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Brunei - Religion

Although the constitution protects religious freedom, other laws and policies restrict this right, and in practice, the government generally enforced these restrictions. The government continued its longstanding policies to promote the Shafii school of Sunni Islam and discourage other religions. Other laws and policies placed restrictions on religious groups that did not adhere to the Shafii school of Sunni Islam. The government did not demonstrate a trend toward either improvement or deterioration in respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom.

According to official statistics, the population is 82 percent Muslim, 7 percent Buddhist, 3 percent Christian, and less than 1 percent a combination of other faiths (including Hindu, Bahai, Taoist, Sikh, Nasrani, atheists, and others); 7 percent did not state their religious affiliation. The government categorizes Catholics as distinct from other Christians. There is also an indigenous population that adheres to traditional animistic beliefs, although many have converted either to Islam or Christianity. According to the latest information available, there are 110 mosques and Islamic prayer halls, six Christian churches (three Roman Catholic, two Anglican and one Baptist), three Chinese Buddhist temples, and one Hindu temple, all officially registered in the country. Several Christian congregations operate without registration.

The Sultan views radical Islamic terrorism as the most dangerous potential threat to his rule. Nowhere is the Sultan's reluctance to rock the boat more apparent than in his deferential dealings with the Islamic clerical establishment. This is partly due to his growing personal religiosity, which some observers date from his 1987 Haj pilgrimage to Mecca. Others trace it to the assistance in kicking (or at least controlling) a compulsive gambling habit that he received from Islamic clerics in the 1980's. Whatever the cause, something changed. In 1985, Sultan Hassanal refused to participate in the annual procession through downtown Bandar Seri Begawan marking the birthday of the Prophet Mohamed because religious authorities declared the formerly mixed-gender event should be male-only. But by 1990, he proclaimed the national philosophy of a "Malay Islamic Monarchy" to be "God's Will," thereby cementing Islam's place at the center of Bruneian life and ceding to it a nearly co-equal role with the monarchy.

As the Islamic revival in Southeast Asia that began in the 1980's has spread, the Sultan's risk-averse nature makes him less likely to go against public sentiment by opposing the clerics. He will not necessarily push for Islamic rigor, but neither will he push against it. The classic case occurred in 1991, when the State Mufti convinced one of the Sultan's brothers to approve a ban on alcohol sales while the Sultan was overseas. Sultan Hassanal was reportedly furious, but decided he could not appear to be "un-Islamic" by overturning the edict, which remains in force to this day. In the years since, conservative Islamic norms have become even more pervasive. Several women in the Sultan's family who used to appear regularly without their heads covered, including the Raja Isteri, are now never seen without the "tudong" that completely hides their hair.

The constitution states: The religion of Brunei Darussalam shall be the Muslim religion according to the Shafii sect of that religion: Provided that all other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony by the person professing them in any part of Brunei Darussalam. Other laws and policies placed restrictions on religious groups that do not adhere to the Shafii school of Sunni Islam. Laws and regulations generally limited access to religious literature and public religious gatherings for non-Muslims.

The government describes the country as a Malay Islamic Monarchy and actively promotes adherence by its Muslim residents to Islamic values and traditions. The Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA) is responsible for propagating and reinforcing Shafii beliefs and practices, as well as enforcing Sharia, which exist alongside secular laws and apply only to Muslims. Islamic authorities organized a range of proselytizing activities and incentives to explain and propagate Islam. Among the incentives offered to prospective converts, especially those from the indigenous communities in rural areas, are monthly financial assistance, new homes, electric generators, and water pumps, as well as funds to perform the Hajj pilgrimage.

Since the early 1990s the government has worked to reinforce the legitimacy of the hereditary monarchy and the observance of traditional and Muslim values by promoting a national ideology known as the Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB), or Malay Islamic Monarchy, claiming its superiority over other religious and social belief systems. MIB principles have been adopted as the basis for civic life. All government meetings and ceremonies commence with a Muslim prayer. When attending citizenship ceremonies, non-Muslims must wear national dress, including head coverings for men and women.

The government required residents to carry identity cards that stated the bearers ethnicity, which were used in part to determine whether they were Muslim and thus subject to Sharia. Ethnic Malays generally were assumed to be Muslim. Non-Muslims were not held accountable to Sharia precepts, and religious authorities checked identity cards for ethnicity when conducting raids against suspected violators of Sharia. Visitors to the country were asked to identify their religion on their visa applications, and foreign Muslims were subject to Sharia precepts; however, many persons did not identify their faith and were not challenged.

Authorities continued to arrest persons for offenses under Sharia, such as khalwat (close proximity between the sexes) and consumption of alcohol. Although there were reports of khalwat cases of foreign workers during immigration enforcement raids, no official statistics on such cases were available. Government officials reported that in many cases, khalwat charges were dropped before prosecution due to lack of evidence. Most of those detained for a first offense were fined and released, although in previous years, some persons were imprisoned for up to four months for repeated offenses of khalwat. Men are subject to a BND 1,000 ($775) fine and women to a BND 500 ($385) fine if convicted of khalwat.

The Societies Order of 2005 requires all organizations, including any non-Shafii religious group, to register and provide the names of its members. The application process is overseen by the registrar of societies, who exercises discretion over applications and is authorized to refuse approval for any reason. Unregistered organizations can face charges of unlawful assembly and may be subject to fines. Individuals who participate in, or influence others to join, unregistered organizations can be fined, arrested, and imprisoned.

The government periodically warned the population about outsiders preaching radical Islamic fundamentalist or unorthodox beliefs and also warned Muslims against Christian evangelists. The government has banned several religious groups that it considers deviant, including Al-Arqam, Abdul Razak Mohammad, Al-Maunah, Saihoni Taispan, Tariqat Mufarridiyyah, Silat Lintau, Qadiyaniah, and the Bahai Faith. However, government statistics reported that 74 individuals affiliated with the Bahai Faith reside in the country.

Religious authorities regularly participated in raids to confiscate alcoholic beverages and non-halal meats brought into the country without proper customs clearance. They also monitored restaurants and supermarkets to ensure conformity with halal practices. Restaurants and service employees that served Muslims in daylight hours during Ramadan were fined. Religious authorities allowed non-halal restaurants and non-halal sections in supermarkets to operate without interference.

In deference to the Muslim majority, alcohol is not sold in Brunei, but private consumption by non-Muslims is allowed. Non-Muslim tourists are allowed a generous duty-free allowance of 2 bottles of alcohol (wine, spirits, etc) and 12 cans of beer per entry, and may consume alcohol with sensible discretion in hotels and some restaurants.

Brunei enacted a strict new penal code that imposes death by stoning for adultery and gay sex, as well as amputations as punishment for theft, despite widespread criticism. Brunei first announced the new penal code in 2013, but full implementation had been delayed until 2019.

The new law mostly applies to Muslims, though some aspects will also apply to non-Muslims. It stipulates the death penalty for a number of offences, including rape, adultery, sodomy, robbery and insulting or defaming the Prophet Muhammad. It also introduces public flogging as punishment for abortion as well as amputation for theft and criminalises exposing Muslim children to the beliefs and practices of any religion other than Islam.

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Page last modified: 03-04-2019 10:41:34 ZULU