Although the constitution protects religious freedom, other laws and policies restrict this right. The constitution states: “The religion of Brunei Darussalam shall be the Muslim Religion according to the Shafeite 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.” Laws and policies place restrictions on religious groups that do not adhere to the Shafii school of Sunni Islam. Laws and regulations generally limit 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 laws, which exist alongside secular laws and apply only to Muslims. Islamic authorities organize 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. If parents convert to Islam, there is often family and official pressure for the children to do the same. However, the law states that the conversion of children is not automatic and a person must be at least 14 years old to make such a commitment.
The Societies Order of 2005 requires all organizations to register and provide the names of its members. The registrar of societies oversees the application process, 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 bans several religious groups that it considers deviant, including Al-Arqam, Abdul Razak Mohammad, Al-Ma’unah, Saihoni Taispan, Tariqat Mufarridiyyah, Silat Lintau, Qadiyaniah, and the Bahai Faith. However, government statistics report that 74 individuals affiliated with the Bahai Faith reside in the country. Brunei media reported on November 15, 2012 that Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah stated that Brunei should remain true to Islam as it was spread by the Prophet and that liberal Islam and religious pluralism are “completely unacceptable.”
Anyone who teaches or promotes any “deviant” beliefs or practices in public may be charged under the Islamic Religious Council Act and punished with three months’ incarceration and a fine of BND 2,000 ($1,550).
The government continues, as a general rule, to enforce zoning laws that prohibit the use of private homes as places of worship. The prohibition applies to non-Muslims and to Muslims who belong to schools other than the Shafii school of Sunni Islam. However, there were reports that some unregistered religious groups conducted religious observances in private residences without interference from the authorities.
A 1964 fatwa issued by the state mufti strongly discourages Muslims from assisting non-Muslim organizations in propagating their faiths. The MRA reportedly used the fatwa to influence other government authorities either to deny non-Shafii religious organizations permission for a range of religious and administrative activities or not to respond to applications from these groups. Nonetheless, Christian churches and associated schools have been allowed for safety reasons to repair and renovate buildings on their sites. However, the approval process is often lengthy and difficult. Non-Shafii religious organizations encounter obstacles in establishing new places of worship.
Since the early 1990s the government has worked to reinforce the legitimacy of the hereditary monarchy and the observance of traditional and Islamic 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 are the basis of 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 Compulsory Religious Education Order of 2012 mandates that all Muslim children aged seven to fifteen residing in the country must be enrolled in Islamic religious education. The law propagates the officially recognized Shafii sect of Sunni Islam and does not make accommodations for Muslims who have non-Shafii beliefs.
There is no legal requirement for women to wear head coverings in public; however, religious authorities reinforced social customs to encourage Muslim women to wear the tudong, a traditional head covering, and many women did so. In government schools and institutions of higher learning, Muslim and non-Muslim female students must wear national dress, including a head covering, as a part of their uniform. Male students are expected to wear the songkok (hat) although this is not required in all schools.
Marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims is not permitted, and non-Muslims must convert to Islam if they wish to marry a Muslim. Authorities enforce this law through the denial of official recognition of marriages between a Muslim and non-Muslim. All parental rights are awarded to the Muslim parent if a child is born to mixed-faith parents and the non-Muslim parent is not recognized in any official document, including the child’s birth certificate. According to the latest government statistics available, there were 575 conversions to Islam in 2010.
In July Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah approved the Shariah Penal Code Order and called for it to be implemented. At the end of the reporting period, discussions were continuing regarding how Sharia criminal law could be implemented in parallel with the existing criminal law system.
Any public assembly of five or more persons requires official approval in advance. Under longstanding emergency powers, this applies to all forms of public assembly, whether religious, political, or social.
Relevant authorities permit Chinese religious temples to celebrate seasonal religious events. However, the temples must reapply for permission annually.
Under the Emergency Order of 1999 (Islamic Family Law), Muslim women have rights similar to those of Muslim men in matters of divorce and child custody. The government’s interpretation of Islamic inheritance law holds that the inheritance of female Muslims is half that of male heirs.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Chinese New Year, Christmas Day, Eid ul-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, First Day of Ramadan, First Day of the Islamic Calendar, Isra Me’raj, Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday, and Revelation of Al-Quran.