My view of life from the cheap seats… Art Chartier
Population: 413,000 (41,300 Christians)
Main Religion: Islam
Government: Constitutional Sultanate
Source of Persecution: Islamic extremism /tribal antagonism
Contact with Christians in other countries, the import of Bibles and the public celebration of Christmas are all banned in this Islamic nation. The monarchy is seen as the defender of the faith and Islamic law has been fully implemented since 2011. There is a programme of Islamisation for natives. Muslim-background believers can face hostility from family and community. The government recognises only three Catholic and three Anglican churches; unregistered churches are considered ‘illegal sects’ and are monitored by government officials.
Brunei is an Islamic nation, based on an ideology called Malay Muslim Monarchy. Islam governs all aspects of life here. By decree, contact with Christians in other countries, the import of Bibles and the public celebration of Christmas are all banned. There is a programme of Islamisation for locals, and those entering a tribal village are monitored by government spies and police. Family, friends and neighbours can become sources of hostility for Muslim-background believers.
The church is not able to function freely and churches are ‘spied on’ by government officials. Providing theological training is difficult and Christian bookshops are not allowed. The level of fear among Christians is very high. There are six Christian schools but they face pressure to remove Bible studies from the curriculum. Recently, the Sultan announced that from 2013 Islamic religious studies will become a compulsory subject in schools. As long as the ruling monarch perceives himself as defender of the faith and the governing authorities execute his will, the Christian minority will be neglected and discriminated against.
Brunei Darussalam, what means “Brunei, house of peace”, is a very small country on the Island of Borneo, bordering the much larger Malaysia. It is a young country as well, as it became fully independent from British rule in 1984, though its constitution was agreed on in 1959. Due to large oil and gas findings dating back as far as 1924, it is among the wealthiest nations on earth. In terms of GDP per capita, it ranks fifth worldwide and reportedly is one of only two nations without public debts.
Though Brunei is an ethnically mixed society with a large Chinese minority, approximately 2/3 of the population is Malay. The legislative council meets once a year in a strict advisory capacity, which means that politics are done largely by the Sultan and by the addresses he gives. As head of religion, the Sultan is called to protect the official religion of the country, Islam. All adherents of other religions may practice their faiths in peace and harmony, according to the constitution, but the country discourages practicing other faiths, and promotes Islam in all spheres of life. The recent announcements of the Sultan point to a stricter conservatism, as he introduced obligatory Islamic religious studies for all schools.