Thursday, July 24, 2014

"A Mosque to Remember" - Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darrasulum

Firstly, let me stipulate that I'll actually be remembering two mosques in this post, but the temptation to have a title poke fun at the 2002 Mandy Moore classic "A Walk to Remember" was simply too much to bare.

In the beginning, what brought Bri and I to Brunei was the notion that we simply hadn't met anyone who had been there. So, it became a "why not?" sort of scenario. I seem to find myself in plenty of scenarios that cross my path where I think "why not?" Generally speaking, I would rather regret something I did then something I didn't do. Words to live by, I suppose.

Once again, Bri and I were couchsurfing, as we did in Saigon. This time it was a brother and sister duo, Finah and Freddy, who were something like couchsurfing legends around Bandar Seri Begawan. Finah picked us up from the airport, they took us out for food, there was a comfortable couch in the living room - it was lovely. We even met up with Freddy again a few weeks later in Gili Trawangan, Indonesia. They were well travelled and very welcoming. I'm telling you, couchsurfing is a downright wondrous travel community.

But I digress. Let's talk about a lighter topic, shall we? How about, say, religion? Whatever your thoughts or preferences on religion, there is one fact that I feel is indisputable when considering it. The fact being that, for the most part, religion has had a profound, positive impact on the realm of architecture. Hindu temples, buddhist shrines, enormous cathedrals all inspire awe in me. When I think of my visit to Bandar Seri Begawan back in 2012, my memories have been formed around the visit to two mosques in particular. So, understandably, that's how I'll frame this post.

Without further adieu, The Tale of Two Mosques. (A Dickens and Mandy Moore reference in the same post? I'm on fire.)

Madjid Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Let me put the joking tone aside for a second to tell you this - I will never forget the wind whipping, standing before the mosque, in a completely surreal moment. Luckily, I captured it on film.

Also known as Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, it's a marvel. It is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful mosques in the region, and, frankly, in the entire world. Its name is derived from the name of the 28th Sultan of Brunei, as it was him who gave the green light for its construction. It was finished in the late 1950's, and it absolutely dominates the cityscape of Bandar Seri Begawan. It's modern Islamic architecture at its finest, and, you guessed it, no expense was spared. Just try to keep your eyes off that illustrious gold dome, I dare you.

Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque

The largest mosque in Brunei, once again we find a brilliant piece of Islamic style architecture. It was built in 1992 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the current Sultan's reign. It's spectacular. Similar to my visit to Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, I got the feeling that it just simply could not be real, that it could not be a functioning mosque. Well both Bri and I went inside and prayed, so I can attest to the fact that it indeed is. Honestly, I'm just going to bow out of the description on this one - it just needs to be seen.

What you end up learning from adventures like this is that just because you haven't heard much about a place, it doesn't mean there isn't a lot to be seen, or, for that matter, felt. It was an intensely interesting experience for Bri and I to be sleeping on the couch of our new found friends in a strict, Muslim nation's capital. To be frank, I didn't even know these mosques existed until I arrived there. And how could that be? They moved me in ways that some of the most famous buildings in the word didn't. I make a point of going to places now that others don't because...well...Why not?


  1. Trying again...sooo Brunei looks like Islam with a side of Thai sauce. Mosque Yam Gai? Anyway, amazing looking pictures. You are right about religion creating great buildings--well, except for maybe the dildo mosque built by the Saudis next to Istanbul's bus station and the giant warehouse-trailer where the Evangelicals near my mom's house worship--corrugated tin? Really?

    1. This comment brings me great joy, Jeff. I could not help but smile, especially near the end. Do you suppose I should change the title of the post to Mosque Yam Gai? It only seems appropriate now...