Today is the start of the Islamic sacred month of Ramadan here in Brunei. Or to use it’s full name, Negara Brunei Darussalam (‘The Abode of Peace‘). So I thought that for this week’s WordPress photo challenge topic of ‘contrasts‘, this photograph was particularly fitting.
In the foreground are the rickety shacks of the water village, Kampong Ayer. In the background, resplendent in the sunlight, and visible across the entire city are the golden domes and pristine white walls and minarets of the opulent Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. A striking contrast in the heart of Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei’s capital city.
The sultanate of Brunei has a rich river dwelling, water-trading heritage, so the Kampong Ayer has strong cultural importance in its own right. In recognition of this significance, the Bruneian Government has invested quite considerably in enhancing facilities and infrastructure, in order to maintain viable community support and inhabitation of the water village.
But, as an Islamic nation, Allah comes above all else. As in many Islamic communities, the grandeur of the mosque (or masjid) is intended as a tribute to the Islamic faith. With marble minarets, a pure gold central dome, an ornate royal barge floating in the mosque’s lagoon, and an architectural outline which dominates the skyline, this mosque is a very clear statement of the religious dedication of Bruneian Muslims.
Ramadan is a sacred period during which Muslims around the world reflect on the importance of their faith. Alongside increased periods of prayer and mindfulness about what it means to be a good Muslim, fasting during the hours of sunlight is a key feature of Ramadan. It is intended as a mark of selfless dedication, as well as empathy for those less fortunate than themselves.
I am not a Muslim. In fact I am not religious in any way. But I find religion and faith fascinating. I try to understand and respect people with different world views and perspectives on faith. Even so, I don’t think I could happily, acceptingly, (possibly even) willingly live in a crumbling shack, in the shadows of such a resplendent place of worship. Whatever religion it was in the name of.
But then Abu Bakr, (key figure in Islam, as the 7th century chief advisor to the Prophet Mohammed during the early years of the birth of Islam, and, later, first ever Muslim Caliph), is famously quoted as saying ‘he who builds a masjid in the way of Allah, God will build a house for him in the paradise‘. I think this helps to contextualise things quite considerably, trying to think from beyond my own frame of reference. Perhaps for the residents of the water village, the overpoweringly monolithic presence of the glory of Allah, contrasted against the humble dwellings of man, is powerfully purposeful in guiding their everyday faith.
I can’t put myself in their shoes, but I can certainly see and appreciate the contrasts.