First day of Raya at Istana Nurul Iman
By Danial Norjidi

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and Her Majesty Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha hosted a special Hari Raya gathering for VIP guests two days ago at Istana Nurul Iman to mark the first day of Hari Raya Aidilfitri in the country.

The event was truly a spectacle to behold, filled with a flurry of colours, from not only those in attendance, but the décor of flowers, shining lights, a replica of a royal cannon along with sumptuous food that filled the Reception Hall.

The monarch arrived at the event accompanied by His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office, His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, His Royal Highness Prince Haji Sufri Bolkiah, His Royal Highness Prince Haji Jefri Bolkiah, His Royal Highness Prince 'Abdul Malik, His Royal Highness Prince 'Abdul Mateen and His Royal Highness Prince 'Abdul Wakeel.

Wearing a bright pink Baju Melayu (traditional Malay outfit), His Majesty walked into the Reception Hall smiling with the royal entourage, greeting the male guests.

The guests comprised state dignitaries, Cabinet Ministers, foreign diplomats and senior government officials, who lined up, eagerly waiting for their opportunity to personally deliver their festive greetings to the benevolent monarch and the royal family.

The female guests at the event were greeted by Her Majesty, along with Her Royal Highness Paduka Seri Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Anak Sarah, Her Royal Highness Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Zariah, YAM Pengiran Bini Hajah Faizah, His Majesty's daughters and other members of the royal family.

The guests, donned in formal attire and traditional attire of their respective countries, shared light conversations and mingled with the royal family, conveying wishes and festive greetings before indulging in the food prepared by the palace's chefs that lined the tables.

The lavish menu on offer at various stations set up in the hall included lamb, beef, lobsters, oysters, salmon, sushi, numerous desserts and more, all ready to please the royal family's Hari Raya guests.

Speaking to the Bulletin at the event, newly appointed US Ambassador Daniel L Shields said, "Hari Raya in Brunei really is a colourful and welcoming event, it's very festive.

"It's the first time I've experienced anything like it. We have seven million Muslims back in the States, but the Eid celebrations there are not as big as they are here. The whole country is enjoying it.

"I'm very happy to be here. This country is a big centre of customs," he added.

Asked what he aims to do while here in Brunei, he said, "Our relations with Brunei are already very good, and we hope to further strengthen those relations with educational exhanges."

Acting Ambassador of Germany to Brunei, Helmut Domas, told the Bulletin, "Celebrating Hari Raya is something that, unless you are very close to the Muslim community in Germany, you would certainly not be very aware of or get very involved in, so it's a very exciting, very colourful and very warm-hearted festival to experience in Brunei.

"It's got beautiful customs, where all the people you know, your friends, neighbours and partners open their houses like His Majesty has opened up the palace. It's great."

Charge D'Affairs of Qatar, Fahad Al Hamar, told the Bulletin, "In Brunei, we feel more at home, because the tradition and celebration in Eid is almost the same.

"We have open houses during the morning time, but not like Brunei for one month. We celebrate for almost a week. So the celebration is almost the same, so we don't feel homesick. We feel that we are actually in our country."

Acting Ambassador of Kuwait, Turky Al Mekrad, added, "It's the same with me, the only difference is that celebrations here last for a month. Here, one month means you have more options to visit everybody, which means you won't miss anybody."

The Hari Raya gathering at the palace is an annual event that is highly anticipated each year, not only by VIPs in Brunei but members of the public, as Istana Nurul Iman opened its doors to all people yesterday.

Each year thousands upon thousands of Brunei citizens, residents and foreign visitors throng the palace for a chance to shake hands with and personally convey their Hari Raya greetings to the royal family. - Borneo Bulletin (2nd September 2011)