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South-East Asia

Life starts at 50 for Brunei's birthday boy

Our Special Correspondent in Sarawak

The question is not what to give the world’s richest man for his birthday. Rather, what do you call a white prince presenting the richest man a walking stick? Why, Charles of course! But does he think His Royal Highness is at the end of his tether? Alas, life starts at 50, the Sultan insists. And our goodly Sultan is going all out to prove it.

For 15 days, beginning July 15, the Sultan of Brunei, the richest man on the face of the earth, will be busy. No, not with his two (official) wives, nor with his Hindu saints. It’s party time and he’s out to make sure it’s going to be the birthday bash of the millenium. British and Arab monarchs can eat their hearts out.

On the banks of the Brunei River docks the Nurul Iman Palace. The sprawling Islamic-style building, lit by giant floodlights, glows like a giant pearl at night which would make Fahd’s palaces seem like a bedouin tent. Poor Fahd must be cursing himself: “After all the billions I spent on my royal palaces, they still think my palace looks like Colonel Qaddafi’s bedroom?”

Meanwhile, back to the end of the world amid the thickness of the jungles of Borneo - where no man has ever gone before but for one reason. And that is His Royal Highness’ extraordinary generosity. Millions of dollars are being thrown out to entertain his mediocre guests, which include child-lover Michael Jackson and other royal invitees. “Bring them in!”, echoed the royal command throughout the 1,778- room Light of Faith palace. And please don’t ask how many weeks it took us to count the rooms.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah is surely a fun-loving chap, and at half-a-century old, he still is. He is also or claims to be a Muslim. Understandable? Indecipherable to be precise. Sounds pretty much like the Moroccan playboy-king who calls himself the Commander of the Faithful.

But how can he who spends billions, building palaces in the most exclusive sites of Europe, claims to be the Head of the Islamic religion? Never mind the fact at that very moment children are dying of hunger in Africa, Iraq and many other parts of the world. Never mind the fate of the wretched Palestinians who live in poverty, misery and humiliation, and who will probably welcome a small friction of what he pays for Michael Jackson or Star TV to exhibit his arrogance.

On the plus side, for all the mega-investments in the material world, His Majesty also takes a deep interest in the spiritual world, or rather the world of spirits. It is not true that the Sultan is not a man of faith, in fact he has too many of them. This revelation was made by James Bartholomew in his book, The Richest Man in the World - The Sultan of Brunei. According to the book, the Sultan is an ardent visitor of witchdoctors based in Malaysia and Indonesia. And to show that extra faith, he rubs shoulders with the holy men of India. His closest friend is Shri Chandra Swamiji Maharaja of Rajasthan who boasts of deep friendship with among others, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian king, Hussein ‘the Hashimite’. This was also highlighted in an interview with the Swami in the Illustrated Weekly of India (July 20-26 1986).

Not only the Hindu holy man, but the ‘Muslim’ holy man, Shaikh Nazim, is also reputed to be His Majesty’s latest teacher. The old man claims that his royal murid (disciple) has now repented and God has forgiven him his past and future sins. This of course is great asset to Muslims the world over. Already many rich businessmen in Malaysia and Singapore have been mesmerised by the Shaikh whose Naqshabandi Order is an exclusive spiritual club for the Muslim rich and famous all over the world. The Shaikh has been sent, his disciples claim, to bring the weird rich back to the Straight Path and the poor Muslims must be grateful now that their rich brothers will be their neighbours in Heaven. The Chechen martyrs must be spinning in their graves when they hear this!

Finally, a little arithmetics. How many seconds did it take you to read this story? Now multiply by 100. What do you get? Take a wild, wild guess. (Answer: The sultan’s income in US dollars during the past few minutes you spent reading this article.)

Muslimedia - April 1996-August 1996

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 25, No. 2

Dhu al-Qa'dah 12, 14161996-04-01

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