Brunei Formally Adopts “First Phase” of Sharia Law

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Brunei, a small East Asian country bordering Malaysia, will formally implement “Phase One” of sharia law on May 1, undeterred by celebrity boycotts and international criticism. This also means that the Brunei monarchy will have to vigorously teach Islamist doctrine, creating long-term problems for the world.

“Today, I place my faith in and am grateful to Allah the Almighty to announce that tomorrow, Thursday, May 1, 2014, will see the enforcement of sharia law phase one, to be followed by the other phases,” Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said.

Gay rights activists have persuaded celebrities like actor Stephen Fry and television host Ellen DeGeneres to boycott a luxury hotel chain owned by Sultan Bolkiah named Dorchester Collection. It owns the U.S.-based Hotel Bel-Air and Beverly Hills Hotel. Sharon Osbourne, wife of musician Ozzy Osbourne, asked fans to boycott the hotels.

Bolkiah addressed criticism of sharia’s human rights abuses by saying, “Theory states that Allah’s law is cruel and unfair, but Allah himself has said that his law is indeed fair.”

The top Islamic authority in the country did the same, saying sharia is “just and fair” because “it is not indiscriminate cutting or stoning or caning.” In other words, it’s acceptable because the victims are guilty under sharia, and they go through a legal process.

Bolkiah said Sharia would be implemented in three phases. This is in compliance with the Islamist doctrine of "gradualism." For example, Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousef al-Qaradawi recommended that Egypt wait five years before cutting off hands and “prepare the people, teach them” in the meantime.

The initial phase begins with fines and imprisonment for violations of sharia. Press reports specifically mentioned offenses such as “indecent behavior,” pregnancies outside of marriage, the preaching of religions besides Islam and not attending mandatory prayers on Fridays.

The second phase begins physical punishments, such as cutting off hands and floggings for offenses like theft. The Guardian says this is to be implemented later this year, but Reuters says it will happen around one year from now in 2015.

The third phase starts the executions, including stoning, for offenses like adultery, sodomy and blasphemy. Reports differ as to whether this starts in 2015 or in 2016.

The Brunei government also wants to use sharia as a weapon against domestic opponents.

“They cannot be allowed to continue committing these insults, but if there are elements which allow them to be brought to court, then the first phase of implementing the Sharia Penal Code Order in April will be very relevant to them,” Bolkiah said in February.

It is unclear to what degree the Sharia punishments will affect the non-Muslim minorities. The CIA says 8.7% of the population is Christian, 7.8% is Buddhist and 4.7% belong to other faiths besides Islam.

The State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report says that Brunei had already begun enforcing sharia on a smaller scale—again, in accordance with “gradualism.”

It is illegal to display or encourage “deviant” beliefs in public, with transgressors facing up to three months in prison and a $1,550 fine. It is illegal for members of the opposite sex to be too close to each other. Although drinking alcohol is only illegal for Muslims, a non-Muslim can be arrested for drinking next to a Muslim.

The State Department says that the Brunei government officially follows the Shafi’i school of Sunni Islam, with the constitution saying the official religion “shall be the Muslim religion according to the Shafi'ite sect of that religion.”

The government is discriminatory towards other faiths, including other schools of Sunni Islam. In 2012, a law was passed requiring all Muslim children between the ages of 7 and 15 to get a religious education. Since no accommodations are made for the other schools of Islam, this means that Shafi’i interpretation is instilled in the youth.

Brunei’s implementation of sharia means that it is now a state sponsor of the Islamist ideology. The government and allied Islamic clerics will have to work overtime in justifying the sharia governance system, indoctrinating the masses into believing that it is a reflection of Allah’s will.

Radical Islamic beliefs cannot be contained within borders. They will inevitably spread. An opposition political party in Malaysia is already saying that Brunei’s actions are encouraging it to similarly implement sharia in the areas it controls.

Bolkiah may even try to win Islamist support by exporting the ideology outside of his country. He has a personal net worth of $20 billion, in addition to the resources of the Brunei government at his disposal.

Brunei’s implementation of sharia is awful for its population, but the Islamists it raises will have global ambitions. This ideological support is just as important to Islamist terrorists as arming them with weapons. The government of Brunei may not be directly aiding Islamist terrorists (yet), but its support for their ideology is a major contribution to the jihadist cause.


Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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