Brunei is a sovereign state located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Apart from its coastline with the South China Sea, the country is completely surrounded by the state of Sarawak, Malaysia. It is separated into two parts by the Sarawak district of Limbang. Brunei is the only sovereign state completely on the island of Borneo; the remainder of the island’s territory is divided between the nations of Malaysia and Indonesia. Brunei’s population was 429,000 in end of 2015.

Religion

  • Islam is the official religion of Brunei, specifically the Sunni branch, as dictated by the Mudabh of Shafi’i.
  • Two-thirds of the population, including the majority of Bruneian Malays and Bruneian Chinese, adhere to Islam.
  • Other faiths practiced are Buddhism (13%, mainly by the Chinese) and Christianity (10%). Freethinkers; (mostly Chinese) form about 7% of the population. Although most of them practice some form of religion with elements of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, they prefer to present themselves as having practiced no religion officially, hence labeled as atheists in official censuses.
  • Followers of indigenous religions are about 2% of the population.

 

Christian Number: 58,100

Leader: Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah
Population: 429,000
Main Religion: Islam
Government: Constitutional Sultanate
Imposing Sharia Law

“I place my faith in and am grateful to Allah the Almighty to announce that [since] Thursday May 1, 2014, we will see the enforcement of Sharia law phase one, to be followed by the other phases,” said Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, leader of the country’s absolute monarchy government for nearly 47 years (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27216798).

 

  • It is mandatory for all to attend Friday prayers, and propagating religions other than Islam has become illegal. A prosperous country, Brunei’s sultan holds all major political positions. He supports Islamisation, particularly among tribal people, aiming to convert 2,000 tribesmen to Islam each year. Importing Bibles and publically celebrating Christmas are banned. Christians, especially Muslim converts, face pressure from family and neighbors to recant Christianity (http://www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution/worldwatch/brunei.php, 2014).

Minorities

  • Churches must register, but requests are frequently ignored by officials. Registered churches are closely monitored and services are attended by government informants. They are prohibited from taking in seekers [in the Christian faith] and converts from the local population. Christians face discrimination in the workplace and are ineligible for top positions in the government. No foreign Christian workers are permitted to work in the country. Importing Bibles and Christian literature is illegal for ministry. Most Christians in Brunei are expatriates and migrants are allowed to practice their faith, but not to share it with Malays, the major people group in Brunei. There are an estimated 40,000 Christians in Brunei, which ranks 28 on the Open Doors annual World Watch List (WWL) of 50 nations, where it claims Christians suffer most for their faith (http://www.bosnewslife.com/26075-dutch-queen-in-brunei-amid-christian-persecution, January 21, 2013).

 

  • Brunei’s devoted Christians face a potential crackdown after the sultan introduced harsh Islamic punishments; including flogging and stoning to death, but Western nations appear reluctant to intervene.
  • Rights activists have expressed concern that parts of the law also apply to non-Muslims, including Christians, in the Southeast Asian nation.
  • Already in February, Sharia law experts from the Ministry of Religious Affairs reportedly announced that non-Muslims could be punished for wearing “indecent clothing” that “disgraces Islam”. The offender could be jailed for up to six months and/or fined up to $1,600 in local currency under the new law.
  • Christians say it is already mandatory for all women, including Christian believers, to wear a ‘hijab’ as the head covering is known, if they work for the government or are attending official functions.
  • The new penal code also cites that non-Muslims can no longer speak about their faith with Muslims and atheists. Offenders are at risk of being fined of up to about $15,600 and/or being sent to jail for up to five years.
  • Another restriction aimed at Christians who converted from a Muslim background includes a law that prohibits any Muslim parents from letting non-Muslims care for their child. The act is punishable by a jail term of up to five years, a fine of up to $ 15,600, or both, Christians familiar with the law said. Consequently, people who convert to Christianity can lose custody of their child should their new faith come to light.
  • “All parental rights are awarded to the Muslim parent if a child is born to mixed-faith parents and the non-Muslim parent is not recognized in any official document, including the child’s birth certificate,” wrote the US Department of State in the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report.
  • Teaching other religions outside Islam to a child of Muslims or atheists carries the same punishment, experts said. “Because of this, the few Christian schools will receive a setback as many of their students are non-Christians. The school day normally begins with a reading from the Bible,” commented World Watch Monitor (WWM), the Open Doors news service. “Even now, parents have started demanding that we begin every gathering with a Muslim prayer instead,” WWM quoted an unnamed school official as saying.
  • “What’s more, once Sharia law takes effect, the restriction may be extended to daycare services operated by non-Muslims. The new penal code also cites that non-Muslims can no longer share their faith with Muslims and atheists. Offenders are at risk of being fined of up to $ 15,600) sent to jail for five years at most, or both.”
  • Additionally, following the lead of neighboring Malaysia, the penal code claims 19 words to belong solely to Islam. Local Christians are banned from using words such as Allah and Firman Allah which are found in the Malay language Bible commonly used by Bruneians as a reference to “God” and “God’s Word” respectively, observers said.
  • Christian materials also cannot be brought into the country.
  • Ex-Muslims face death for apostasy. Public gatherings of those adhering to other faiths will now be restricted and those wishing to gather will need to register. Anyone caught selling anything during Friday prayers will lose their licence to conduct business. Also under the new code, if a non-Muslim adopts a Muslim child, the biological Muslim parent will now face 5 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

LGBT and Adultery

 

  • In Brunei, being gay could soon be punishable by death.  Homosexuality has long been a criminal offense in the country, which is located on the island of Borneo. But while the punishment was previously 10 years in prison, the oil-rich sultanate announced last year that it was introducing a three-phased plan to impose Islamic Sharia law at the national level — becoming the first Southeast Asian country to do so. Under the new law, same-sex intercourse is punishable by death by stoning. Once the third phase is rolled out, activists are worried that the country will crack down on the LGBT community. This final phase, which was slated to be implemented later this year or in early 2016, will reportedly involve the introduction of executions for “offenses” like homosexuality and adultery (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lgbt-brunei_us_561501f9e4b0fad1591a1167).
  • The new penal code offers the sentence of stoning by death as the penalty for rape and being raped, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations (for Muslims), defamation of the Prophet Mohammed, insulting any verses of the Koran and Hadith, blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, robbery and murder.( http://www.exposingtruth.com/brunei-decides-stone-gays-blasphemers-death/#ixzz42v3j6p3O, https://jonathanturley.org/2014/05/10/sharia-law-becomes-effective-in-brunei-law-proscribing-stoning-to-death-of-gays-adulterers-and-apostates-will-follow/)
  • “Brunei’s decision to implement criminal Sharia law is a huge step backwards for human rights in the country. It constitutes an authoritarian move towards brutal medieval punishments that have no place in the modern, 21st century world,” claimed Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch, in published remarks (http://www.religiousfreedomcoalition.org/2014/05/22/brunei-christians-fear-harsh-islamic-law/ May 22, 2014).

Women status

  • The Muslim and Non-muslim woman are bound to wear traditional head cover “Tudong” or Hijab.
  • There is no specific domestic violence law, but arrests have been made in domestic violence cases under the Women and Girls Protection Act.
  • A special unit staffed by female officers has been established within the police department to investigate domestic abuse and child abuse complaints.
  • In accordance with the government’s interpretation of Qur’anic precepts, Muslim women have rights similar to those of Muslim men in areas such as divorce and child custody. Islamic law requires that males receive twice the inheritance of women.
  • Jillian Lauren, published a memoir of her experience, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem. She describes the hedonistic lifestyle of the Brunei royal family, Prince Jefri’s harem filled with 30 to 40 women, many younger than 16, and a drunken evening she spent at the Kuala Lampur Hilton with the Sultan of Brunei himself. Although actions like adultery, alcohol consumption, abortions and homosexuality are now punishable by law with stonings and harsh beatings, it seems clear that the Sultan’s family is exempt. Brunei’s double standard, where money and power buy license to indulge the whims that result in death for the less powerful, is but a small mark of the greater problems of sharia law.
  • In Brunei, domestic female workers are often called and addressed as ‘amah’. The term itself has a negative connotation; for Bruneians an ‘amah’ is seen as someone that can be ordered around easily and quite often disrespected. Thus it is implied that an ‘Amah’ is a passive and powerless person that can be easily exploited
  • In Brunei society, there is a stigma associated in becoming an “amah”, and the power imbalance is made more obvious especially when we consider that some of these tasks at the end of the day could easily be performed by the other members in that household. Experiences of exploitation are also made more glaring considering that these women are under the total control of their employer as they are working within the private sphere of someone’s home (http://ias.ubd.edu.bn/assets/Files/WORKING.PAPER.SERIES.14.pdf).
  • There were instances when they were given tasks that were not in their original contract. It s also interesting is that these maids were expected to perform these additional tasks without proper guidance. Sleep deprivation is a common challenge that the maids who do double duty had to face. Cold family treatment and dynamics within the household were also a common conflict that these maids are continuously facing. There is food discrimination as maids are forced to eat leftovers, low quality and cheap stuff.
  • Women are married on the choice of parents, mostly by father.
  • According to MOE statistics, in 2008 there were 120 government primary schools with a total of 27,713 pupils enrolled (of whom 13,103 were girls); an additional 16,918 pupils (of whom 8,211 girls) were enrolled in private schools. There were 2,437 teachers (of whom 1,737 women) in government schools and 984 teachers (of whom 802 women) in private primary schools. 

Education, Arts, Science and Music

  • Brunei has 177 primary schools and 29 secondary schools (including non-Government schools). Children begin school at age 5. In normal schools the influence of religion can be found, as Islamic religious knowledge and Malay Islamic Monarchy are mandatory subjects. There are numerous religious schools also available.
  • Co-education is not practiced in university and high schools. The University of Brunei Darussalam. Currently, the University has four faculties—Education, Science, Arts, and Social Science and Management. University’s academic staff is mainly non-Bruneian. No reports on suspension of music or arts are reported or published (http://www.ibe.unesco.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Publications/WDE/2010/pdf-versions/Brunei_Darussalam.pdf).

Christmas Ban

  • In a warning to Muslims, a group of Imams warned that any celebration “not in any way related to Islam” could lead to “‘tasyabbuh’ (imitation) and unknowingly damage the ‘aqidah’ (faith) of Muslims. “During Christmas celebrations, Muslims following that religion’s acts – such as using their religious symbols like cross, lighting candles, making Christmas trees and singing religious songs, sending Christmas greetings, using signs praising the religion, putting up decorations or creating sounds and doing anything that amounts to respecting their religion – are against Islamic faith,” the Imams said, according to the Borneo Bulletin. “Some may think that it is a frivolous matter and should not be brought up as an issue. But as Muslims and as a Zikir Nation, we must keep it (following other religions’ celebrations) away as it could affect our Islamic faith.” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/christmas/12063373/Sultan-of-Brunei-bans-Christmas-because-it-could-damage-faith-of-Muslims.html)

 

-Rafiqul Islam

Unisa university, South Africa

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