During the 15th century, the area known today as Sabah (along with Sarawak) was part of the Kingdom of Brunei.  Brunei was a major centre of trade, with links to China and Muslim world. Through its traders, Islam spread to Brunei and it became a powerful Sultanate.

During the 16th Century, the Sultanate of Brunei, was visited by Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of Ferdinand Magellan's journeys. Subsequently he was also visited by the Portuguese. Eventually, the Sultanate was also attacked by the Spanish during their conquest of the Philippines.

In the early part of the 17th century, the Dutch became the next western power to arrive and set up trading posts in southern Borneo.  In 1665, Captain Cowley became the first Englishman to visit Borneo.

During the late 18th century, there were multiple attempts by the British to set up establishments and trading posts around North Borneo. The majority of these attempts failed and they were eventually abandoned.

The British North Borneo Chartered Company controlled much of North Borneo by the end of the 19th century, it had become a portectorate of the British Empire by 1881 and remained so until the early 20th century. 

The Japanese Imperial Army came to control North Borneo for three years between 1942 and 1945.  After this, in 1946 the area was made a British Crown Colony.  

In 1963 Sabah finally gained its independence and became a part of Malaysia.  It remains a part of Malaysia today. 

For more information, check out a detailed history of Sabah.