Maulud Rasul celebrations in Brunei

Participants from members of the uniformed organisations, government departments, schools, colleges, village residents and private agencies taking part in the procession during last year's celebration of Maulud Nabi Muhammad (PBUH) that started and finished at the Taman Sultan Haji Omar `Ali Saifuddien in the capital. Picture: BT file

THE history of celebrating Maulidur Rasul only started a few hundred years after the death of Prophet Muhammad SAW, according to a talk given by a Ministry of Religious Affairs officer televised on the local television channel last year.

The first tribe to hold the ceremony was Bani Ubaid Al-Qoddakh who called themselves 'Fati-miyyah' from Syiah Rafidhah.

The celebrations included reciting the history of Rasulullah SAW and a celebratory feast.

According to Ibnu Haajj Abu Abdullah Al-Adbari, the cele-brations were widely known during King Mudhafir's era. By the 7th Century Hijra, King Mudhafir Abu Sa'ad Kau-kaburi held huge celebrations which were prepared with 5,000 roasted meats, 10,000 chickens, 100,000 glasses of milk and 30,000 plates of dessert.

Last week, the recital of the zikirs in all the mosques in Brunei marked the beginning of the Maulidur Rasul celebrations. Zikir recitals are held every night last night (Feb 4).

As always, as part of the celebration rituals, the Royal Brunei Police Force also briefed the public on the procession route and the rerouting of traffic in the capital on the actual day, today.

In Brunei Darussalam, we will never know with certainty when Maulidur Rasul celebrations first officially began to be held in the country. According to historical records, the Islamic Sultanate of Brunei started when Sultan Muhammad Shah embraced Islam in 1376.

According to Spanish traveller Alonso Beltran in 1578, during the reign of Brunei's third Sultan, Sultan Sharif Ali, a huge mosque in Kampong Ayer, was built. It was five storeys high. Presumably, there may have been a number of Maulidur Rasul celebrations held during the years of Islamic rule in Brunei from that time onwards.

Just after the World War II, like many Muslim countries, Brunei Darussalam held its annual Musabaqah Tilawatil Quran (Al-Quran Reading Competition). The winners have been given the honour to represent Brunei Darussalam in an international Musabaqah competition along with great prizes. This annual Musabaqah competition has been held almost continuously since 1948.

Earlier competitions were probably held, but not recorded. The same probably applies to Maulidur Rasul, the annual practice to hold it must have been quite similar to the annual practice of Musabaqah Tilawatil Quran.

According to some people, not much has changed since the 1950s but some have commented that today's celebrations are less disciplined. The Maulidur Rasul celebration has always included a procession around the various town centres with chants or zikir to commemorate the birthday of Rasulullah SAW. However, there have been many variations throughout the years.

This year, for instance, in keeping with the practice in very recent years, ladies no longer participate in the procession around the city centres. Those invited to the Taman Sultan Haji Omar 'Ali Sai-fuddien in Bandar Seri Begawan became spectators to the procession by the various male-only teams.

Ladies used to be mixed with men in the processions but by the 1970s, the teams were segregated by gender and nowadays, the ladies no longer took part in the processions.

Over the last few years, Her Majesty Raja Isteri together with Brunei womenfolk participate in a special mass gathering to celebrate Maulidur Rasul instead of trooping around various city centres, to listen to a special talk given by an invited religious speaker.

Other than the change in the composition of the teams in the procession, there have been other changes too. Banners which lead every teams taking part have been simplified. Previously, banners were elaborate and sometimes required as many as eight men to lift.

Today's banners are models of simplicity and consisted of a piece of cloth decorated with slogans tied to two poles at the ends to hold the banner together. Before the change, banners were works of art, made with special ribbons and other embellishments wrapped around a wooden frame. A lot of money were spent in preparing the banners. Going back in time, coconut leaves were also used for decoration. By the 1980s wheels were added.

Clothes too have changed. All teams now wear Baju Melayu, the traditional Brunei dress. While some of today's teams may be sporting one colour, others do not, in contrast to the past when each team uniformly sported a different colour. This is seen in many old photographs. The participants themselves looked smart and took great pride in their uniforms. In the 1960s, many teams also wore sashes to distinguish themselves from the other teams.

Today's teams merely walk while previously, teams tended to march. In the past, practices were held by the teams weeks before the procession so that the members could march in unison; just like the army. Some even practised after the subuh or dawn prayer on the day itself. Various prizes were awarded to the best dressed team, to the best marching team, to the best banner design, to the best zikir as well as the overall best team. There were judges at strategic points throughout the route to ensure fair judgment.

Today's participants are driven to town in air conditioned cars and buses. More than 40 years ago, participants arrived in Public Works Department trucks with no cover. Those in Kampong Ayer would be picked up at Sungai Kebun and brought to the Bandar wharf in a Marine Department barge called 'Pemancha'. Others came on temuai or small boats.

In Temburong, those who wanted to take part had to wade through the muddy district roads, white canvas shoes in hands. So when they reached Bangar, the chalks used for the blackboards became popular to whiten any shoes splashed by mud. Many felt proud to have taken part in the procession.

Watched by the crowd, their zikirs get louder. Towards the end of the procession, the chorus "oren, oren" can be heard as the children looked forward to the carbonated drinks that are kept in wooden crates which would be distributed to them.

Some even used their teeth to remove the caps. After the event, some would sell empty bottles for pocket money.

Previously, Maulidur Rasul celebrations were also held in Seria and Muara. Now, however, only the four official cities and towns of Bandar Seri Begawan, Tutong, Kuala Belait and Bangar hold official processions. Now, many organisations and families organise their own celebrations.

But despite the changes over the last 50 years, the most important parts of Maulidur Rasul celebrations have not changed, remembering the Prophet SAW, his excellent deeds, teachings, wisdom and immense mercy even toward his most bitter enemies.

The Brunei Times

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