SOAS Mosque: First shot at first glance

Backpacking South East Asia: Brunei – Masjid Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien (SOAS Mosque)

Day 4: Bandar Seri Begawan walkabout and Kampong Ayer actual exploration (Part 1)
Warning: You are about to have a Masjid overload

I had a great night with Zaza and her friends Narissa and Amal. There’s so many things I wish to share with you for my couchsurfing experience but that would have to wait a little while longer. Now, I wish to take you on a walking tour of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital city of Negara Brunei Darussalam.  The day began by Zaza, after checking her young ones’ class attendance, taking me around the city center and showing me the places where I might want to visit. We agreed to meet after my walkabout, at around 2pm in Coffee Bean. I won’t have a way to contact her directly since I did not get a Bruneian SIM card. So, with that settled and her dropping me off at the SOAS Mosque, my six-hour walkabout began.

SOAS Mosque: First shot at first glance
Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Mosque: First shot at first glance

The Masjid Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien is perhaps Brunei’s most famed landmark. Being an Islamic state, mosques are as much a symbol of their nation in the same way that jeepneys are for the Philippines. I know the comparison sucks but please use your imagination and surely, you’ll realize exactly what I mean.

SOAS Mosque: Right side from the entrance
SOAS Mosque: Right side from the entrance (trees, flowers and gardens everywhere!)

Popularly called SOAS Mosque, the Masjid was built/completed in 1948 and named in honor of Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien III, the 28th Sultan of Brunei. I can only imagine the Sultan having done great deeds to deserve such an honor to have one of Asia Pacific’s most majestic mosques named after him. But then again, that’s that. We can only imagine. But I think the Sultan and the Royal Family, in general, is loved or at least revered by the people. I mean, when you’re living in a country where people ask if poverty exists, you would be happy with anyone sitting on the throne and keeping it that way right?

SOAS Mosque: Bridge, Barge and Buildings
SOAS Mosque: Back side from the entrance (Bridge, Barge and Buildings of BSB)

More than being grand, Masjid Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien pays homage to Islam and the State’s early beginnings not just because of the mosque but also for the place where it stands. Surrounded by gardens, flowers and trees that represent heaven (sabi ni Wikipedia), the artificial lagoon keeps the spirit of simple living from the time of Kampong Ayer (water village) while the mahligai barge serves as a reminder of Brunei’s Golden Age during the reign of the Singing captain, Sultan Bolkiah.

16th century mahligai barge
I wonder if the actual 16th century mahligai barge looks grander than the replica

From afar, you won’t really notice that the barge is made up of tiny, colorful tiles. I wonder how long it took to put the together. Imagine doing a cross stitch or tile mosaic project. The size and intricacy of the design would make you triple the effort, many times over.

At both ends of the barge
At both ends of the barge (tiny tiles all-over!)
At the center of the barge
At the center of the barge (tiles, tiles, tiles!)
Way up to the center shed
Way up to the center shed (like a palanquin without people carrying it)

According to Wikipedia (yes, I am citing the site!), the barge was completed in 1967 in commemoration of the 1400th year of the Nuzul Al-Quran (coming down of the Quran). It is used to stage Quran reading competitions. Perhaps it’s done on either side of the barge or at the top of the palanquin-like structure, to give the reader a more commanding presence.

View from the top
View from the top (the one-floor building on the right attached to the main Mosque structure is somewhat like an enclosed fountain area)

After the barge and the outside tour, you can opt to have an inside tour of the Mosque, provided that you come in the day and hour that visitors are allowed inside. You’d also have to wear the black full-body robe of some sort before you’d be admitted. It was my first time to be inside a mosque and for it to be the SOAS is something that I never thought of.

I don’t know much about architecture and design and materials but I can be sure that the interior of the Mosque would not pale in comparison to the exterior. The floor is fully-carpeted (visitors can only walk inside the red carpet area) with various designs. A very big chandelier hangs from the ceiling. As if it’s not enough by itself, the chandelier is outshone by the 18 karat gold lining design (shape is somewhat like the glass window that you saw in the previous photos) of the ceiling. There were also areas for women at both sides of the Mosque, with the old wooden window with capiz shell style like here in the Philippines. There are also some books and a very big sheesha (?) looking thing (which I assume is for incense). I wish I have some photos to share with you but photography and filming is not allowed inside.

After my fleeting glimpse into the world of Allah and Islam, I stepped out to wander around and grab some breakfast. But, Masjid Omar ‘Ali Saiffuddien’s towering presence is never missed. As in.

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, walking towards the stadium/plaza
At the golden fountain/BSB marker in front of the stadium
At the golden fountain/BSB marker in front of the stadium (this is quite far already)
At Yayasan Shopping Complex
At Yayasan Shopping Complex (this is farther still!)

It’s like, at almost every turn, TADA! The Mosque seems like a very colossal reminder of Allah and Islam for the Bruneians. Perhaps even a reminder of the royal family’s rule in the country. And it’s not just at BSB’s central area. If you go to the observatory tower at the Kampong Ayer (water villages) Cultural and Tourism Gallery, you’d see a portion of it (one of those tall towers) as well!

Oh, the SOAS Mosque really WOWed me, in more ways than one. And I didn’t even get the chance to take it’s photo at night! Surely, whenever you find yourself traveling to or just passing by Brunei, it’s surely one of the landmarks you shouldn’t miss! Another would be a Kaya Toast with Coffee breakfast after such an early cultural and physical exercise!

Kaya ala Brunei!
Kaya ala Brunei! (two half-boiled eggs with super strong coffee!)

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