Located in the North Western Borneo Island, on the coast of South China Sea in Southeast Asia, the region we know today as Brunei Darussalam was deeply influenced by the Maritime Silk Roads in the diffusion of Islam in its territory, notably through its relations with Quanzhou in China. Indeed, Muslim traders from China travelled to Brunei through the maritime trade routes, and then could introduced Islam.
As Quanzhou was a major trading port along the Silk Roads where foreigners, especially Muslims came and settled there, therefore, building many mosques and cemeteries, the discovery of gravestones in Brunei gives more details about the religious exchanges in this region.
One of the main archaeological findings is a gravestone that belonged to a Muslim Brunei Sultan. The inscriptions of this gravestone are wholly written in Arabic and differ from the inscriptions of the tombs of the Brunei Sultans that followed, which were engraved in Jawi alphabet and Arabic. The gravestone is made with diabase – a volcanic rock –, this particular type of mineral does not exist in Brunei but is very common in Quanzhou. Moreover, the shape and style, as well as the height, width, and thickness of the gravestone found in Brunei looks exactly like gravestones of the 14th century CE found in Quanzhou. According to researchers, all these particular features suggest that the Brunei Sultan gravestone of diabase was engraved in Quanzhou around 1301 CE, and then carried to Brunei for the Sultan.
Two other vestiges were found in Brunei displaying the relations between Brunei and Quanzhou. The first is a Chinese gravestone of a Muslim made of granite dating from 1264; this gravestone was not made from local materials, also the Chinese inscription can only have been engraved in China. According to researchers, this gravestone was also engraved in Quanzhou, and then shipped to Brunei. The second evidence of these bilateral relations is a tombstone of a royal of figure of Brunei, which has the same shape and designs of other tombs found in Quanzhou dating from the 14th century.
Therefore, the discovery of the Sultan gravestone and the authentication of its origins is a significant evidence regarding the history of Brunei. Even though there are Chinese records of names of Muslims in Brunei, and important evidences of a Muslim presence in the South-eastern Asian regions surrounding Brunei from the 10th century, the gravestone of the Sultan clearly established that Brunei was a Muslim Kingdom in the 14th century, thereby Islam was already present. Islam came from the Arabian Peninsula, then expanded to the Indian Subcontinent and China’s coasts – including Quanzhou –, and eventually reached Brunei region through the Maritime Silk Roads.