By Sumisha Naidu/www.channelnewsasia.com/10th Jun 2015
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: Every Friday at 12pm, Brunei’s capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan becomes a ghost town.
Muslims in the capital observe Friday prayers and for the next two hours, every business – from restaurants to entertainment outlets – must remain closed by law.
During the fasting month, a similar scenario occurs. In 2014, the government declared that restaurants will not be able to serve dine-in food between sunrise and sunset, regardless of the owners’ or customers’ religion.
These are just some of the effects of the deep Islamic roots that run through the nation of about 420,000 people. In 2014, the Sultan announced the rollout of a strict Islamic penal code, a first for a Southeast Asian country. Some of the harsher penalties include flogging, severing of limbs and death by stoning.
While Islam is Brunei’s official religion, government figures state about 34 per cent of the population are of different religions, including Buddhism and Christianity.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs said the minorities are free to practice their faiths, but only among themselves. Public displays of non-Muslim festivities are prohibited as this could be construed as attempts to propagate religions other than Islam.
The laws sound restrictive but many non-Muslims appear unfazed.
“This is a Muslim country so we have to follow Muslim laws right?” said Jessica, a retiree.
“I think because I grew up here in Brunei, I’m used to the life here so I think everything is fine,” added Shar Pay, a teacher.
Professor James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, said: “Being a minority in Brunei, they’ve always lived under restrictions, even before the Sharia law was imposed. So I think they are used to living with restrictions. They have a coping mechanism built in. The Chinese population has been there since the 15th century.” Read More