The Tomb of Raja Ayang in Brunei


THERE’S a point of interest in the capital that sometimes escapes the attention of passersby, or even the workers in Bandar Seri Begawan who park their cars unassumingly in the car park next to it, but Makam Raja Ayang or the Raja Ayang Mausoleum embodies a sad story that harkens back to Brunei’s past.

The tombstone is dated 1452 AD, which corresponds to the time of Sultan Sulaiman and, according to stories passed down from generation to generation, Raja Ayang was a lady who was a descendant of Ibn Ismail bin Yusof bin Al Aziz Al Khawlani and related to the Brunei Royal family. The lady in question had an unlawful relationship with a sibling, which contravened Islamic religious laws, and was subsequently punished.

During that period, Sultan Sulaiman was known as a king who strictly adhered to Islamic principles. The incident provides a clear picture of the Brunei Sultan at that time, who was firm in carrying out punishments against anyone who went against the Islamic law, and those who were punished were willing to receive the punishments.

In the case of Raja Ayang, no one had the heart to stone the couple to death. However the couple could not be left unpunished, and so they were banished to live in an underground shelter, away from the rest of society, and to live out the rest of their days in seclusion. This punishment was willingly served by the couple, who understood the gravity of their crime. The shelter was shaped like a hill and had many rooms with cooking utensils and sufficient provisions to serve out their sentence. Historians say it was unclear as to how long they survived as some stories recount that they lived for a week, while others for as long as 40 days. According to one historical narrative, the lady was banished to live alone for the rest of her days, while another says she and her entourage voluntarily went to their deaths.

The hill, three metres tall and twelve metres wide, no longer exists as the grave was damaged and levelled by a bomb during the arrival of the allied forces that ended the Japanese occupation of Brunei Town around May 1945. The current mausoleum was renovated and built by the Public Works Department in September 2008, and handed over to the Brunei History Centre upon its completion in October 2009.

Members of The Brunei Museums Department and the History Centre once stumbled across an unmarked gravestone buried a few centimetres away from the Raja Ayang Mausoleum, which had no name or date of death marked on it. Researchers had previously never come across any gravestone at the mausoleum site, apart from Raja Ayang’s, and it is now believed to belong to Raja Ayang’s brother who, according to myth, was buried with her.

Today, visitors can read the story of Raja Ayang which is inscribed on the mausoleum in English, Malay and Jawi script. The inscription also conveys the hope that the punishment dealt was sufficient during the life of the couple that they would be forgiven and not suffer further in the life hereafter.

The Brunei Times,
Friday, May 7, 2010
Photo Courtesy: Borneo Insider

Islamic, Malay arts not the same

IT HAS become common for members of the public to misinterpret the Islamic arts and Malay arts as the same, a visiting Malaysian professor said.

Professor Dato Dr Othman Yatim, a visiting professor at Universiti Brunei Darussalam’s (UBD) Academy of Brunei Studies, said it is important to understand differences between the Islamic and Malay arts as it may affect the identities of Muslims and Malays.

“The Malay arts is not all Islamic, they are not the same, it focuses on daily activities of Malay culture but there are similarities,” he said during the Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Centre for Islamic Studies (SOASCIS) Graduate Seminar Series at UBD.

Professor Dato Dr Othman said misconception of the two arts could distort the Malay community and Islamic community’s identity, resulting in confusion between the two.

He explained that the Malay arts focuses on flora and fauna, and showcase local knowledge through associations with nature and traditional architecture.

In contrast, the Islamic arts aim to emphasise the beauty and ethical values of Allah SWT through visual art –such as mosques and zikir, he said.

“The Malay arts uses arts and crafts (objects of daily use) to emphasise Malay culture, while the Islamic arts uses calligraphy, cosmology and geometry to glorify and devote oneself to Allah SWT,” he added.

Prof Dato Dr Othman Yatim

Prof Dato Dr Othman Yatim

The professor said the public must understand and be aware of the differences, in which he plans to educate the public through seminars and workshops.

“The youth is the target because they will continue practising our culture and identity for future generations, so they must know the differences at an early age,” he said.

Professor Dato Dr Othman also encouraged schools to educate students to ensure they understand the differences between the two cultures.

“We, as Malays and Muslims, have to know and preserve our identity by being aware because having the wrong perception is dangerous as it plays a major role in the unity of all Muslims in the world,” he added.

During the seminar, over 30 people attended to further their knowledge of the Islamic and Malay arts.

The Brunei Times

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Brunei builds $120m Islamic gallery

bru galeri shb
Waqiuddin Rajak

HIS Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam laid the foundation for the construction of the new Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Islamic Exhibition Gallery (BPIS) at Jalan Pengiran Babu Raja yesterday.

Costing around $120 million, the building will be able to house nine galleries with 29 themes compared to old temporary venue in the State Mufti’s Office where it can only house four themed exhibitions.

The building, which will also serve to become one of the country’s landmarks, is slated to be completed by March 2017.

Accompanying His Majesty were His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and His Royal Highness Prince Hj Jefri Bolkiah as well as His Royal Highness Prince ‘Abdul Malik and His Royal Highness Prince ‘Abdul Wakeel.

The ceremony began with the recital of Surah Al-Fatihah by State Mufti YB Pehin Datu Seri Maharaja Dato Paduka Seri Setia (Dr) Ustaz Hj Awang Abdul Aziz Juned followed by a video presentation showing the interior and exterior concepts of the building.

His Majesty then consented to pour concrete into one of the building’s main pillars, marking the start of the construction followed by a Takbir lauded by the State Mufti.

The monarch then consented to tour around an exhibition showing pictures of the exterior and interior concepts of the new building after signing the memorial plaque for the foundation laying ceremony.

Briefing His Majesty on the exterior concept as he toured along was the Permanent Secretary (Technical and Professional) at the Ministry of Development, Dato Paduka Hj Suhaimi Hj Gafar who was also helped by Toh Tsun Lim, an architect from Pei Partnership Architects, New York.

Explaining the interior concepts of the building to the Sultan was the Co-Secretary of the ceremony, director of administration at the State Mufti’s Office Dato Paduka Ahmad Bukhari Pehin Siraja Khatib Hj Abu Hanifah and Jasper Jacobs from Jasper Jacobs Associates from the United Kingdom.

Besides being able to house 1,000 Islamic manuscripts and hundreds of artefacts, the building will also allow the Islamic gallery to extend its intellectual agenda to conduct research on the exhibits and spread the findings to the general public.

His Majesty was then invited to sign the memorial parchment, before receiving a pesambah and concluding the ceremony with a group photo session with the executive committee of the ceremony and members of the management of the project.

The Brunei Times
Thursday, May 28, 2015

bru galeri

‘Bitter Honey’: A portrait of three polygamous families in Bali

In a rare occurrence, Dharma and his four wives spend the afternoon together  . Photo:  Elemental Productions

In a rare occurrence, Dharma and his four wives spend the afternoon together . Photo: Elemental Productions

Robert Lemelson’s latest documentary film takes his audience inside the lives of the women, men and children living in polygamous families in Bali

Kimberly Clair

‘No one decides what I do. I am king…I am free.’

For Ni Nyoman Kamareni Kiawati, a Balinese woman in her late forties, such freedom is hard-won. Like the other women featured in Bitter Honey, the latest documentary film from Robert Lemelson, Kiawati spent much of her life in a polygamous marriage. But Kiawati is an exception: she is able to escape. For Purniasih, Murni, Suci Ati and the other women whose stories are at the heart of the film, polygamy is an inescapable force that shapes their choices, their emotional and physical wellbeing, and their daily routines.

Investigating the intersections of culture, tradition, and suffering is not new territory for Lemelson. In addition to making films, Lemelson is a professor and research anthropologist at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). While his previous feature-length documentary, 40 Years of Silence (2009), examines the psychological effects of trauma on survivors of the 1965 mass killings in Indonesia, his other works, such as Movements and Madness: Gusti Ayu (2006), The Bird Dancer (2010) and Lemelson’s scholarly publications, draw attention to mental illness and social stigma in Indonesia. Bitter Honey, which was released on 3 October 2014 in the United States, represents Lemelson’s most recent effort to bring typically hidden aspects of Indonesian culture to light.

In order to offer an honest, in-depth portrayal of polygamous relationships in Bali, the filmmakers spent seven years with the three families featured and conducted interviews not only with the wives and their husbands, but also with children, neighbours and acquaintances of the families.

Degung Santikarma, an anthropologist, and Luh Putu Anggreni, a lawyer who specialises in cases involving women and children, also lent their insights into how Balinese men and women perceive and navigate polygamous marriages. Nevertheless, it is the women’s stories that remain central to the film. In this way, Bitter Honey avoids the trap of portraying women as either victims or heroes, drawing attention instead to the complexity of their lives and relationships.

Such complexity is immediately apparent in the film’s first section, Love and Marriage, which addresses how the women ended up in polygamous marriages and why they stayed. For many, their relationships began with deception and manipulation. Ni Wayan Rasti did not discover that her partner, I Made Darma, was already living with another woman until her wedding day. In fact, she learned that Darma planned to marry them both at the same time. Darma’s fourth wife, Suci Ati, was also unaware of Darma’s marital status at the time they began dating. When she tried to escape, Darma chased after her and brought her back to his house. For Purniasih, it was the belief that her partner, I Wayan Sadra, who suffered from epilepsy and desperately needed her care, that drew her into the relationship. Factors such as threats of violence, actual violence, and pregnancy stopped her from leaving.

However, not all the wives feel trapped. Interviews with Sulasih, Darma’s second wife, challenge viewers’ expectations by hinting at the potential advantages a polygamous relationship might bring. ‘Because he has three wives, I can go wherever I want,’ Sulasih admits. With multiple wives, she adds, the housework is easier to divide. These scenes reveal how the women are able to tolerate, and even enjoy an otherwise challenging relationship.

Relationships out of balance
If deception, manipulation, and even abduction explain how most of the women became polygamous wives, Power, the film’s second section, offers at least a partial explanation for the husbands’ polygamous impulses. The filmmakers make clear, however, that the concept of ‘power’ cannot be understood outside of a Balinese historical and cultural context. Scenes of cockfighting, Hindu ritual preparations and a Balinese shadow-puppet performance remind viewers that the stories presented here are uniquely Balinese. According to anthropologist Degung Santikarma, the Balinese have long equated the possession of multiple wives with the possession of supernatural power. This idea is best illustrated through Tuaji, an elderly man with close ties to Balinese royalty. He believes that his willingness to help others in a past life was what earned him the ten wives he has acquired in the present. Impressed by his father’s ability to attract so many women, Tuaji’s first son also attributes his father’s marital status to inherited spiritual power rather than personal choice.

This discussion of supernatural power provides an interesting contrast to the third section, Violence, which depicts the husbands—particularly Darma and Sadra—less as unwitting participants in a pre-determined fate, and more as intentionally domineering and abusive partners. As the wives and some of their children describe the threats, beatings, and emotional abuse they have endured and/or witnessed, Bitter Honey enters into a deeper discussion of polygamy and domestic violence in Bali.

In some respects, the hardships these women face resemble those found in any relationship with domestic violence. Often, the women are too ashamed to ask their neighbours for help. They also find that authority figures, such as a village elder or the police, are reluctant to interfere in what they consider a family’s private affairs. These women also face cultural constraints. As Hindus, they fear that their souls, which become the property of their husbands in marriage, will be in limbo after divorce.

As Balinese women, they are offered few legal protections and risk losing their property and custody of their children should they pursue a divorce. The paucity of the women’s options is perhaps most apparent during a staged intervention between Purniasih, Sadra, Anggreni, Santikarma, and Sadra’s boss, Agung Alit, whom Purniasih believes is the only person her husband will truly listen to. Although this intervention exposes the filmmakers’ desires to do more than simply document cases of abuse, it appears to accomplish little else. In the end, Anggreni suggests it is up to the women themselves to improve their situation by getting along with one another.

By tracing Purniasih’s struggle to end domestic abuse, Murni’s economic hardships and Suci Ati’s efforts to bury her feelings of jealousy and heartache, Bitter Honey captures the full range of the wives’ suffering. And yet, it also suggests that women are not the only ones who suffer. Many of the children interviewed in the film admit to having been teased or otherwise discriminated against as a result of their parents’ marital status. None of them express a desire to share their parents’ fate. Commentary from neighbours as well as snippets of dialogue lifted from the ongoing Balinese shadow-puppet performance also hint at the ways in which polygamy creates an unnecessary burden for the husbands, who are also expected to provide economic, emotional and physical wellbeing for each of their wives.

The real strength of Bitter Honey is its deep focus on the three families and its commitment to providing an honest account of the women’s daily lives. For much of the film, the camera rarely strays far from the women’s domestic environment or immediate surroundings, creating an intimate, almost claustrophobic, viewing experience that effectively mirrors the women’s everyday realities.

At times, this narrow scope feels too limited. Issues such as the rise of sexually transmitted diseases in Bali and the effects of alternative marital arrangements are given cursory attention. For example, Kiawati’s nyentana marriage system, which allows Balinese women to divorce their husbands without severe legal or economic penalties, are was not adequately explored. This leaves viewers with more questions than answers. But perhaps this may be the point. For Lemelson, Bitter Honey is a starting point, an attempt to raise awareness and generate greater interest in this largely invisible aspect of Balinese culture.

Bitter Honey ends on a relatively optimistic note, with scenes of the women smiling, enjoying their children’s company, or in Kiawati’s case, living freely, like a ‘king’. However, it is clear that much more remains to be said on the subject of polygamous relationships in Bali. With compelling subjects and riveting narratives, Bitter Honey does an excellent job initiating this conversation.

Bitter Honey, 2014. Director, Robert Lemelson; Camera (colour, HD), Wing Ko; editor, Chisako Yokoyama; music, Malcolm Cross; sound, Handi Ilfat, Syarif Hidayat, G. Wijaya; re-recording mixer, Michael Perricone. (

Kimberly Clair ( is a lecturer in the Department of Gender Studies, UCLA.

Inside Indonesia 118
Oct-Dec 2014

Islam in Madura and the Violent Tradition of ‘Carok’

CluritAbdur Rozaki

Islam in Indonesia is deeply rooted in local communities and it is therefore impossible to find a common interpretation of the religion in this country of diverse ethnic groups. There are many Muslim communities, each with its own character. The different characteristics of each community mostly stem from different methods being used to interpret religious texts and are also closely linked with real socio-cultural situations.

Take the Madurese, for example.

Madura is part of East Java province and people outside Madura Island often assume that culturally the Madurese are the same as the Javanese. However, if we take a closer look into Madurese communities, there are clear socio-cultural differences that distinguish the religious character of the Javanese from the Madurese.

CLURITIn Madura, there are common beliefs that reflect the social character and way of life of the people regarding certain issues perceived to be sacred and that command full respect. Among those issues are Islam, women and self-esteem and the three are closely intertwined. A disregard of any of the three will bring forth violent reprisal, popularly known as carok, which is the Madurese problem solving mechanism.

According to a study conducted by Wiyata (2002), sexual advances or harassment of other people’s wives topped the list of conflicts between carok in Madura. Although religion values human life and advocates amicable solutions to conflicts, for the Madurese there is only a solution to a dispute involving a man’s wife: kill the perpetrator. Moreover, Muslim clerics or kyai seem to give social approval of such a violent action. No case involving a dispute over women has ever been settled peacefully, despite the involvement of the kyai as a mediator.

There were even reports of a kyai resorting to carok when his wife was harassed.

book mdrCarok has become the common way to settle problems in Madura, especially with regard to a threat to human dignity and self-esteem, as it satisfies the Madurese’ craving for justice, as compared to a court settlement. Madurese people have no trust in law enforcers. For the Madurese, to bring a case to a legal institution means to end up with greater losses. The case may not be settled, while the individual must also dig deep into his/her own pocket to cover the legal fees. Besides, it is a common belief that justice here belongs to the rich, not to the poor.

Madura’s religious institutions are powerless to end this violent practice. The Kyai, too, in whose hands lies the power to interpret religion and promote nonviolent acts, seem to be powerless to end the practice of carok. They have been trapped into providing justification and social approval for this cultural phenomenon.

In most cases, carok has led to a vicious retaliatory cycle. It also form a vicious cycle of violence which is unbreakable as the kyai and religious institutions in Madura are unable to start a new tradition of conflict-resolution. Ironically, some kyai play a significant, albeit indirect, role in preserving the carok culture by practicing magic and selling religious symbols like amulets, spells, and offering other “religious services”.

Why does violence as reflected in the carok tradition flourish in Madura?

There are several explanations to the question. First, the land is barren with limited water resources and yields limited agricultural produce. Poverty is rampant and discontent has made the people highly temperamental and emotional. Poverty has turned the eyes of the Madurese to immaterial things, including the value of dignity and self-esteem. Poverty has not made the people lose their social dignity. Hence, life is at stake when it comes to preserving their self-esteem, considered to be the last “treasure” owned by an individual. Ango’an pote tolang e tembeng pote mata, literally translates as: “It is better to have white bones than white eyes”, a local proverb meaning … Life simply loses its meaning when a man or a woman is humiliated and loses their self-esteem.

book mdr manSecond, there is the blater tradition. In Madura, there is a community known as blater, or thugs that plays a prominent role in their community. As a blater, an individual must have courage, wit, and skill in handling all means of defense, like martial arts, weapons and debus (magic). Blater are very fond of cockfighting. In addition, these local thugs also belong to a place called remoh, where they get together to feast to enjoy music and alcoholic drinks. Blater each take turns to hold such meetings and contribute money to the host.

A blater will enjoy great influence and command respect from the people if he wins in a carok duel. The influence of blater is strong in Madura as most village heads or klebun come from the blater community or are at least a former blater.

Third, weakening governmental institutions. The impotence of the already corrupt government institutions has strengthened blater‘s presence in Madurese society and made them more powerful than government security forces.

carokAmong these three social factors, Madurese Muslims seem to face a complicated social dilemma. On one hand, they are willing to create the basis for peaceful and tolerant values, but are faced with social-cultural conditions that provide a hotbed for violent traditions. In this context, Muslim Madurese are still dominated by local character rather than by Islamic teachings which are basically humanistic.

Hence, the best way to break the vicious cycle of violence is through: 1. Promoting a more pluralistic, tolerant, and humanist face of Islam through discussion because Islam that merely emphasizes symbols and texts promotes a violent expression of Islam; 2. Building a religious orientation which is deeply rooted in society by strengthening civil society to counter the structural and cultural domination that has tainted the religious elite, i.e., the kyai; 3. Tracing back the socio-cultural roots of the Madurese society to find a conflict resolution model that capitalizes on the people’s social behavior and non-violent facets like humility, rampa’naong, baringen korong (life in the shadow of peace).

— The writer is a post-graduate student of the school of sociology of Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. He is also writing a thesis on the Power relationship between kyai and blater in Madura.

The Jakarta Post
Fri, February 07 2003


madura map

Museums in Brunei Darussalam

Silver Jubilee Museum "Royal Regalia", Bandar Seri Begawan

Silver Jubilee Museum “Royal Regalia”, Bandar Seri Begawan

Darul Aqsha

A LETTER entitled “Why is the National Museum closed?’ published in this newspaper last Monday (BT, 26 May, 2014, page A28) was representing the voice of public who love museums, especially the Brunei National Museum in the area of Kota batu, which is now temporarily closed.

The writer mentioned that a lot of people would be affected by the temporary closing of the museum, especially schools students, university/college sudents, tourists and tourist guides. Moreover, foreign delegations who attending an international event in the capital, discussing topics related to the development of museum in education.

The writer is right. Museum is one of educational and information media to instill a sense of awareness, responsibility and appreciation of Brunei’s national cultural heritage for Bruneian people, and a centre for disseminating information about it.

Do you know that the Brunei Museum has collection of old coinages from the eras of Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates dated back some 12-13 centuries ago? Just take a look their showcases at a gallery located in the left wing of the museum. It’s interesting and amazing to know that the museum has such a collection. Moreover for those whose hobby is in numismatics. Thus, we do not need to go to museums as far as Iraq, Syria, Spain or England just to see it. Providing information about the past valuable things, known as artifacts, is one of the benefits of the museum existence.

Kampong Ayer Gallery

Kampong Ayer Gallery

Museums in Brunei are managed by the Brunei Museums Department under the Ministry of Culture, Youths and Sports. The Museums Department was established in 1965. It has two missions. Firstly, to protect and preserve national and cultural heritage for educational encouragement. And secondly, to stimulate public interest, love and appreciation of the rich cultural and natural heritage.

The existence of museums in Brunei can be traced back to more than sixty years ago. In 1950, His Majesty Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin, the 27th Sultan and yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, initiated the establishment of the Brunei National Museum. He asled Tom Harrison, a curator of the Sarawak Museum, to conduct an excavation and research project in Kota Batu.

Fourteen years later, His Majesty the Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien supported the project by including it in the First National Development Plan to safeguard valuable artifacts and records pertaining to Brunei’s glorious and ancient past stretching back more than 1,000 years. In this frame of work, the Museums Department is established a year later.

The establishment of the department was enhanced by the enactmemts of two acts in 1967, namely the Preservation of Books Act and the Antiquities and the Treasure Trove Act. The first act requires any local publication to be deposited in triplicate with the Director of Brunei Museums, and the second act controls and preserves antiquities and archaeological sites, controls exports of antiquities by licence and sets out punishments for violators.

Still in the same year, Director of the Museums, PM Sarifuddin, initiated Tasek Merimbun and its environment as a natural reservation. Later on November 29, 1984 Tasek Merimbun Heritage Park, the largest blackwater lake in Brunei (7,800 hectares), was declared an ASEAN National Heritage site.

Old manuscripts of Al-Quran at Brunei Museum.

Old manuscripts of Al-Quran at Brunei Museum.

Following these act enactments, the construction of the National Museum at a historical site in Kota Batu began in 1968. It completed three years later. On February 29, 1972 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the National Museum,

After that, in 1975 the government also issued the other acts such as the Brunei National Archives Act which allows for the safekeeping and preservation of public archives and records and the Wildlife Protection Act in 1978 which listed the protected animal species. In Aug 1990, the Museum Department becomes the custodian of local endangered species after Brunei signed the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (Cites).

The Museums Department also established several museum buildings and cultural/historical centres. They were Brunei Arts and Handicraft Training Centre was established in 1975, The Brunei Historical Centre (1982), the Brunei Malay Technological Museum (1988), the Royal Regalia Building (1992), and the Kampung Ayer Gallery (2010), while the $5 million Maritime Museum in Kota Batu is being in finishing touch and will be opened for public in the end of this year (2014).


Brunei_museumBrunei Museum
Situated on top of a hill at Jalan Kota Batu overlooking the Brunei river, it displays several items including the Holy Qur’ans of the ancient calligraphers, history of oil invention and process, ethnography, fauna, handicrafts, culture, ancient coinages, ancient Chinese ceramics from sunken ship, and so on.

Malay Technology Museum
Situated close to the Brunei Museum, it displays the lifestyle of the people of Brunei in the days gone by. Focusing on the traditional house-building techniques and other aspects of Malay life, it shows the ingenuity of the former inhabitants in their utilisation of the materials locally available to make life more attractive.

Maritime Museum
Located at Kota Batu beside the Malay Technology Museum and overlooking the Brunei River, it exhibits Brunei’s way of life related to maritime covering the evolution of local boat-building, including Sultan Bolkiah’s ship, as well as seafaring, Brunei’s role as a historical centre of maritime trade.

Cultural/Historical centres

Royal Regalia building
Located in the front of the Lapau building, Bandar Seri Begawan, it is a home to collection of royal regalia, including the royal chariot, gold and silver ceremonial armoury, the jewel-encrusted crowns used during the coronation and a replica of the throne which HM uses on the state occassions. It consists of four galleries: Royal Regalia (Coronation, 1968), Royal Exhibition Gallery, Silver Jubilee Gallery, and Constitutional History Gallery

Arts and Handicraft Centre
Situated along the Brunei River, it displays and revives traditional arts and crafts of Brunei Darussalam such as traditional sarongs of gold or silver thread called “Jong Sarat”, hand-tooled jewellery and ornaments such as the ornamental cannon or the snake-like dagger known as the “Keris” and Muslim caps “Songkok”.

Brunei Historical Centre
Located at Jalan Stoney, Bandar Seri Begawan, it’s founded to undertake research into the rich history of Brunei Darussalam. Among the areas of special emphasis are the genealogy and history of the Sultans of Brunei and Royal Family.

Tasek Merimbun

Tasek Merimbun

Tasek Merimbun Heritage Park
Located in Mukim Rambai, Tutong District, 24km from Tutong Town. Besides its large black water lake, it also has a gallery displaying flora and fauna of the surrounding area and ancient graves, showing the presence of the Dusun ethnic group who is believed to have settled there 500 years ago.

Sultan Bolkiah Mausoleum
Situated at a quiet alcove of greenery off Jalan Kota Batu, commemorates that golden age of the nation under the 5th Sultan of Brunei, known as Sultan Bolkiah or Nakhoda Ragam which means ‘Captain of Great Manner and Activity’.

National Archives
Situated at Jalan Menteri Besar, Berakas, this section holds the responsibility of the administration and management of the National Archives in accordance to the National Archives Act, 1975 revised 1983. The purpose of this section is to monitor, to collect, to preserve and to keep public records and archival materials as the national heritage and to provide information reference services.

Bubungan Duabelas
Located at Bukit Sibok, it’s home to the British Residents and the British High Commissioners since 1907, to Brunei, In 1984, the British government hands over “Bubungan Dua Belas” building to Brunei government.. Now udner the Museums Department, it is used to exhibit photographs taken between 1906 and 1959, depicting the Brunei-UK cordial relationship.

Kampong Ayer Cultural Centre
Located at Kampong Lorong Sikuna,it was built in July 2008 to provide tourists with information about the history,culture and traditions of Kampong Ayer.One of the main features of the building is an observation tower,offering tourists “sweeping views” of Kampong Ayer and Bandar Seri Begawan.The $3 million cultural centre has five galleries surrounding a main exhibition area located at the centre of the building,a tourist information centre,an area for the display and sales of handicrafts, toilets,rest and praying facilities.

Monday, 26 May 2014

The tattoo taboo

tattoo_bedouin woman Syria
Sya Taha

TATTOOS, at their most basic level, are a series of ink patterns under someone’s skin. Some people have them done at a parlour, some use needles and ink at home, and some get theirs by participating in a public ceremony. Like other forms of body modification, they play a larger role in society. Tattoos often mark one’s group affiliation, whether tribe, ethnic group or subculture. They are a powerful form of self-expression, allowing a bearer to permanently etch his or her identity, story or philosophy.

Until the mid-20th century, tattooing was widespread across the cultural and geographical area of the historical Fertile Crescent, which extends from Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq, Kuwait and parts of Syria, Turkey and Iran), runs through the Levant (today’s Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon) into today’s Northern Africa (Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, Algeria and Mali). Mostly done on women, these tattoos served various purposes: as a form of beautification, to indicate marriage status or tribe, to ward off evil, or to please pagan gods. Virtually all the communities in these regions continued with this cultural practice after the rapid spread of Islam in the 7th century.

tatoos womanThese traditional tattoos were usually in the forms of dots, lines and geometric shapes. Bedouin women usually had them on their face, while Kurdish men would get them on their feet and hands. Dyes such as henna, kohl, indigo, animal gall pigments or lampblack were mixed with milk and rubbed into the skin that was first pricked with a needle or thorns.

European colonisation and, later, the Islamic revival affected the prevalence of tattooing. In the early 1900s, Algerians tattooed their daughters and sons with symbols of their tribe to help make them unattractive, as well as to aid their identification if or when they were kidnapped by the French. Later, the Islamic revival of the late 20th century caused a sharp decline in these cultural tattooing practices, causing them virtually to die out. Today, most tattooed Muslim women are middle-aged or older.

The fiqh of tattoos
In Sunni jurisprudence, tattoos are considered haram because they are a form of body modification that is not for health purposes. The Qur’anic verse most often cited is 4:119, where such bodily modification is likened to an inspiration from Satan to “slit the ears of cattle” and “change the creation of Allah”. The hadith usually cited is about Allah cursing women who “make artificial spaces in their teeth for beauty”, remove eyebrow hair or tattoo themselves.1

tatoos toolLike nail polish, tattoos are thought to create a barrier between water and one’s skin, rendering one’s wudhu (ablution) or ghusl (purifying bath) invalid. Despite this prohibition, a tattooed Muslim may still perform acts of worship because tattoo removal is a lengthy, expensive and painful process.

However, in Shia jurisprudence, several contemporary ayatollah or religious leaders have passed fatwa (rulings) that deem tattoos of any kind permissible,2 on the basis that they do not prevent water from reaching the surface of the skin. Following the reasoning that everything is permissible unless proven otherwise, tattoos are considered a form of personal grooming akin to plucking eyebrows, and are acceptable as long as these are not profane or obscene, or harm the body.

Mutilation or decoration?
Amanda Quraishi, a 40-year-old American convert, thinks culture largely determines whether certain body alterations are socially accepted.

“Piercings and eyebrow shaping are often included with tattoos among the forbidden body modifications in scholarly writings, and yet most people don’t bat an eye at ear and nose piercings, or at nicely groomed facial hair at the mosque.”

For example, nose piercings among women are seen as something deviant or rebellious among Malay Muslims in Singapore, but these are perfectly ordinary in the Indian Muslim community. Meanwhile, ear piercings are almost universally regarded as acceptable for women (and more recently for men). Male circumcision is also universally accepted among Muslims, although there are two camps for female circumcision – each with their own health reasons.

Pakistani-American Angbeen Akhtar, 24, wonders about the seemingly arbitrary categorisation of tattoos as unnecessary body modification.

“I’ve heard many people make the argument that Muslims are not supposed to undergo body modification unless for health purposes but then I wonder, what about folks who get braces simply to have ‘pretty’ teeth?”

Fiqh arguments also do little to convince her. “I’ve also heard about people saying that your wudhu or ghusl is not complete with tattoos but I don’t understand how the mechanics of that works as the tattoo becomes part of your skin. Neither of those arguments make much sense to me.”

Amira, who asked that her family name not be used, is a 19-year-old Egyptian-American. She avoids tattoos because she agrees with mainstream jurisprudence that these “alter the appearance of your skin”. However, she does have an industrial ear piercing – two piercings at the top of the ear connected by a metal bar – that she considers to be a temporary alteration.

“Piercings are different, because the holes do close up if the jewellery is removed for a long period of time.”

For Amanda, tattoos are an ornamental decoration that do not change the nature of the human body.

“I don’t think that cosmetic or decorative changes are actually altering the creation. That’s like saying that making a garden is altering the natural landscape.”

As she spends much of her time working in and using technology for her activism, her tattoo reflects her philosophy about humanity and machinery. She has binary code tattooed down her back: a series of 0s and 1s that translates to the English word “human”.

“Binary code is the most basic form of digital code on which most modern technology is built. The most important thing is the human beings behind the monitors, of which I am definitely one. I never want to lose sight of the fact that the people we help are more important than the tools we use to help them.”

Bodily autonomy
To whom do our bodies belong? When we get news of someone’s passing, Muslims usually recite a du’a from the Qur’an: “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return” (2:156). But while we are alive, Amira believes that “our body is a gift from Allah, and that we should respect it”. However, this does not imply uniformity, as human diversity is a way for us to “know one another” (49:13).

“I do not believe we all have to dress the same and be squeezed into this little box that our society or community thinks is acceptable. I believe that expressing our diversity and personality, and using the blessings that God gave us, is the best way to respect and honour the gift he has given us.”

Amira continues, “People express respect for their body in different ways. Some cover it up, some decorate it with jewellery, some prefer body art, some do all of the above. There are so many ways to respect and liberate your body; people just prefer to use different tactics to achieve that goal.”

Likewise, Layla Latif, 24, an Egyptian-American, finds it important to recognise our different choices and identities.

“One may not agree with the art of tattooing, but part of bodily integrity is to respect people’s life choices and judge them from the content of their character.

Coming from an Afro-Arab background, Layla is planning to get tattoos of ancient Egyptian symbols as a way to explore her ancient heritage and to express her anger towards the Arabisation of her culture.

“It’s unfair that my African identity is stripped from me and I’m just labelled as an Arab. We have our own rich culture that we’re proud of and I want the world to be reminded of this by the symbols I plan to get on my body.”

Beyond stereotypes
None of these four women were willing to let us publish images of themselves, their tattoos, or their piercings – illustrating how taboo the topic remains among Muslims. In many of our urbanised societies today, tattoos have a bad reputation as they are often associated with unprofessionalism, gang activity or deviant lifestyles. Tattooed Muslims face discrimination at the mosque, yet converts with tattoos are used to promote Islam’s ability to bring wayward individuals towards the truth.

But these women think that the Muslim aversion to tattoos reveals a bigger problem in Muslim communities.

“Because tattooing isn’t a part of mainstream Islamic culture and tradition, it’s seen as something that doesn’t represent us,” adds Layla.

Amanda thinks it’s a general attitude towards difference. “Anything that doesn’t fit into nice, tidy, communally agreed-upon rules for physical appearance or behaviour, regardless of doctrinal basis, is generally treated with hostility.”

“When we see people stray from tradition, or step outside of the box, and do things that we normally would not approve of, we turn away from them, we do not want to be associated,” says Amira.

Tattoos can be a good starting point to work past any preconceived ideas we have about others. People who identify as Muslim should be treated as such, even though their appearance may initially cause anxiety.

“Tattoos may seem frightening to people at first,” Amira says. “However, we need to put aside stereotypes and stigmas so that we can learn as much as we can about this world and the people that live in it. I have a lot of respect for tattoos and people who have them; ask anyone the story behind their tattoo and you learn so much about them. There are so many amazing, interesting people, and we can learn so much from their experiences and stories.

“It gives you a stronger sense of the world we live in.”
1 Narrated by Ibn Masud, in Riyad as-Salihin, available here
2 Fatwa passed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ali Sistani, Hussein Fadlallah, and Fazel Lankarani

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Further discussion on Tattoos in Islam, please read: