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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution states that, "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." However, the Government only partially respects these rights, as it routinely restricts the practice of non-Islamic religions.

The Government does not publish detailed data on religious affiliation. The majority of citizens are Muslim Malays. About 20 percent of the population are ethnic Chinese, of which about half are Christians (Anglicans, Catholics, and Methodists) and the other half are Buddhists. There is also a large foreign-born workforce of Filipinos and Europeans, the majority of whom are Christians, and Indians, who are predominantly Hindus.

The Brunei-Muara district, including the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, has over 50 mosques and suraus (Islamic prayer rooms), but there are only 2 churches and 1 Buddhist temple. There is no Hindu temple.

The Government requires residents to carry an identity card that states the bearer's religion and all visitors must complete a landing card that requests information on religion.

In 1991 the Government began to reinforce the legitimacy of the hereditary monarchy and the observance of traditional and Muslim values by reasserting a national ideology known as the Malayhu Islam Beraja (MIB) or "Malay Muslim Monarchy," the genesis of which reportedly dates back to the 15th century. In 1993 the Government participated in issuing the Kuala Lumpur Declaration, which affirms the right of all persons to a wide range of human rights, including freedom of religion. Despite this and the constitutional provisions providing for the full and unconstrained exercise of religious freedom, the Government routinely restricts the practice of non-Muslim religions by: prohibiting proselytizing; occasionally denying entry to foreign clergy or particular priests, bishops, or ministers; banning the importation of religious teaching materials or scriptures such as the Bible; and refusing permission to expand, repair, or build new churches, temples, or shrines. However, in February 1998, the Government allowed the Catholic Church to establish the first apostolic prefecture in the country and to install a citizen of Chinese origin as the country's first apostolic prefect. This development marked a modest improvement in religious freedom.

The Government sporadically voiced alarm about "outsiders" preaching radical Islamic fundamentalist or unorthodox beliefs. (The Al-Arqam movement was banned in 1995 and remains banned). Citizens deemed to have been influenced by such preaching (usually students returning from overseas study) have been "shown the error of their ways" in study seminars organized by mainstream Islamic religious leaders. Moreover, the Government does not hesitate to investigate and to use its internal security apparatus against these purveyors of radical Islam.

In September 1998, officials of the Islamic Propagation Center confiscated gold and other precious Buddhist and Christian icons from a number of goldsmiths in the capital, stating that the open display of these items "offended local sensitivities." The confiscations were made under the Undesirable Publications Act, which gives the Government wide-ranging powers. Several days later, the goldsmiths were informed that they could recover their property from the Ministry of Home Affairs, which they did without difficulty, provided their documentation was correct. The Government also routinely censors magazine articles on other faiths, blacking out or removing photographs of crucifixes and other Christian religious symbols.

In July 1998, the authorities began to raid clubs and shops frequented by foreign residents and foreign workers, in order to confiscate alcohol and foodstuffs that were not prepared in accordance with "halal" requirements (the Islamic requirements covering the slaughter of animals and the prohibition on inclusion of pork products in any food.) The raids continue and are regarded by the majority of citizens as aimed at upholding Islam.

While requiring courses on Islam or the MIB in all schools, the Ministry of Education has restricted the teaching of the history of religion or other courses on religion, in particular, Christianity, in non-Islamic schools. Only the Brunei International School presently is exempted from these restrictions, and it does not offer instruction in any religion. The Jerundong International School offers an optional Islamic Studies course. The Ministry requires that all students, including non-Muslims, follow a course of study on the Islamic faith and learn the jawi (Arabic script). Private mission schools are not allowed to give Christian instruction and are required to give instruction about Islam; however, the Government does not prohibit or restrict parents from giving religious instruction to children in their own homes. In government schools and at the national university, Muslim and non-Muslim female students must wear Muslim attire, including a head covering as their "uniform."

As proselytizing by faiths other than official Islam is not permitted, there are no missionaries working in the country.

There is no government-sponsored ecumenical activity.

The installation of the country's first apostolic prefect constituted a modest step in the direction of improved religious freedom, but as yet there is no broad trend toward increased religious freedom.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

In general those adhering to faiths other than Islam are allowed to practice their beliefs, provided that they exercise restraint and do not proselytize. There is little reported dialog between the country's religious leaders and their counterparts in the Christian and Buddhist religions. The country's national philosophy, the MIB concept, discourages open-mindedness to other religions, and there are no programs to promote understanding of religions other than Islam. The country's indigenous people generally convert to either Islam or Christianity but rarely to Buddhism. Consequently, Muslim officials view Christianity as the main rival to official Islam.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of encouraging the growth of rudimentary democratic institutions. The Embassy has good relations with officials from the Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist faiths.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 10-09-1999