Portraying the beauty of Islam through photographs

Izah Azahari

Preaching about religion is not just a task for the Imams and Ustaz in mosques, but it is also a duty that falls upon Muslim individuals and can be done through various forms, whether it is embodied in poetry, prose, painting, calligraphy and the like.

For Haji Mohamad Haranadi bin Haji Buntar, his way of conveying the message of Islam is manifested through photographs within his recently published book titled Mutiara Illahi di Bumi Anbiyaa, which is his second book, with the hopes of opening any individual’s heart to embrace Islam through the pictorials he portrays.

Haji Mohamad Haranadi, better known as Haji Nadi, started his passion for photography during his schooling years. He was the President of the Photography Society at the Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien College and Sixth Form Centre in Gadong, now known as Duli Pengiran Muda Al-Muhtadee Billah College, prior to furthering his university level studies in the United Kingdom where he took BA (Hons) in Photography at the University of Wolverhampton.

From there, Haji Nadi developed from being a hobbyist and turning it into his bread and butter through his first job at the Brunei History Centre in 1983 as a Senior Photography Officer.

He furthered his career at the Information Department, Prime Minister’s Office, before landing a position as a Special Duties Officer at the Balai Kenangan Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien until his retirement on September 2019.

The seasoned photographer mused about the milestones throughout his career with the likes of taking photos during Brunei’s Proclamation of Independence Day for the Brunei History Centre, the new Arts Centre that was launched by Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam, overseas coverage of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam during the first Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Seattle, United States, as well as APEC in Brunei in 2000 and the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

After having attained more than 30 years of experience in the field, Haji Nadi has been frequently invited to exhibit his work, in addition to becoming a judge for ASEAN photography competitions and giving lectures on photography.

Haji Mohamad Haranadi bin Haji Buntar. PHOTO: RAHWANI ZAHARI
Photo of the Nabawi Mosque taken by Haji Nadi during his last Haj from the roof of a hotel. PHOTOS: HAJI MOHAMAD HARANADI BIN HAJI BUNTAR
ABOVE & BELOW: Preaching about religion is not just a task for the Imams and Ustaz in mosques, but it is also a duty that falls upon Muslim individuals and can be done through various forms, whether it is embodied in poetry, prose, painting, calligraphy and the like. For Haji Mohamad Haranadi bin Haji Buntar, his way of conveying the message of Islam is manifested through photographs.

Speaking on his journey in compiling material for his second book, Haji Nadi said he found it to be a challenge as he had to learn to be really patient as it took 10 years to complete, starting from when he performed his second Haj pilgrimage in 2010.

“I was on Haj on my own then so it was easier for me to roam around and take more photos,” said Haji Nadi. “From there, a lot of things kept changing every time I started to work on the book, even to the extent of changing the title to what it is today.”

Originally named Dari Negara Zikir ke Tanah Suci (‘From a Zikir Nation to the Holy Land’), Haji Nadi decided to change the title to incorporate the word Mutiara, creating a link to his first book where he used the English word ‘Pearl’.

“I actually wanted to print the book before I went for my third Haj last year, but my friend advised me to take more photos during my third Haj to include more photos in the book, and I did. Resulting in what you see in the book now,” added the photographer.

“The most challenging task was taking photos of the Kaabah with people carrying out their tawaf around it. Using low speed, I managed to capture that shot. It wasn’t easy because it takes time to do it, and I had to think of what time of the day to take the shot, which I decided to take during Maghrib prayer before Isyak. It took a minute to take the shot, but imagine having many people around along with security who would usually confiscate your camera if they catch you taking photos. But, Alhamdulillah, with effort everything fell into place. That’s my favourite part of the book.”

Haji Nadi added that his second favourite photo is one he took of the Nabawi Mosque during his last Haj from the roof of a hotel.

“To me, if you see photos of Makkah and Madinah, I think pictures of the Kaabah in Makkah are the most taken in the world. People like to take pictures of the Kaabah,” said Haji Nadi. “Millions of Muslims go there and want to go there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if even non-Muslims want to go there too.”

Welling up with emotion, Haji Nadi ruminated about the feeling a person gets when they first see the Kaabah, and it doesn’t matter how strong-willed a person is emotionally as there is something about being there that triggers a person’s emotions, which he hopes can be seen and felt through his photos.

“Photography is in my soul. I like to take pictures wherever I go,” added Haji Nadi. “I’m sure, Insya Allah, I’ll be doing another book in photography.”

Aside from taking photos, Haji Nadi said that he has started writing poetry and prose which he hopes to compile for another book, and as his son has also inherited the gift of photography, he hopes to publish one together with his son’s works as a joint-effort in giving different perspectives from an older generation’s and a younger generation’s views.

“There have been a number of people who have asked me to carry out photography workshops. Inshaallah, I’ll carry it out since I’ve retired from working with the government now and have more time to teach the younger generation,” said Haji Nadi.