No travel to the Abode of Peace is complete without a time-worthy trip to at least one of the opulent mosques in this humble Southeast Asian nation. Whether you recognize them from its Islamic architecture of towering minarets, remarkable domes and marbled walls, or from its captivating calls to prayer reverberating throughout the land five times a day, these Islamic prayer sites, doubling as a community learning center, are abundant in Brunei Darussalam and, fortunately for the curious traveler, impossible to miss!
From the modest and smallest mosques tucked snugly in the corners of villages (kampungs) to the grand and glistening Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Mosque standing majestically in the center of town, you can be rest assured that the doors are open to everyone from all walks of life. But before your next visit regrettably becomes your last, have a read at these house rules and make it an exceptional moment to remember.
Be appropriately clothed This most important rule is also the one many visitors tend to forget. Men can wear long- or short-sleeves. Sleeveless shirts are a no-go, and the same goes to shirts with explicit words or images. Try not to wear bright colored shirts and denim jeans as well. Women need to cover up all skin. Sleeves should be long enough to reach each wrist. A head scarf or shawl would be best to cover the hair and make sure to not wear anything skin-hugging or revealing. The larger mosques in Brunei might provide floor length robes for those who need it but there’s no guarantee that all visitors will get the chance to borrow a robe (in case it runs out during your visit!), you might want to get those long-sleeves and pants prepared.
No food and drinks It’s generally advised to not bring any food and drinks into a mosque. You can store these in your bag and leave them in the shelves provided at the doors of the mosques if you happen to have them with you. A water bottle is fine, as long as you avoid drinking in the main prayer room. Mosques typically have a separate pantry for community gatherings. Depending on when you’re paying a visit, you might be invited by the Imam or any senior member of the mosque to come and join for a serving or two.
Entering a mosque There are different entrances for men and women at the mosque. Usually there will be signs to indicate which is which around the mosque and at the doors of these entrances, but when in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask any of the local patrons!
Remove any footwear When you enter a mosque, make sure to take off your shoes or any footwear you’re wearing. You will see the signs around the mosque pointing you to areas where you can safely leave your footwear. Some may even provide plastic covers or shelves for a more proper storage.
Observe silence Muslims come to the mosque to pray, meditate, read the holy book Quran, and bond with other practitioners of the faith. The peace and serenity in the mosques in Brunei comes from the quietness that is shared by everyone. Check your devices and make sure they are switched off or on Silent mode. Don’t make any loud noises and speak in a soft, calm voice.
Keep an eye on your younger visitors If you decide to bring children along with you, always have an eye on them and inform them to stay quiet and be well-behaved. Do make sure they don’t go around the mosque unattended.
Photo-taking etiquette When taking photos, you will need to turn off the flash option. Bright distractions from the flash can cause discomfort to people praying in the mosque. Never take photos of individuals praying, when people are performing ablution, or when people are reading the Quran without their consent. This comes off quickly as inappropriate. Taking pictures of the structures of the mosque, its gardens and other of its fixtures are always welcomed. Unsure of what you can take photos of? Consult the Imam or any of the senior members of the mosque. They might even give you a tour around the mosque!
What to Expect During your visit, you’ll discover the carpeted prayer rooms. You may find people performing their prayers either individually or in a group. There may be people sitting on the sides reading the holy book Quran and if you are lucky, you might hear their recitations. Bigger mosques would have other features such as a well-kept ablution room and properly maintained gardens. On a cool day, you may find patrons walking through these gardens or reading books on benches.
Friday afternoons are when Muslims do their Friday prayers. Masses of people will come to the mosque, and the prayers are longer because of an added sermon. You will be able to hear the sermon and the prayer as it is broadcasted out of the mosque through speakers. Approaching the start of prayer, the call to prayer or Azan will be recited by all Imams throughout all the mosques in Brunei. This will be done roughly in unison and can be heard all across Brunei and through local radio channels as well. It is a most mystifying experience!
Enjoying your visit Visiting a holy site might sound intimidating but in reality, dropping by to the mosque is an enjoyable moment. Despite the etiquettes that one must follow, the members of the mosque are often forgiving and are prepared to help you in times of need. Muslim visitors are more than welcome to join in the prayers. However, for non-Muslim visitors, please be reminded to check the opening hours of the mosque in advance, as it may not be open to the public on some days for religious events or special prayers.
So what are you waiting for? Check your outfit, switch off your phones, and visit a nearby mosque!