On October 22nd, 2013 the Sultan of Brunei announced that the kingdom will implement Sharia-mandated criminal codes, including the death by stoning as a punishment of adultery. A copy of the new Sharia code states that penalties will include the severing of limbs for theft and public flogging for offenses such as abortion and consuming alcohol. Applicable only to Muslim citizens, the new code is slated to be phased in over the course of the next six months. The oil-rich State of Brunei borders Malaysia and Indonesia and is officially an Islamic state, with Muslims constituting 67-70% of the population.
“It is because of our need that Allah the Almighty, in all his generosity, has created laws for us, so that we can utilize them to obtain justice. By the grace of Allah, with the coming into effect of this legislation, our duty to Allah is therefore being fulfilled,” announced Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who is the absolute ruler of the tiny kingdom, holding both the offices of Sultan and prime minister. He made this announcement in a speech to open the state's nominal parliament, the Majlis Ilmu.
The implementation of Sharia is resented by many citizens who cite its incompatibility with native Malay culture. Brunei is also home to a large non-Muslim population of ethnic Chinese people, indigenous tribes and South Asians, who practice Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and indigenous faiths. A British protectorate until 1984, the state has a dual legal system with civil courts governing based on legal codes implemented under British influence, and parallel Sharia courts adjudicating on Muslim family disputes.
"It seems almost incompatible with Malay culture, which is peace-loving," said Tuah Ibrahim, 57, a boat taxi driver in Bandar Seri Begawan, the national capital. “I can't imagine our country turning into somewhere like Saudi Arabia.”
The Sultan has blamed globalization and greater integration with the outside world for a perceived erosion of social morality. In 2012, the government made religious education mandatory for Muslim children and ordering the closing of all businesses on Friday, the Muslim sabbath. Brunei also prohibits publications of other religions and the display of other religious symbols such as the Christian crucifix. Proselytizing by religions other than Islam is strictly forbidden.
It remains to be seen how strictly the new laws will be enforced. The Attorney General of Brunei had promised in 2011 that cases judged under Sharia law would require a heavy burden of proof and allow judges considerable discretion.
Written By: Nirav Mehta
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