| Brigadier (Rtd) Muhammad Zareef Malik, High Commissioner of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to Brunei Darussalam |
HAVING retired from the army, we were fully engaged in a more leisurely life at our farmhouse in Islamabad. Our children and grandchildren were frequent visitors; we would thank the Almighty as we watched them frolicking in the swimming pool and enjoying the evening barbecue. It is a gift to be a grandparent who may cultivate the joys both given and received by one’s grandchildren.
However, our pastoral lifestyle was soon punctuated by news of a new endeavour: I was being considered and may be given an ambassadorial assignment. If so, we would temporarily rescind our retirement, but wisdom told us that a call to duty is also a gift. Finally, the day came when service and destiny moved us towards a land I had never seen before – Brunei Darussalam. After going through the normal formalities, my wife, daughter and I boarded the plane to begin a new journey of the mind and spirit. Our thoughts could not possibly prepared us for the deep connection that would blossom between us and my heretofore, unknown home base.
When the pilot announced our imminent arrival, we gazed out the window at the land, which was to be our home for a few years. The vision almost took our breath away! We could see lush green forests, the never-ending ocean and the towering beauty of the minarets of Brunei’s famous mosques. When the aircraft landed, we placed our first step on this sacred soil with the name of the Almighty, knowing it was a dream come true. We were warmly received and taken to our new home. It was a superb structure, located next to a picturesque forest and surrounded by the verdant flora and fragrant breezes reminiscent of my own country. We were not only comfortable but also enchanted.
Ramadhan was approaching and my wife had to prepare for it immediately. Ramadhan is observed in Brunei with holy practises and devotion. The restaurants and shops remain closed, the mosques are fully attended, and the greatness of the Almighty is continually recited in the words of the Duas and Qirat. The ‘Darood o Salam’ piously flows from everyone’s lips. It warmed our hearts to feel the camaraderie of a spiritual bond with our new neighbours.
After a few days’ stay in Brunei, we realised that the most important binding element in this country is the royalty. Browsing the morning newspapers, one sees the photos of them looking after the needy, and giving sustenance and blessings to the orphans. The serene mosques are visited and all pray to the Almighty, from His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam to the most common citizen, united in seeking forgiveness and blessings from the Creator.
The royalty sends gifts to every house, ensuring that everyone will partake in the coming of Eid. When Eid arrives, a celebratory aura permeates the villages and homes – the whole nation feels a sense of belonging. The doors of the palace are flung open for everyone, festive tables are laid out and all are invited by His Majesty to visit Istana Nurul Iman. As we approach the palace our hearts beat faster, in anticipation of being face to face with the Sultan whose soul is filled with love for his people. It is an honour one will always remember.
Brunei is a singular place, where at the call of the ‘Muezzin’ in the morning everyone proceeds to the mosque for their prayers, while the dawn of the day bestows the environment with a ‘romance of nature’. The rays of the sun was an artist’s palette upon the green and gold shades of meadows and forests, and the silver and blue hues of river and seascape. The currents of silvery waterways reflect back the glory of all above them. The favour of the Almighty is evident in such exquisite beauty.
At every chime of the clock, the magic of Brunei reveals itself. Nature and people both move towards a blissful state while reciting the greatness of the Almighty. The harmony of nature and humanity yields an unusual serenity to daily life. Moreover, the law on which this harmony pays its tribute to those who walk its proper way, offers its treasures of oil and gas for the well-being of the pure. The Sultan, who is a just and benevolent ruler, works for the service of his nation and has lifted his people in all facets of life. Here is a country where no beggars walk the streets, no family sleeps in hunger, no sick child goes untended, and no family must survive illiteracy. The orphans are protected by the state, as are others challenged by misfortune.
One sees the active Sultan in his varied capacities – in his role as the Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, and Finance Minister – for example, at a sports carnival, a meeting on educational programmes, or leading the prayerful Rabiulawal procession with his entire family. In short, he is everywhere to benefit his people, and the people in turn adore and respect him, and pray for his health and prosperity.
When one considers Brunei’s commitment to ‘nation building’, even in today’s modern world, the flow from one building block to the other is seamless and productive. The geographic realities, the spirit and cooperation of the people, and the rules by which the nation peacefully operates – all under guiding religious tenets – create the balance necessary for progress. To any person, like myself, it is a window to a harmonious life. Brunei is a well-blessed, well-led and well-protected community, which can be called the Abode of Peace.