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Pascal Meunier February 15, 2013

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Borneo, Brunei.
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Sultanate of Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan, Koranic school 2011

Pascal Meunier (b.1968, France) holds a master’s degree in Political Science. Since 1996, he is a documentary photographer based in Paris. His latest photographic works relate mainly to the culture of Arab-Muslima world. He has reported on cultural traditions from Mauritania to Malaysia, passing through Iran, Libya, Yemen and Egypt on the way.Pascal does not concentrate on current events of a political nature, but prefers to show the intrinsic culture of the country instead. One of his aims is to capture heritage and traditions that are swiftly vanishing. The last public baths of Cairo, the island of Lamu, the oasis of Oualata, and the old town of Harar  He published three books about oriental public bathhouses and Turkish baths. His work has been published in  Geo, Grands Reportages, Le Monde, L’Espresso, El País, and Newsweek among others.

About the Photograph:

“I shot this picture in a Koranic school during prayer time. In Muslim countries, it is especially difficult to take photos of women, even more when they pray. To obtain permission, I had to convince the director of the Madrasa for several days. It was part of a story for Geo magazine called Brunei Darussalam, the happiness factory. I spent one month in this Sultanate located in the north of the island of Borneo. This micro state with a surface area equivalent to the Palestinian territories rarely makes the news, wallows in petrodollars and obeys the laws of a sultan with absolute power. It’s considered a dictatorship or absolute monarchy. But a recent study gives it the title of the ninth happiest country in the world! Brunei is said to be an oasis of well-being. For us, Westerners, how can we be happy in a dictatorship? Brunei is in fact more a traditional Malay monarchy with an authoritarian and benevolent government. Islam, monarchy and Malay culture are pillars of this conservative society. Seventy-five percent of the people are Sunni Muslims. They practice the strictest Islam in Asia: an obligation to participate in the Friday collective prayers, extremely complicated rules for the halal, and wearing of the veil by women state-employees. An orthodox Islam, but not at all fundamentalist.”