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Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000


The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government imposes some restrictions on non-Islamic faiths.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

The official religion is Islam, as practiced by the Shafeite school. Other religions, such as Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism also are practiced; however, non-Muslims are not allowed to proselytize, nor are parochial schools allowed to teach the religions of their respective faiths. However, government and most private schools are required to teach courses on Islam.

Brunei describes its government as a Malay Islamic monarchy. The Government actively promotes adherence to Islamic values and traditions by its Muslim residents. The Ministry of Religious Affairs deals solely with Islam and Islamic laws, which exist alongside secular laws, and apply only to Muslims. During the period covered by this report, officials mainly focused on promoting the sale and consumption of halal products, enforcing the ban on the consumption of alcoholic beverages, and guarding against the distribution and sale of items that feature undesirable photographs or religious symbols.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

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 imposes some restrictions on non-Islamic religions.

Religious Demography

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); 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.

Governmental Restrictions on Religious Freedom

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 Malay Islamic Beraja (MIB) or "Malay Islamic 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 restricts the practice of non-Muslim religions by: routinely prohibiting proselytizing of Moslems; 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 Roman 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 that 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.

Religious affairs authorities continue to raid illegal night spots and to monitor restaurants and supermarkets to ensure conformity with "halal" practices such as Islamic requirements covering the slaughter of animals and the ban on pork products. The actions generally are regarded by the majority of citizens as a means of 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 Jerudong 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 January 2000, the Government responded to objections from parents and religious leaders and set aside tentative plans to require that more Islamic courses be taught in private, non-Islamic parochial schools. In government schools and at the national university, Muslim and non-Muslim female students must wear Muslim attire, including a head covering as a part of their "uniform."

Since 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 was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom in the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

Forced Religious Conversions of Minor U.S. Citizens

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 among the country's religious leaders and their counterparts in the Christian and Buddhist religions. The country's national philosophy, the Malay Islamic Beraja (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 either to 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.

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