Queen Visits Mosque

Queen Elizabeth II Friday slipped off her white pumps, donned a white prayer robe, and gingerly padded about one of the most magnificent mosques in modern Islam.

The queen began the second day of her state visit to this oil-rich sultanate, a former British colony on the northern tip of Borneo island, by paying respects to Islam. Most of the 312,000 people in this Southeast Asian kingdom are Muslim.
Her state visit to the oil-rich sultanate of Brunei adopted a "meet the people" theme with the monarch eager to project a more open and caring image after the death of "People's Princess" Diana.

But much of the media coverage by the royalty-obsessed British tabloids centered on what dress Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's new wife chose to wear in the tropics and how she coped with formal royal protocol.

The queen wore flowing white robes and a stylish blue straw hat for her visit to Brunei's largest mosque. She padded along its deep-pile carpets in stockinged feet.

Counseling for young couples about to get married was one facet of Moslem society that intrigued her.

After visiting the counseling program, she even turned smilingly to Cook and said, "We should start something like this at home."

Cook left his wife and married his Parliamentary Secretary Gaynor five months ago. Three of Queen Elizabeth's four children have been divorced.

The queen, accompanied round the mosque by its architect, Zaini Ali, visited a class where women were being prepared for the pitfalls and pleasures of marriage.

"The Queen was very impressed by the idea and suggested to Mr. Cook, 'We should start something like this at home.' She was jumping up and down she was so excited," the architect told reporters afterwards.

Pengiran Yusof, director of administration at the ministry of moral affairs, said the classes helped to reduce the number of marriage breakdowns.

The counseling lasts several weeks and the prospective couple, at first apart and then together, are taught "how to avoid marriage crises, how to be good parents and raise good children."

The House of Windsor has been labeled Britain's most dysfunctional family, particularly after the long and acrimonious split between heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Pengiran Yusof felt prevention was better than a cure. "We want to stop marriage breakups. This is how we strengthen our society."

The queen admired the majestic dome with a sweeping gesture of her open hand. She was careful not to point, which is offensive under local custom as her husband, Prince Philip, discovered in a brief lapse on arrival in Brunei.

In the afternoon, she clambered aboard a police launch to tour Kampung Ayer, a floating village in the Brunei River where 30,000 people live in rickety houses perched precariously on a million stilts.

She waved a white-gloved hand as children shoutd greetings. Mothers clutched babies and peered curiously out of their wooden homes as she passed. The boat slowed to a crawl once when the wash got too heavy.

The government has offered to move the villagers ashore but, proud of their centuries-old traditions, they prefer to maintain their close-knit community that overlooks the sultan's golden-domed palace.

Within minutes of her passing, life returned to normal in Kampung Ayer as water taxis, churning the waves in their wash, returned to ply their trade.