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The abode of peace
Published in The Egyptian Gazette on 25 - 09 - 2012

What a beautiful name for a country. Brunei's official name is not the Republic of Brunei, nor the Kingdom of Brunei, nor even the Sultanate of Brunei. Instead, its official name is the “Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace." In a world torn apart by violence and desperately looking for peace, such a nation surely has something important to contribute to the way we look at our world today.
With a population of around half a million people, the Sultanate of Brunei in Southeast Asia is estimated by the International Monetary Fund to be the fifth richest country in the world by gross domestic product (GDP). The island of Borneo is home to three nations, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, but Brunei is the only one with all of its territory in Borneo. Brunei is, in fact, surrounded by the Malaysian state of Sarawak and it is separated into two parts by the Sarawak district of Limbang.
Like Egypt, Brunei was once a British Protectorate. Having been occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, the people fought an armed rebellion and gained their independence from Britain in 1984. Since then, the country has gone from strength to strength under the leadership of the present Sultan, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, averaging economic growth at over 50 per cent in the years since independence. With vast oil and natural gas reserves, the country is officially recognised by all world bodies to be a developed country. It has a public national debt of 0%.
Brunei joined ASEAN on January 7, 1984, becoming the sixth member and later in the same year joined the United Nations at the 39th Session of the United Nations General Assembly and became a full member on September 21, 1984.
So, Brunei has much to be proud of in so short a time, even though its history before independence goes back many centuries.
Aside from all this, though, Brunei, as a Muslim majority nation, has many beautiful mosques. Perhaps the most beautiful of all is the royal mosque of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III in the nation's capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. Many believe it to be one of the most beautiful mosques in the whole of Southeast Asia.
The current Sultan's father, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III, was the 28th Sultan of Brunei and is often called the ‘architect of modern Brunei'. This most beautiful mosque was his legacy.
The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque was completed in 1958 with a capacity of 3,000 worshippers and although the mosque was designed by the Italian architect Cavaliere Rudolfo Nolli, the early designs on which the final mosque was based were prepared by the Sultan himself.
Situated on a five-acre site, the mosque sits in the middle of an artificial lake on the banks of the Brunei River. A bridge across the lake takes worshippers to the mosque itself. With the traditional four minarets of a royal mosque, it stands out tall from everything around it and can be seen from all over the capital city. Built in a blend of Mughal and Italian styles, it is nonetheless typically something of Southeast Asia. The mosque's dimensions are roughly 70 metres by 28 metres, rising to a height of 52 metres.
As befits so regal a place of worship, the main dome is covered in pure gold. The minarets, too, are topped with golden domes. The main minaret even has an elevator to the top, affording spectacular views of the surrounding area.
Inside, there are chandeliers and stained glass windows from England and hand-woven carpets from Belgium and Saudi Arabia. The mosque's marble was brought from Italy and its granite from Shanghai.
An unusual additional feature in the middle of the lake and next to the mosque is a replica of a sixteenth century royal barge. This was built in 1967 to commemorate the fourteenth hundred anniversary of the first revelation of the holy Quran. It was once used for Quranic recitation competitions and other religious festivals.
Muslims read in the holy Quran:
“They will not there hear any vain discourse, but only salutations of peace. And they will have therein their sustenance, morning and evening."
19:62
These verses are talking about paradise. We also read, though, that ‘salaam' is the greeting of all Muslims. Even in heaven, we are told, they will greet one another with salutations of peace.
No matter how breath-taking is the mosque of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien, the most important thing to remember is that mosques are not just built to look nice. They are built so that Muslims may pray in them. Those five prayers offered daily to the Creator are what make a nation special. No matter how important is economic progress or gross domestic product, a nation's true wealth is to be gauged by its dependence on Allah Almighty.
As all the people of Brunei celebrate this week with great joy the wedding of the Sultan's daughter, Princess Hajah Hafizah Sururul Bolkiah, let us hope, inshallah, that Brunei, the Abode of Peace, will remain an example to all countries that peace and prosperity come from Allah Alone. They will not be found anywhere else.
If we can remember that in visiting this beautiful mosque, we will have learned something important indeed.
British Muslim writer,
Idris Tawfiq, teaches at Al-Azhar University. The author of nine books about Islam, he divides his time between Egypt and the UK as a speaker, writer and broadcaster. You can visit his website at www.idristawfiq.com and join him on Facebook at Idris Tawfiq Page.


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