By Sonia K
Dr Hisham Hellyer
Dr Hisham Hellyer, a UK expert on Islamic issues, said the Muslim world is crying out for institutions like
Universiti Islam Sultan Sharif Ali (UNISSA) – institutions that can authentically claim to be tied to the tradition
of Islam, but can also deliver solutions to the problems of the modern world.
He said, “With foresight, His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei separated the Faculty of Islamic Studies from the
university (UBD), and created a new university, named after one of the pioneers of Islam in this country.”
Dr Hisham added that UNISSA is meant to be a contemporary academic institution that would produce
‘ulama’ who are able to directly engage with modern problems and be full fledged members of modern
Dr Hisham, who is in Brunei for a week to do research work and to promote Islamic relations between the UK
and Brunei Darussalam, in his talk yesterday said, there is something special about Brunei in this regard, for
the religious basis of UNISSA is clear and without any confusion.
“It is typified by its clarity: its commitment to traditional metaphysics according to the theological formulations
of the Ash’aris and the Maturidis, and its focus on Shafi’i jurisprudence without prejudice towards the other
madhhabs of law,” he added.
This is not something to be embarrassed about, or to be viewed as a hindrance, the UK expert in Islamic
issues said. He added that it is an asset, and it is rare to find contemporary Muslim institutions that have that
certainty about who and what they are.
“In a world where mainstream Muslim scholarship is constantly on the defensive against non-Muslim ideas,
or internal challenges being shouted by a loud minority, it is heart-warming to see a country like Brunei view
their tradition as something to draw strength from,” he said.
He advised that this attitude must be exported and said, “I would humbly ask the people of Brunei not to
keep it only within their borders, but to invite others to enjoy not only their renowned hospitality but their
intellectual and religious clarity.
“I am not a spokesman for the British Muslim community, but my research on that community assures me
that British Muslims would benefit greatly by being able to come here and study their religion. In carrying this
out, Brunei would cause Britain to be indebted to His Majesty, and provide a service to Islam beyond Brunei,”
Dr Hisham said this when he delivered a talk entitled ‘Western Muslim Communities: the UK experience’ at
Also in his talk, Dr Hisham touched on the history of Muslims in Britain and shared with the attendees some
of the difficulties they face.
He also considered what the future of these Muslims on the margins of the Muslim world may be, and how
Europe may cope with the challenge.
Acting British High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam Julian Miller was there to introduce the speaker and
also in attendance to hear Dr Hisham’s talk were the Assistant Vice Chancellor of UBD Dr Hj Junaidi Hj Abd
Rahman, as well as representatives from various embassies, students and academicians.
Dr Hisham said in general, Muslims in the UK face three key issues, in what is generally a positive and
He said the broad majority of British people do not generally view religion as something particularly
noteworthy in the public sphere. Whereas the Muslim world holds the religion as still sacred, not just within
the mosque or the church, but also in the wider world as a whole. Non-Muslims in Europe generally do not.
“This is perhaps one of the main fault lines between Muslims and
non-Muslims in Britain – many non-Muslims do not hold their own
historical religious traditions as sacred anymore, let alone Islam,” he
The second challenge, he pointed out, is less of a Muslim problem and more of an economic one.
“Muslims in the UK are more often economically deprived than the non-Muslims. This is a natural result of
history – the vast majority of Muslims in the UK are descendants of recent migrants, and those recent
migrants were predominantly from very modest backgrounds,” Dr Hisham said.
He added, “It is not surprising that they have not all risen up the economic ladder. But that rise is certainly
taking place. I see it in corporate London, I see it in the most elite educational institutions of the UK – it is
happening, and it needs to be strengthened.”
The final one, however, is the current security challenge.
Dr Hisham is a research fellow at the Centre for Research in Ethnic Research at the UK’s University of
Warwick and is also the Director of Visionary Consultants Group. While in Brunei, Dr Hisham is learning
more about the history of Islam, religious education in the country as well as the process and support for
conversion to Islam.
A number of visits have been arranged with the assistance of the Ministry of Religious Affairs to Islamic
Dakwah Centre, Universiti Islam Sultan Sharif Ali (UNISSA), the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Foundation,
Dr Hisham will also appear in a TV talk show, Expat, on conversion in Brunei and the role of UNISSA at a
higher academic level.
In Dr Hisham’s latest book, “Muslim Europeans: The ‘Other’ European’,’ which is due to be published this
year, argues that Europe must come to terms with all of her history, past and present, and that Muslim
communities should work to be integral to Europe.
He is completing work on two books entitled “Western Muslims and Islam in the 21st Century” and “Muslim
on the Margins: Muslim Minorities in Southeast Asia, Africa and the West”.
In 2006, the British High Commission brought over one of UK’s top Islamic academics, Professor Abdel
Haleem, a Quranic Scholar to Brunei Darussalam, and the Founding Director of the Centre for Islamic
Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.