Brunei comes to a standstill for royal wedding of Prince Abdul Mateen

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Life in the tiny oil-rich kingdom of Brunei came to a standstill Sunday for a grand royal wedding attended by heads of state and royals from Bhutan and Middle Eastern countries, the highlight of 10 days of celebrations.

The lavish ceremony saw Prince Abdul Mateen, the tenth child and fourth son of Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, wed his long-time partner, Yang Mulia Anisha Rosnah, the granddaughter of a royal adviser.

The couple exchanged vows at Istana Nurul Iman, the official residence of the sultan and the world’s largest residential palace – with 1,788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, and air-conditioned stables for 200 polo ponies.

A wedding procession through the streets of the capital Bandar Seri Begawan followed with crowds of supporters gathering for hours in scorching heat to catch a glimpse of the royal newlyweds.

Standing in the back of an open-top Rolls Royce, Mateen and his bride waved to the crowds as they were driven to their solemnization ceremony at a gold-domed mosque.

The 32-year-old prince, a British-trained and educated military officer in the Brunei Royal Armed Forces who’s sixth in line to his father’s throne, has become the modern face of Brunei’s royal family.

Once hailed by tabloids and magazines as one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors, Mateen has an active presence on Instagram where he shares personal photos with his 2.6 million followers. A post he made on December 31 announcing his engagement drew tens of thousands of likes and congratulatory comments.

According to media reports, his bride, Anisha, is said to be an entrepreneur who runs a tourism company and a silk clothing label.

The sultan and members of the Brunei royal family are known to live extravagant lifestyles and have thrown lavish parties – including legendary 50th birthday celebrations for the sultan in 1996 that cost an estimated $25 million and included a private concert by Michael Jackson and polo match with Britain’s then-Prince Charles.

10 days of celebration

The royal wedding celebrations began on January 7 with a traditional Muslim pre-wedding ceremony known as the Khatam Quran, which involves the bride reciting a complete reading of the Quran. The royal bride wore a white hijab and traditional Malay wedding dress, a white Baju Kurung, which was designed by Malaysian designer Teh Firdaus, who shared photos of it on Instagram.

The official Islamic solemnization ceremony took place on January 11.

At another traditional ceremony called the Berbedak Pengantin Diraja or “powdering ceremony” – which began with an indoor parade of spear carriers – the couple arrived separately in bright red Malay wedding suits. They were blessed by members of their families who applied colored powder to their hands – a ritual symbolizing blessings for fertility and wealth.

Celebrations reached a high on Sunday with the formal wedding, as the prince, dressed in a ceremonial military uniform, walked down the aisle with his new bride, who wore a diamond tiara and traditional white wedding gown adorned with jewels.

The ceremony, drawn from Brunei’s centuries-old history as an Islamic monarchy, was attended by royals from Bhutan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, as well as leaders from neighboring countries including Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared several photographs of the festivities on social media, writing: “Weddings are joyous occasions. To Their Majesties Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Queen Raja Isteri, our warmest congratulations on this happy occasion.”

Nation of vast wealth

Brunei is a tiny nation located on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo, which it shares with Malaysia and Indonesia.

The country, which gained independence from Britain in 1984, has a population of less than 500,000 but is one of the world’s richest states due its massive wealth derived almost entirely from oil and gas reserves.

Its ruling royal family, the House of Bolkiah, is headed by Mateen’s father, Hassanal, the world’s longest-reigning monarch.

The sultan also heads the government as Prime Minister and holds several cabinet portfolios including Minister of Defense, commanding Brunei’s military as well as finance and foreign affairs.

The country enforces strict rules like alcohol bans. Homosexuality, even if consensual, is outlawed. Like its Muslim-majority neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia, which have seen a rise in conservative Islam in recent times, Brunei has adopted strict Islamic laws punishing homosexuality and adultery.

In 2019, the sultan came under fire from governments and human rights groups around the world for introducing the Sharia Penal Code, which included death by stoning and the amputation of limbs for theft.

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