Copy of "‘Youth face identity challenges’"
The Brunei Times, 7 Nov 2013, written by RASIDAH HAB
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
A FORMER Minister of Education said that Brunei’s youth today face a different set of challenges in defining their own identity.
“No matter how difficult it may seem, we must acknowledge the fact that the current identity of the youths as Malay Muslim Bruneians is an inherited one,” Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Wijaya Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Hj Abdul Aziz Begawan Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Seri Paduka Hj Umar said in his keynote address before some 100 participants of the Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Centre for Islamic Studies (SOASCIS) Third International Conference (SICON 3) that kicked off yesterday.
“This had come to be after a long history that dated back to 1904 up until 1959 when the Brunei Constitution was written,” he said in his keynote address that was titled “Issues of the Brunei Youth Identity: Future Directions”.
“As in all inherited identities, there is always occasion for questions in the minds of the youths as to ‘why’ they are identified as such. And until the youth come to their own conclusions as to whom they see themselves as, there will always be issues, and by extension, questions of their commitment to our national identity as a Malay Islamic Monarchy,” he said.
He highlighted that identity was such a personal quality that it was not possible to impose an external notion to an intimate characteristics.
He also said that Brunei of the future may assume a more transnational identity generated by inter-ethnic and inter-nation marriages due to the effects associated by the constant advancement of technology — the Internet, social media and mass long-distance transportation.
“In those circumstances, the new generation of Bruneians may find it difficult to locate for themselves a specific ethnic, racial identity, or even national identity,” he said.
“In such circumstances, then what will be the position of the Melayu Islam Beraja (Malay Islamic Monarchy)?” Pehin Dato (Dr) Hj Abdul Aziz asked.
Malay Islamic Monarchy, or better known as MIB, is Brunei’s philosophy. It is a Malay nation, adhering to the aqidah (belief) of Islam, with the King (Sultan) as the highest authority. His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam officially proclaimed the MIB philosophy on January 1, 1984, the very moment Brunei Darussalam gained its independence and sovereignty.
“The ‘Malay’ component of MIB will become increasingly redundant. Of course these changes will not happen overnight but it is already an obvious possibility. Being ‘Malay’ may turn out to become only a cultural identity rather than an ethnic one,” he said.
However, he stressed that culture was still a powerful social force. He described culture as a force “that absorbs all members of society regardless of ethnic or racial identity into its orbit”.
He also pointed out that many Bruneians of different ethnic backgrounds already living within the society were tied together by Malay as a common identifying language. “Even if English was spoken by all levels of Bruneian society, local and foreign, Malay remains the principal distinguishing feature of the Brunei national identity,” he said.
In addition to linguistic ties, the Bruneian identity, he said, was also largely underpinned by a common religious affiliation — Islam.
“The issue of Islam, or for that matter, any religion as a national identity is potentially a sensitive question. In the case of Brunei, although a large majority of its people are Muslims, the rights of non-Muslim Bruneians cannot be ignored. However, at the same time, responding to the rights of non-Muslims should not be at the expense of ignoring the rights of Muslims Bruneians either,” he said.
He asked, in this situation, where does the middle path lie?
“As far as Brunei is concerned a secular direction cannot be the solution. To extract Islam from the Bruneian identity in any of its dimensions, social, cultural, political and even the personal, would be a disaster,” he said.
He spoke of societies that abandon religion for secularism, and eventually atheism, ending up at the “crossroads of a moral and ethical crisis”.
“If indeed such is the socio-political evolutionary direction of the Western civilisation, then Bruneians must demonstrate great wisdom and foresight by learning from the Western civilisational experience and the lesson from it all is that at the end of the evolutionary cycle all thinks shall return to Islam.”
The recent implementation of the Syariah Criminal Code is one step towards creating an Islamic civilisation, he said.
Pehin Dato Dr Hj Abdul Aziz said it was in Islamic civilisation that Brunei seek to underpin its identity of the future. He reiterated that even though every generation faces the issue of identity, we cannot impose upon our youth what to think of themselves.
“We can guide them, advise them, educate them and to pray for them. We can show them the lessons past from our own history and the history of other nations. But the final word must come from our youth: for them to see that the future is theirs to shape,” he said adding that history only repeats itself if we fail to learn from the past.