malay is quite divergent from standard Malay and the rest of the Malay dialects and is mostly mutually unintelligible. English and Chinese are also spoken. Bahasa Rojak, often spoken by the media and the public, is known as a "mixed language" and considered detrimental to normal Malay. Other languages spoken include Kedayan, Tutong, Murut, Dusun and Iban.
English is also widely spoken and there is a relatively large expatriate community with significant numbers of British and Australian citizens.
Islam is the official religion of Brunei, and the sultan is the head of the religion in the country. Two-thirds of the population adheres to Islam. Other faiths practiced are Buddhism (13 percent, mainly by the Chinese) and Christianity (10 percent). Freethinkers, mostly Chinese, form about seven percent of the population. Although most of them practice some form of religion with elements of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, they prefer to present themselves as having professed no religion officially, hence regarded as atheists in official censuses. Followers of indigenous religions are about two percent of the population.
The culture of Brunei is predominantly Malay (reflecting its ethnicity), with heavy influences from Islam, but is seen as more conservative than Malaysia.
Brunei's culture mainly derived from the Old Malay World, which encompassed the Malay Archipelago and from this stemmed what is known as the Malay Civilisation. Based on historical facts, various cultural elements and foreign civilisations had a hand in influencing the culture of this country. Thus, the influence of culture can be traced to four dominating periods of animism, Hinduism, Islam and the West. However, it was Islam that managed to wind its roots deeply into the culture of Brunei hence it became a way of life and adopted as the state's ideology and philosophy.