Thursday, May 1, 2014

LDS Church Won't Be Sending Missionaries To Brunei Anytime Soon; Brunei Implements Full Islamic Sharia Law

On April 30th, 2014, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced that full Islamic Sharia law will take effect in Brunei beginning on May 1st, and, in contrast to what was first revealed when the decision was initially announced in October 2013, most of it will also be applicable to the 20 percent of Brunei who are not Muslim. Implementation will be in three phases; here's a video report via the Brunei Times:

Phase 1: Effective immediately, Brunei residents will face conviction by Islamic courts and fines or jail terms for offenses like pregnancy outside marriage, failure to perform Friday prayers, disrespecting Ramadan, and propagating other religions. This, of course, precludes any proselyting by missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or any other religious denomination, which means it would be pointless for the LDS Church to call people to fill full-time missions in Brunei.

Phase 2: Takes effect 12 months later, and covers offenses for theft and alcohol consumption by Muslims, punishable by whipping and amputations.

Phase 3: Takes effect an additional 12 months afterward, in 2016, and will introduce the death penalty, including by stoning, for offenses including adultery, sodomy and insulting the Koran or the Prophet Muhammad.

Because the laws will also apply to non-Muslims, the United Nations has spoken out against it. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights specifically denounced the new system for applying the death penalty to so many non-capital offenses. In addition, Emerlynne Gil, Southeast Asia legal adviser for the International Commission of Jurists, opined that several of the penalties, kike amputation and stoning, constitute torture under international law. But Brunei's top Islamic scholar, Awang Abdul Aziz, denied any suggestion the system would lead to extremes, persecution or cruelty, saying that the physical penalties would not be applied indiscriminately, and Brunei officials have said there will be a high burden of proof required to sentence suspects to harsher punishments. This means foreigners who violate Sharia would likely be expelled from the country rather than face amputation or caning. A Christian priest in Brunei, who declined to be identified, said he was concerned by the development, but hoped the new system would be enforced less strictly than set down in the written law.

According to the Brunei Times, Brunei Attorney General Datin Hjh Hayati doesn't want to focus on punishments. Instead, she cited three clear distinctions of the Syariah Penal Code that impressed her that are absent in civil courts:

-- Witnesses’ testimonies in hudud (fixed penalty) cases and qisas (retaliation) must be fair and cannot contradict one another.

-- Before the punishment is carried out, the victim’s inheritor can forgive qisas or retaliation either with compensation (diyat) – the court or government cannot intervene in this affair.

-- If caning is prescribed, it suffices that the hand is raised slowly and caning strike on the back is done evenly, not just on one area.

LDS Church Presence in Brunei: At this time, there is no official LDS presence in the country. Informally, Brunei is assigned to the Miri East Malaysia District, and there are two small groups of Mormons, mostly expatriate workers, who meet in private homes in Bandar Seri Begawan and Kuala Belait. These tow groups are believed to total less than 100. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve visited with members from Brunei during the Miri East Malaysia District conference in early 2010. While formal proselyting has been discouraged, members have not been discouraged from sharing their beliefs privately with friends and acquaintances so long as they're not Muslims.

Consequently, the upgrade to full Sharia does not, in my opinion, pose an immediate threat to the existing prerogatives of Mormons in Brunei, although no missionaries will be deployed there from outside the country. However, the sultan is an absolute ruler, and one must wonder what would happen if the sultan was overthrown. We've seen the barbarities committed by the so-called "Syrian rebels" in their territory. The sultan may be resolved to keep things within bounds, but he's not exactly immortal. Prayer for the safety of Mormons and other non-Muslims would be in order.


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Rachel W said...

Really enjoyed your post. If you're interested, here's a visual comparison of Bandar Seri Begawan (capital of Brunei) with other major cities of the world: Bandar Seri Begawan vs World Cities Good day!