Brunei (MNN) — Sharia Law quietly took effect last week in Brunei, a tiny country of just over 420,000 people nestled in Southeast Asia. The nation has been using Islamic laws to regulate personal and family issues. Now, Sharia Law will also be enforced against criminal offenses.
Missionaries serving with Open Doors, a non-profit organization working in oppressive countries, are concerned with the new law. Even without the Sharia laws, church leaders have been heavily monitored by the government.
Brunei is ranked 24th in the Open Doors World Watch List of the top 50 countries where Christians are most oppressed. Within the Sharia Law, severe physical punishments will be introduced for different crimes. These include flogging for adultery, cutting off limbs for theft, and stoning to death for rape and sodomy.
Non-Muslims could be put in jail for up to six months or fined for up to BN $2,000 (US $1,600) for wearing indecent clothing that disgraces Islam. Even now, it is mandatory for women of all religions to wear hijab (head covering) if they work for the government or are attending official functions.
Converts from Islam face losing custody of their children should their new faith be found out. “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 U.S. Department of State in the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report.
This new law has a profound impact on the few but influential Christian schools. “Even now, parents have started demanding that we begin every gathering with a Muslim prayer instead,” said a school official.
Sharia Law means non-Muslims cannot share their faith with Muslims or atheists. Offenders risk being fined of up to BN $20,000 (US $15,600), sent to jail for five years at most, or both. “How can we reach out to tribal people who practice animistic religions?” asked an evangelical pastor. “They are considered atheists by the government.”
Sharia Law in Brunei claims that 19 words belong solely to Islam. Christians are banned from using words like Allah (God) and Firman Allah (God’s Word), which are found in the Malay language Bible commonly used by Bruneians. As Christian materials cannot be brought into the country, local language Bibles will be hard to find.
It isn’t easy to predict how quickly and to what extent these laws will impact Christians. The government lacks the infrastructure to support Sharia Law, but there is a large budget to enforce Sharia Law within a couple of years.
Christian schools and mission-minded churches will have to apply more caution and tact in outreach to avoid breaching the anti-propagation law. As a result, secret believers will be further isolated due to the churches’ intensified fear of the government.
In the face of looming challenges, pastors have asked for a simple prayer: “We pray day and night that the laws won’t push through. But if they do, please pray that God will help us work through this obstacle: not around it, not over it, but through it.”
Pray that the law will not be pushed through. Pray for Christians in Brunei.