The History of Maulidur Rasul Celebrations in Brunei

Nowadays, ladies are not in the open procession anymore.



Bandar Seri Begawan
Sunday, December 27, 2015

HOW LONG has the Maulidur Rasul been celebrated in Brunei? Sadly, we will never know when or how Maulidur Rasul was first celebrated in Brunei.

What is known is that Islam came to Brunei in the 11th or 12th century and was entrenched further when the first Brunei Sultan, Sultan Muhammad Shah converted to Islam when he married a Johore Princess in 1363.

By the time of Sultan Sharif Ali, Alonso Bertran, a Spanish traveller described Brunei’s main mosque in 1578 was as high as five storeys. Islam was already held in high regard then and most likely so was the practise of Maulidur Rasul.

One very early vague account was a description in Peter Blundell’s book “The City of Many Waters” published in 1923 about life in Bunei in the late 1890s to early 1900s, was that during Maulidur Rasul, people in Brunei do not work, “... he was then a happy man, especially if a few Mohammedan saints’ days came along ... and prevented him from working and earning money ...”

Just after the end of the Second World War, like many Muslim countries, Brunei Darussalam held its annual Musabaqah Tilawatil Quran or the Al-Quran Reading Competition with great respect.

The winners have been given the honour to represent Brunei Darussalam in international Musabaqah competitions along with great prizes. This annual Musabaqah competition has been held almost continuously since 1948.

Even before 1948, there must have been other competitions but those were 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.

So by the 1960s, Maulidur Rasul processions around the towns of Brunei certainly were held without fail.

According to Pengiran Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohammad Pengiran Haji Abd Rahman, the former Minister of Religious Affairs in his book entitled “Islam Di Brunei Darussalam Zaman British (1774-1984)” noted that by the end of 1964, all the religious events were celebrated and organised by the religious authorities.

The Maulidur Rasul processions were not just in the four cities of the four districts but also held in the towns of Seria and Muara. The processions were not the quiet and solemn processions of today.

The whole processions were led by either the Royal Brunei Armed Forces Band or the Royal Brunei Police Force Band. There were a few hadrah teams in the processions as well.

Not only were the bands marching, the participating teams also march rather than just amble along like today’s teams. In fact, many practises were held, weeks before the procession so that the team members could march in unison together.

Some were even known to practise right up to the day of the procession itself which is usually held after the subuh prayers. Though there are people who remembered the processions were held in the afternoon.

The discipline goes to the clothes worn on the day. Even though all would be wearing the traditional baju melayu, but the efforts to ensure differences between other teams were there.

While some of today's teams may be sporting one colour, others do not, in contrast to the past when each team uniformly sported one unique colour. Some would adorn brightly coloured satins to their songkoks. Some teams would even adorn brightly coloured sashes to distinguish themselves from the others.

In the 1950s and 1960s, banners with slogans praising the Prophet, were works of art, made with special ribbons and other embellishments wrapped around a wooden frame. Most teams spent a lot of money in preparing the banners. This took quite some time to make and competitions were held to reward the best banner.

Going back in time, coconut leaves were also used for decoration. By the 1980s wheels were added on. Banners leading every team can become quite elaborate and may require as many as eight men to lift or push.

Today’s banners have gone back to the simplicity of the early days and consist of a piece of cloth with two poles at the end of the cloth to hold the banner together. There would also be a girl guide or a boy scout carrying the number of the team leading every team.

The organising committees would give many prizes 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. Judges were placed at strategic points throughout the route to ensure fair judgment.

By the 1980s, the discipline started to deteriorate. Schoolchildren taking part in the processions tended to be quite rowdy as well. They were supposed to chant the salawats but sometimes ending it with “oren, oren” (“orange, orange”) at the end of every verse especially when they were getting close to the end of the procession, each looking forward to the bottle of carbonated orange drink that is waiting for them on the field.

This is one of the few occasions that the carbonated drinks which today's children take for granted, were given to those who took part.

When they reached the field, bottle cap removers were unnecessary. The children simply used their teeth to remove the caps. Some sold the empty bottles afterwards for pocket money.

In the 1950s and 1960s, teams of both genders took part together but over time, the two genders were separated with the ladies’ teams going first before them mens’ teams. Nowadays, those invited to the Taman Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien in Bandar Seri Begawan became spectators.

This year, as in keeping with the practice in very recent years, ladies no longer parade around the city centre with Bruneian men and boys.

Those invited to the padang (‘field’) in Bandar Seri Begawan became spectators to the procession by the various male-only teams.

Over the last few years, Her Majesty The Raja Isteri together with the Brunei women folks have a special mass gathering to celebrate the Maulidur Rasul instead of trooping around the various city centres. On the other hand, Maulidur Rasul celebrations are no longer held only during the single one day when the processions took place.

Many organisations and families too organise their own celebrations. The mosques and the Palace hold nightly zikir ceremonies.

However, the spirit of Maulidur Rasul have not changed which is to remember the Prophet SAW, his excellent deeds, teachings, wisdom and immense mercy even toward his most bitter enemies.

The writer of The Golden Legacy column – the longest running column in The Brunei Times – also runs a website about Brunei at

The Brunei Times


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