Avoid Muslim Brunei

Brunei bans Christmas celebrations in public, including wearing Santa hats

December 22, 2015
Sidney Morning Herald

Oil-rich Brunei has banned public celebrations of Christmas, including sending festive greetings and the wearing of Santa Claus hats.

Muslims seen celebrating Christmas and non-Muslims found to be organising celebrations could face up to five years jail.

However the country's non-Muslims, who comprise 32 per cent of the 420,000 population, can celebrate Christmas in their own communities on the condition that the celebrations are not disclosed to Muslims.

Imams have told followers in the tiny Borneo nation to follow a government edict last year banning celebrations that could lead Muslims astray and damage their faith, according to the Borneo Bulletin.

"These enforcement measures are … intended to control the act of celebrating Christmas excessively and openly, which could damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community," the Ministry of Religious Affairs said in a statement explaining the edict that was published in the Brunei Times.

The statement said non-Muslims disclosing or displaying Christmas celebrations violated the penal code which prohibits propagating religion other than Islam to a Muslim.

The Borneo Bulletin quotes imams saying in a Friday sermon that lighting candles, putting up Christmas trees, singing religious songs, sending Christmas greetings and putting up decorations are against the religious faith.

"Some may think that it is a frivolous matter and should not be brought up as an issue," the imams are quoted as saying.

"But as Muslims … we must keep it (following other religions' celebrations) away as it could affect our Islamic faith," they said.

Before Christmas last year officials of the Ministry of Religious Affairs visited businesses and asked owners to remove Christmas decorations and to stop staff wearing Santa Claus hats and clothes.

Brunei's rulers do not enforce the harsh Islamic orthodoxies of countries like Saudi Arabia.

There are no sanctions for women who do not wear headscarfs and while the sale and public consumption of alcohol is banned, foreigners are allowed to import and drink it behind closed doors.

But Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the world's richest men, last year ordered the introduction of sharia, the strict legal code based on the injunctions of the Koran, prompting boycotts and protests at hotels he owns in the United Kingdom and the United States, including the Beverly Hills Hotel.

The laws, which include amputation of hands and feet for theft and whipping for adultery, were to be phased in over three years.

But their introduction appears to have been delayed without public explanation, according to foreign observers in Brunei.

Brunei bans public celebration of Christmas

09 January 2015

KUALA LUMPUR - Officials in Brunei have banned the public celebration of the Christmas holiday, the country’s Religious Affairs Department confirmed yesterday after reports emerged that the authorities raided restaurants and other buildings that had put up holiday decorations.

The raids and crackdown on Christian symbols are said to be another sign of the eroding religious freedoms of non-Muslims in the oil-rich country.

Syariah enforcement officials confirmed they had visited restaurants and cafes in the nation’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, to instruct them to remove their decorations ahead of Christmas and New Year celebrations.

A staff member at one location said enforcement staff came to the restaurant and verbally warned the management against exhibiting decorations that went against Islamic beliefs.

In May last year, Brunei, which has a population of around 420,000, two-thirds of whom are Malay-Muslim, began implementing a strict new penal code first published in October 2013, following an announcement by its ruling monarch, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

It imposed restrictions on the religious freedom of non-Muslims, including forms of religious expression such as teaching, proselytism, religious publishing and even speaking freely to Muslims and atheists about one’s own religious beliefs. Even minor infractions are punishable by heavy fines and in some cases prison sentences as well.

Islam has long been Brunei’s official religion, with strict bans on the sale and consumption of alcohol and Islamic laws in place governing personal and family affairs. But the new regulations grabbed headlines worldwide because they extended laws to cover criminal offences such as adultery, sodomy and apostasy, and proposed severe punishments, including stoning to death and amputation.

Thus far, it is not clear how the ban on Christmas decorations will be implemented, but religious authorities said “Muslims should be careful not to follow celebrations such as (Christmas) that are not in any way related to Islam ... and could unknowingly damage the faith of Muslims”. - AGENCIES

Concern as Brunei brings in system of Islamic law with punishments that include the dismemberment of limbs and stoning to death

The Independent

The Sultan of Brunei, one of the world’s wealthiest rulers and a close ally of Britain, will this week oversee his country’s transition to a system of Islamic law with punishments that include flogging, the dismemberment of limbs and stoning to death.

The 67-year-old absolute monarch declared last year that he wanted to introduce a full sharia system in his oil-rich nation and warned critics who took to social media sites to complain that they could be prosecuted using the new laws.

The decision to introduce sharia and reintroduce the death penalty has been condemned by NGOs and legal rights campaigners, who say the new rules will breach international laws. It has also triggered alarm among some of Brunei’s non-Muslim communities, who will also be subject to some of the rulings.

The development could put pressure on Britain to rethink its close relationship with Brunei, a former colony. A British regiment based in the country – the last surviving UK regiment stationed in East Asia – is paid for entirely by the Sultan.

In a letter to Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said it deplored the new rules, adding that, if implemented, they would lead to serious human rights violations. “Brunei has not implemented the death penalty for years, so it came as quite a surprise that the new law has reintroduced it,” said the ICJ’s Emerlynne Gil.

Brunei is two-thirds Muslim and has long implemented some sharia, mainly for civil matters such as marriage. But last year the Sultan, who is said to be worth 24bn and lives in a 1,788-room palace, announced a plan to introduce full Islamic law.

Offences include insulting the Prophet Mohamed, drinking alcohol, getting pregnant outside of marriage and “sodomy”. The latter will be punishable by stoning.

“It is because of our need that Allah the Almighty, in all his generosity, has created laws for us, so that we can utilise them to obtain justice,” the Sultan said at the time.

It is unclear precisely what is motivating the Sultan, who also serves as the country’s prime minister and assumed the throne in 1967. But in a speech in February to mark the country’s National Day holiday, he claimed the system of an absolute Islamic monarch acted as a “strong and effective firewall” against the challenges of globalisation. He referred specifically to the internet.

He claimed that there were those, both in and outside Brunei, which last year chaired the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean), who had been challenging his plans and who wanted to see “internal turmoil”. He added: “These parties, it seems, have attempted to mock the king, the Islamic scholars and sharia. They are using the new media, such as blogs, WhatsApp and so on, which are not just accessed by locals but also by those overseas.”

The speech by the Sultan – who for many years was involved in a high-profile legal battle with his brother, a playboy accused of misappropriating 9bn of government assets and who reportedly owned a yacht called Tits – has had the impact of silencing many who might publicly speak out against the move.

Yet there are concerns, especially among the minority communities. There are around 30,000 Filipino citizens in Brunei, many of them Catholic, and the Philippine ambassador to Brunei, Nestor Ochoa, recently held a meeting at which he warned his countrymen about the implications of the new laws.

Father Robert Leong, a Catholic priest in Brunei, said there were concerns that baptisms of newborn babies could breach the new rules, which prohibit the “propagation of religion other than Islam to a Muslim or a person having no religion”. He said that the law was being introduced in three phases, with the harshest punishments, including the death penalty, being phased in over two years from Tuesday. “There will be no baptisms. There is not a lot we can do about it. We will have to wait and see what happens,” he said.

Britain granted independence to Brunei in 1984, but has maintained a close relationship with the country. A 1,000-strong regiment of the British Army, the Royal Gurkha Rifles, has been located there since the late 1950s and in 1962 stepped in to quell a rebellion against the Sultan’s father. The regiment is paid for by the Sultan. The British Army also runs a jungle warfare training school in the small nation. A government spokesperson said: “Ministry of Defence discussions are ongoing with the Bruneian authorities to clarify any impact on UK forces.”

Royal Dutch Shell, an Anglo-Dutch multinational, also runs a major operation there as a joint venture with the Brunei government.

A briefing document published last year about defence and security opportunities in Brunei by the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said Brunei invested “a significant proportion of the country’s wealth through the City of London”. It said the British Armed Forces garrison was a linchpin of  UK-Brunei relations.

“The Government’s goal is to retain a dominant position in these key areas, and to maximise our share of influence as Brunei diversifies its economy and puts increasing emphasis on regional partners like Asean and China,” it said. “As it does so, Brunei will also provide a UK-friendly window into the key growth area of South-east Asia.”

The Sultan has been married three times. He remains married to his first wife, but he divorced his second, a one-time airline stewardess, in 2003 after 21 years. He divorced his third wife, a former TV reporter, in 2010 after five years. Both ex-wives were stripped of their royal titles.

Stories of his wealth abound. It was reported that, while playing polo with Prince Charles on one occasion, he had his boots delivered by helicopter to the polo field.

The Brunei government did not respond to queries and the Brunei High Commission in London failed to answer questions from The IoS. However, earlier this year, Brunei’s most senior Muslim cleric claimed that those criticising the new rules did not understand them, according to a report in The Brunei Times.

Dr Ustaz Hj Awg Abdul Aziz Juned said in a lecture in London: “Not even a day after the law was announced, human rights groups on social media commented that the steps taken by the Brunei government to implement the law was out of date and not modern.”

Sharia explained

What is sharia?

Sharia is the Islamic legal system that derives from the Koran, the example of the life of the Prophet Mohamed and “fatwas”, which are the rulings of Islamic scholars.  Different schools of thought exist, resulting in different interpretations.

What does it cover?

While Western law confines itself predominantly to crime and civil matters, sharia is a guide to help Muslims understand how they should lead every aspect of their lives. This ranges from deciding whether to enter a bar with someone wanting to drink alcohol to the punishments for theft or for criticising the Koran. Its treatment of women is particularly controversial. Judgements have banned the holding of property once married, enabled beatings for insubordination, and required a husband’s consent to divorce.

Where is it used?

Mauritania, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Maldives, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Nigeria all apply sharia. Some states, including UAE, Jordan and Egypt, use some form of sharia in their judicial system.

19 Islamic words banned for non-Muslims in Brunei

The Sun Daily

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (Feb 23, 2014): The Brunei government will ban the use of 19 Islamic words, including "Allah" and "masjid", by non-Muslims, according to the Brunei Times today.

The ban will take effect from April, the paper said.

Under the Syariah Penal Code Order, these words cannot be used with respect to other religions.

They are azan; baitullah; Al Quran; Allah; fatwa; Firman Allah; hadith; haji; hukum syara'; ilahi; Ka'bah; kalimah al syahadah; kiblat; masjid; imam; mufti; mu'min; solat; and wali.

The Brunei Times quoted Hardifadhillah Mohd Salleh, a senior syariah legal officer of the Islamic Legal Unit as telling staff of the Industry and Primary Resources Ministry on key parts of the order during a briefing.

He also said certain provisions of the order also apply to non-Muslims, such as zina (adultery) with a Muslim partner, drinking alcohol in a public place, and khalwat (close proximity) with a Muslim partner.

If convicted, the penalty is a fine of up to B$4,000 and/or one year in prison.

For adultery between a married Muslim and a married non-Muslim, both parties can be punished by stoning to death if the offence is proven by confession, or the testimony of four eye-witnesses.

The paper quoted Hardifadhillah as saying that any person who instigates any Muslim man or woman to divorce, or neglect their duties towards their partner can be fined up to B$4,000 and/or jailed for a year.

"Additionally, any Muslim parent who surrenders his child into the care of a non-Muslim can be fined up to B$20,000 and/or jailed for up to five years," he was quoted as saying.

Brunei will enforce the Syariah Penal Code Order in three phases.

Brunei introduces tough Islamic punishments

22 October 2013

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN : The Sultan of Brunei announced the phased introduction of tough Islamic punishments including death by stoning for crimes such as adultery, in the monarchy’s latest step towards conservatism.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah — one of the world’s wealthiest men — said in a  speech that a new Sharia Penal Code which has been in the works for years had  been gazetted Tuesday and would “come into force six months hereafter and in  phases”.   
Based on the details of particular cases, punishments can include stoning  to death for adulterers, severing of limbs for theft and flogging for  violations ranging from abortion to consumption of alcohol, according to a copy  of the code.
“By the grace of Allah, with the coming into effect of this legislation,  our duty to Allah is therefore being fulfilled,” said the sultan, now 67 years  old.
An all-powerful figure whose family has ruled the languid, oil-rich country  of 400,000 for six centuries, the sultan first called in 1996 for the  introduction of sharia criminal punishments.
Brunei already practices a conservative brand of Islam relative to its  Muslim neighbours in Southeast Asia, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The sale and public consumption of alcohol are banned and authorities  closely restrict the activities of other religions.
It was not immediately clear how aggressively the new criminal code, which  applies only to Muslims, would be implemented.
Brunei already has a dual-track system combining civil courts based on  British law — the sultanate was a British protectorate until 1984 — and  Sharia courts that are currently limited to personal and family issues such as  marriage disputes.
Two years ago, a top official in the Attorney-General’s office said Brunei  would apply an extremely high burden of proof for sharia criminal infractions  under the code, and that judges would have wide discretion in applying the  Islamic punishments.
The comments were aimed at easing fears expressed by some Bruneians of a  lurch toward draconian punishments.
Nearly 70 percent of Brunei’s people are Muslim ethnic Malays, while about  15 percent are non-Muslim ethnic Chinese, followed by indigenous peoples and  other groups.
Funded by oil and gas wealth mainly in offshore fields in the South China  Sea, Brunei has one of Asia’s highest standards of living.
The government provides citizens with free medical care and education  through the university level.
But the sultan has leaned increasingly towards Islamic orthodoxy in recent  years, including the introduction of mandatory religious education for all  Muslim children and ordering all businesses in the country closed for two hours  during Friday prayers.--AFP