Brunei's Sultan Bolkiah graces Maulud Nabi procession

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, joined over 12,000 people yesterday in a mass gathering and procession in the capital marking Prophet Muham-mad (SAW)'s birthday anniversary.

Accompanying the monarch were His Royal Highness Prince Hj Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office, His Royal Highness Prince 'Abdul Malik and His Royal Highness Prince 'Abdul Wakeel.

Despite the heat, people flocked to Taman Hj Sir Muda Omar 'Ali Saifuddien, eager to express their love for Prophet Muhammad (SAW). While some groups wore matching attire for uniformity, most of the people wore colourful Cara Melayu (Malay traditional attire), singing praises to the Pro-phet (SAW) and carrying banners as they marched through the capital.

Some tourists were also seen around the capital, curious about the large occasion.

There were 143 groups altogether, representing all levels of educational institutions, government ministries, the private sector, non-governmental organisations and mosques and villages.

The gathering began with a mass recital of Surah Al-Fatihah led by State Mufti YB Pehin Datu Seri Maharaja Dato Paduka Seri Setia (Dr) Ustaz Hj Awg Abdul Aziz Juned.

This was followed by a welcome speech by the Minister of Religious Affairs, Yang Berhormat Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Hj Awg Bada-ruddin Pengarah Dato Paduka Hj Awg Othman.

In his speech, he noted that Brunei has been continuing its tradition of celebrating the Prophet (SAW)'s birthday anniversary through mass gatherings and processions around the capital for the past 60 years.

Maulud Nabi, he said, is celebrated in the country in a way that is not against the Islamic faith and teachings. "It has also become one of the catalysts for Islamic teachings that has been proven to have invoked blessings on the country as a nation ruled under a just monarchy that united its people and the government and also fostered unity amongst the people, including Muslims and non-Muslims," he said.

"Alhamdulillah, our country is able to continue this practice by highlighting Islamic teachings (that contribute to its) peace and prosperity under the leadership of His Majesty the Sultan," he said.

His Majesty then mingled with the 143 groups which were divided into five categories this year that were lined up on the field.

The event also featured a Dikir Marhaban performance by a group from the Ministry of Finance followed by the customary 21-gun salute that shook the capital for 10 minutes before the monarch and his royal entourage began leading the procession.

The procession around the capital lasted for approximately an hour.