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Brunei – finding its pulse

February 9, 2009

While sitting on the plane at Singapore airport waiting for the crew to do their final checks, I was thinking about what makes Brunei tick. Oil maybe the main source of income for its economy but what underlying thoughts, ideals, even mores, make Bruneians live they way they do.

I was deep in thought when suddenly an announcement came over the intercom from an attendant:

“Ladies and gentleman we will now ask for this plane to be blessed”.

I was on a Royal Brunei flight and this plane was going to be blessed with a prayer. And it wasn’t a Christian prayer or Buddhist mantra, it was an Islamic blessing, done in a low calm melodic rhythm.

Religion won’t be the topic of conversation here but you cannot escape it in Brunei. It’s by no means in your face, there are no crazed fanatics standing on street corners with sandwich boards, or religious people walking the streets asking for alms. Islam in Brunei is a celebration of life, love, and peace. This is evident by the colours in the women’s outfits, the gentleness in Bruneians nature, and their patience with non-muslims like me, who constantly asked questions about Islam in Brunei. This was my first real introduction to the religion and it was done in a quiet unassuming manner.

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Walk around the centre of the country’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan, which doesn’t take long, and it is not difficult to notice that the pulse of Brunei lies within a mosque. It stands the tallest building within the city, nobody can build higher than this mosque – out of respect. It is a simple mosque in design and colour: white and gold.  But five times a day this place of worship comes to life with devotees, who dressed in their best,  come to listen to the daily readings from the Koran, and join with their community.

by Cate

by Cate

Omar Ali Saifuddien is an international mosque, and pricey. Add up the value of gold domes, Italian marble, English stained glass, carpets sourced from Saudi Arabia and Beligium and you might get some idea of its worth. It was built by the previous Sultan in 1958. Built for his god and his people as a symbol of devotion, because in Brunei, only the best will do.

It’s not only a mosque for celebrating, worshiping and photographing, it is the pulse of the city. Maybe religious buildings don’t appeal to you but you cannot help but stand and look at it, even for just a brief moment. This mosque has presence.

by Cate

by Cate

While walking along the riverside, I noticed that Omar Ali Saifuddien seemed to lead the call to prayer, like a domino effect, the other mosques scattered around the central city and across the river, called out to their people to come and pray. Better than pealing church bells.

by Cate

by Cate

(click on picture for a better image)

There is no elite club in this golden mosque,it has a central location where anyone can come and pray, listen and follow – anyone, except for non-muslims. Prayer maybe not allowed for non devotees, but you can go inside outside prayer times and take in the spectacular artistry within. No pictures allowed, of course.

This is not the only mosque built by the Sultans. The current Sultan has built an even more impressive one on the city’s outskirts – Jame ‘Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque (a mouthful). Unfortunately it is for devotees who have transport. I wasn’t devoted enough to go see it, but here is a link to a photo gallery where you can get an idea of its magnificence: Brunei photo gallery

Travel note: Current location – KL, next port of call – Ipoh Monday evening 9th Feb. You can find out what I’m doing on Twitter.

Caffeinated Traveller

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5 Comments
  1. February 9, 2009 1:56 am

    To have your plane blessed seems like it would be an incredible cultural experience. Almost akin (yet very different) from having your plane de-iced for three hours in Canada.

    This experience of yours seems like it would have been a much quicker, and interesting one, however.

    [sorry – feel free to delete my previous comment.]

  2. Bear permalink
    February 9, 2009 1:10 pm

    Nice pictures and interesting to know the vibe Brunei has.

  3. February 10, 2009 1:39 am

    P B – your comment made me laugh, I can imagine that happening in Canada, and Russia. When you arrive in NZ the welcome you receive on the plane goes something like this: Welcome to NZ, please stay seated while the crew come along and spray [you] the cabin. This spray is harmless [ but it kills all bugs, bacteria and viruses you may have].

    Bear – its a quiet vibe, the pace their reminds me of a small NZ town. Even the cars drive at a slower than normal pace.

  4. February 11, 2009 4:26 pm

    One of the dozens of things I want to experience before I die (this keeps me focused on getting out and about) is to hear the call to prayer.

    Wherever I go, music and musical sounds (which is what I imagine the call to prayer to be like) attach themselves to my travel experience.

    • February 12, 2009 8:53 am

      It is good to have lists like these and you are right, it helps keep you focused. For some reason (and I’m not religious by any means) visiting religious places are always on my list when I go somewhere. I can understand more of the culture through these places. People find haven in cool temples or mosques during the heat, plus you get to see spectacular colour and paintings. Great for photography if you are allowed. Sadly more places are putting a stop on cameras, so it pays to get to these places sooner than later.

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