Welcome to my private journal generally on Brunei issues. Any opinions expressed are in my personal capacity. All rights to the articles are reserved.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Kaabah - Inside

Have you ever wondered what is inside the Kaabah? Here is the photo that someone took when insiden the Kaabah. The other is the plan of what looks like inside it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Moscow's Seven Sisters

After a couple of hours being driven through Moscow, you realised that you seemed to be having a dejavu. There is a building which you thought you have seen before and you keep seeing again and again. It was only when you asked when you realised it is more or less the same designed building being built all over Moscow.

Called the seven sisters are seven Stalinist skyscrapers in Moscow, Russia. They were built 1947-1953 in an elaborate combination of Russian Baroque and Gothic styles, and the early twentieth century technology of American skyscrapers. It was said that Stalin wanted to show the Americans that their Empire State Building is no big deal. He was going to build a few of these skyscrapers instead of just one which the Americans built. He planned for eight but he only managed to build seven (I know only of 4 - Moscow State University, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hotel Ukraina and another hotel).

Everytime we see one, I wasn't sure which seven it is as we keep seeing one. Anyway, here are photos of five of those sisters - it could be less. It could just be one - the same one taken from many different angles. I can't tell anymore. (Actually each building is different but it would take many more days in Moscow to tell the differences.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Lost in Moscow

In Moscow, the familiar becomes the unfamiliar - the Russians alphabet evolved independently of the normal alphabets we are using. The familiar letters are different. For instance the Russian P is our R. So in Russia, Restaurant or to use the Malay spelling Restoran becomes Pectopah in Russia, so only the e, t, o and a are the same. I was told that when writing the alphabets changed too. Here are some of the more familiar spelling becoming Russified:-

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Asia Magazine October 1968

Remember The Asia Magazine? You don't? I guess you are not old enough then.

The Asia Magazine used to be given away with The Borneo Bulletin many years ago. Then the Borneo Bulletin was only a weekly edition and The Asia Magazine was the accompanying magazine. Nowadays our two national dailies don't give anything anymore which is sad. When I was studying in England, I used to love the Sunday newspapers. The first Sunday I was there, I bought every single one of them. All of them had magazines and it was fun. Later on I stuck to a few but the magazines that accompanied them was the fun bit.

Anyway, this particular copy of the magazine I got especially from the internet for about US$20 I think. I can't remember what price I auctioned it for. I got this one dated 13th October 1968 because there is a special feature of His Majesty's Coronation which took place about a couple of months before the article came out.

The piece about the coronation was not that much. The writer concentrated more on the economy, the social development and the infrastructure development. I won't go through the article as it is fairly dated but I thought I will include some of the photographs from the article for you to enjoy.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mosques in Moscow?

The first few buildings I saw in Moscow was these domed structures. And there were lots of these domed structure which looked like our mosques. But they are definitely not mosques. I was told that there are only 4 mosques in Russia for a city of about 12 million people but I only saw 2 (next posting). These other domed structures are the Russian Orthodox Christian Churches. I haven't had time to brush up on my architecture history as to why Russian churches resemble mosques (Russians called mosques mechet pronounced as mesyet which is very close to our pronunciation masjid). Perhaps someone can comment on this? I know there is an architect in my list of readers.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ballet in Moscow

On the last day in Moscow, our host, the Ministry of Trade and Finance took us to see a ballet performance. It was held at Tchaikovsky Theatre and we were presented with the Dance of the Nations choreographed by Monceef. I tried to read the program book but it was purely Russian, so I had to rely on the explanation of the liaison officer accompanying us, Margarita (she said hers was an unusual Russian name) and everything I write today is purely from memory.

According to her description of the program, this ballet was first shown in 1930s where the ballet performed pure Russian dances. In the late 1940s, the ballet incorporated other nationalities' cultures into the dance. By 1960s, the group was doing their first performance outside Russia. So the performance we are watching is about 70 years old but it keeps getting updated. I was told that since the dance incorporated other cultures, you have to keep coming to watch the new dances being incoporated.

Anyway, here are the photographs starting from outside the theatre to the dances of the ballet. I stopped taking photographs towards the end for two reasons - one the dancers were getting a little bit too sexy for my liking (skin coloured tights and were in rather suggestive positions) and two, a Russian man behind me objected loudly in Russian towards me taking photographs even though cameras without flash was allowed (I could not speak Russian to explain to him that my modern camera takes photos without flash and can do so even with candlelight compared to the Russian model cameras).

The first part of the performance was a collection of dances but after the interval it turned into a proper story about how the devil and his collection of women (the skin coloured tights) in hell doing interesting things. At the end, everything turned rosy again. Russian women love some of the male dancers and a few actually brought flowers and waited for the male dancers to come and give it to them personally.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

History of Brunei's Musabaqah Tilawatil Quran

[Note: An edited version of the following article was published in The Golden Legacy column in Brunei's national newspaper, The Brunei Times dated 26th May 2007.]

Like many Muslim countries, Brunei Darussalam treats the annual Musabaqah Tilawatil Quran or the Al-Quran Reading Competition with great respect. The winners will be given the honour to represent Brunei Darussalam in international Musabaqah competition as well as given great prizes.

But then Brunei had been holding its annual Musabaqah competition almost continuously since 1948. Before 1948, there must have been other competitions but those were not recorded and the recorded ones began soon after the war in 1948.

By 1948, Brunei Darussalam had lost its main mosque, the Masjid Marbut Pak Tunggal right at the edge of Brunei Town due to extensive bombing during the battle for Brunei during the Second World War.

By then a relatively large temporary prayer hall which can cater to about 500 people was built made completely out of timber with thatched roofing and thatched walls. It was known as Masjid Pekan Brunei or Masjid Kajang and is located where the TAIB Building is currently on Jalan Sultan.

Musabaqah at Masjid Kajang

The first competition was for Bruneians who resided near the capital. The roads to the towns of Tutong, Seria and Kuala Belait were not yet built. Competition in the other towns began a few years after that.

The first competition was organized by the mosque committee members at Masjid Kajang. The main aim of the competition was to commemorate the new hijra year or the new Muslim years. It was also held only for men. It would be a few years later before competition for women and children were held.

The first competition was so successful that it was decided that a competition be held annually after that.

A few years later, it was also decided that for the management of the competition to be better organized that a proper association would be set up.

In 1953, an association called Persatuan Kesatuan Islam Brunei (Brunei United Islam Association) was set up. It was the only welfare organization that was registered with the government then.

With the association being responsible for the organizing of the competition, the competition was now organized at national levels with representatives from all the five Brunei districts (Muara was considered a separate district in 1950s).

In the 1950s, every district was allowed to send as many competitors as it wanted to.

Every competitors would be competing in one major competition.

But by 1956, the number of competitors increased that preliminary rounds at district levels had to held to reduce the number of competitors during the final.

The Brunei District itself divided the competitors into two groups – one comprising those who had been in the top 3 of previous competitions and another comprising those who have yet to win.

From these two groups, a final group of 6 was chosen to compete at the national level.

Today the competitions are funded by the government but then the competitions were funded directly by donations.

It was quite expensive too.

Due to the number of readers, the competition can take place for a whole day and lunch and dinners had to be served.

Despite that, there were sufficient donations by the public to enable the competitions to take place.

By 1961, Brunei received its first invitation to compete in the International Musabaqah Tilawatil Quran in Kuala Lumpur.

To enable the proper selection of Qari to take part in the competition, the Brunei Government decided that the organization of the national level competition to be organized by the Department of Religious Affairs taking over from the association.

Up to then, the competitions had always been held to commemorate the new hijra year and always took place on the 10th Muharram (Asyurra Day).

By 1961, it was no longer held for that event.

The international competition takes place around Ramadhan, and the national level competition was moved to one or two months before the international competition took place.

Brunei’s first international competitors were Awang Yusof bin Abdul Latif (now Begawan Pehin Khatib Awang Yusof) and Awang Haji Sabtu bin Haji Ahmad.

By 1961, the format of selection from the various districts had changed. The Brunei-Muara District (the Muara District was merged in 1961) sent four Qaris and four Qariahs as compared to the other three districts which sent two Qaris and two Qariahs each.

In 1965, the international competition was extended to Qariahs and Brunei’s first competitor was Hajah Aminah binti Siling. In 1973, Brunei’s Qari, Awang Haji Masud bin Haji Awang Damit won 3rd place in the international competition placing Brunei in the international quran limelight. He finally won the international competition in 1977.

The Astaka or the stage for the competition were pretty lavish in the old days.
Nowadays with the competition held indoors at the International Conference Centre in Berakas, the magnificiently built Astakas of the past are too big for the centre.

The competition was originally held inside the mosques at Masjid Kajang and later on at Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien when that was completed in 1958.

But by the mid 1960s, the Astakas were beginning to be built on the Padang at Taman Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien, each year’s design outdoing the previous year’s.

In 1967, to commemorate the 1400th year of the revelation of the Al-Quran, the artificial ship the Mahligai Bahtera built on the lagoon of Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien was used.

Many spectators sat on the steps of the lagoon to watch the competition.

Many were enthralled by the beautiful recitations of the Qaris and Qariahs then as they are now.

Aishah (radhiallahu anha) narrated that the Prophet SAW said, “Such a person as recites the Qur'an and masters it by heart, will be with the noble righteous scribes (in Heaven). And such a person exerts himself to learn the Qur'an by heart, and recites it with great difficulty, will have a double reward.” (Bukhari 6/459)

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Moscow Subways

This is the first of a number of posts about Moscow.

I had the opportunity to take the Moscow Metro. The Moscow Metro is a relic of the Soviet Socialist system. It was built in the 1920s or 1930s and the network is quite extensive. It covers the entire city with its 15 lines. In fact the transportation in Moscow is quite efficient. There is the Metro and on the surface, there is the electric trams as well as buses. It is quite cheap too.

The most interesting bit of information about the Moscow subway is that the stations look like art galleries. The following are photographs of one of the subways. This one is near our hotel. It is not even one of the more famous ones, so you can imagine what the famous stations would look like. This one has chandeliers and beautiful arts along the walls.

The only problem is that the subway has not been modernised. There is no aircondition. Before taking the ride, our guide was warning us how sweltering it will be. Luckily for us there was a bit of a breeze going through the subway. The trains are old and quite rickety. The electronic gates are well - not electronic anymore. I have a feeling there are some customers who slipped through without paying. The subways are deep inside. Unlike in UK where some subways are almost close to the surface, the one in Moscow is really deep. The subways served a dual purpose - remember, the cold war? The escalators going up too is really old.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Royal Groom

This photo of the future husband of Princess Majeedah, Pengiran Khairul Khalil bin Pengiran Syed Haji Jaafari and his family was circulated via e-mail. The parents have appeared on television over the last few days. So here they are in close up:-

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Back in Brunei

Apologies to all.... I was away in Moscow since the 25th and arrived back in Brunei on 2nd June. I know. Your next question would be - isn't there an internet in Moscow? And the answer to that is, yes. The connection is fantastic but I could not afford it. The hotel I stayed in charged 1,132 Currency Unit. What's a Currency Unit? That was my question too. Apparently in Russia, they run a two currency system. The roubles which you can exchange for about 25 roubles to US$1 (roughly 17 roubles to our $1) and the currency unit. The currency unit is the amount charged by hotels and other tourist agencies for services which roughly equals to about 33 roubles to 1 currency unit. But you cannot use roubles to pay for 1 currency unit and can only use USD. It gets confusing after a while. Anyway, internet cost about US$40+ per day. I have paid about $25 a day for internet but at US$40 a day, I draw the line. So no internet for me in Moscow and hence no posting.

Next question - you came back like 4 days ago and still no posting? Ah... The answer is more fun. I didn't realise what fun it was not to type anything. So, no posting. I haven't even downloaded any photographs from my camera. So, no photographs either.

Anyway, a short note about my Moscow trip - had dinner at a Morocco Restaurant, an Afghan Restaurant, a Ukraine Restaurant and McDonalds. Realised that the people to watch out for are the Police and not the criminals - police ask for money if they catch you without a dokumenti. Realised too that I had suddenly gone illiterate - the Russian alphabets developed independently. There are many mosques in Moscow except that the domes all have crosses instead of the moon crescent and the real mosques in Moscow don't have domes. Took a boat ride along Moscow River. Walked in the Red Square. See old crown jewels in the Kremlin. Saw Gorky Park and the famous St Basils. Took photographs of Russian tanks parked along the streets. Moscow's underground stations look like art galleries but their trains looked as if it came out in 60 years ago and no aircond. Russian roads are really really wide (10 to 12 lanes) and forget about trying to cross them. Watched ballet at Tchaikovsky Hall - the first part was interesting - full of costumes etc, the second part was full of women with skin coloured tights - I thought they were naked at first! Oh yes, never asked SIA to provide you with seafood unless you like eating salmons throughout your flights.