Brunei Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs clarifies issue: Sacred words, phrases usage

Aerial view of Masjid SOAS, BSB.

Aerial view of Masjid SOAS, BSB.

Rabiatul Kamit
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

THE prohibition on using sacred words and expressions under the newly-enforced Syariah Penal Code Order is not absolute, according to the Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs.

In a lengthy statement issued to local media yesterday, Pg Dato Paduka Hj Bahrom Pg Hj Bahar said the prohibition on using sacred words and expressions only becomes an offence when used in specific conditions and situations.

Under Section 217 (1), both Muslims and non-Muslims are prohibited from abusing 19 words that are deemed sacred.

The 19 words listed under the section are Allah; Al-Qur’an; Azan; Baitullah; Fatwa; Firman Allah; Hadith; Haji; Hukum Syara’ Ilahi; Imam; Ka’bah; Kalimah al-syahadah; Kiblat; Masjid; Mufti; Mu’min; Solat; and Wali.

“However, the use of such words is not absolutely prohibited, but is accompanied with conditions and specific instances as provided in Section 217,” said the Deputy Minister.

He explained that is an offence on the condition that the words are used and attributed to a religion other than Islam. It is also a crime when the words are used to state or express any fact, belief, idea, concept, act, activity, matter or instances of or relating to a religion other than Islam.

The instances in which the usage of the 19 words is prohibited are in publication, speech or public statement as well as speech or statement addressed to an assembly.

Another situation is which the words are prohibited is in “published or broadcast speech or statement and at the time of the speech or statement was made he knows, or reasonably should have known, that it will be published or broadcast”.

However, Pg Dato Hj Bahrom highlighted that it is not an offence if the sacred words are used in conditions and situations that are not specified in Section 217.

“For example, if a non-Muslim says to his Muslim friend: “How are you, Hj Ali?” It is not an offence. Or if a non-Muslim says: “My business is temporarily closed every Friday at 12pm before the azan at the masjid.” It is not an offence,” he said.

It is also not a crime for a non-Muslim to use any of the words in a publication of non-religious context or uses the words in the context of a social activity.

“It is known in Brunei that non-Muslims also use the 19 words mentioned above in their daily interactions with Muslims. They do not use these words in respect to religions other than Islam. This practice is not an offence under Section 217 of the Syariah Penal Code Order,” said the Deputy Minister.

He acknowledged that non-Muslim citizens also sing the national anthem which includes the sacred words “Allah” and “Illahi”.

“In fact, there are some non-Muslims who voluntarily send their children to religious schools, or attend Islamic Religious Knowledge classes to learn and understand Islam. This practice surely subjects them to the use of these words and it is not an offence under Section 217,” he remarked.

In contrast, he explained it is a crime for a Muslim to write in a publication that “solat is also practised by religions other than Islam”.

“Similarly, if a Muslim in a public speech urge people to use the name of Allah in their respective prayers irrespective of whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim, then that is considered an offence under this Section,” said Pg Dato Hj Bahrom.

Any person found guilty of abusing any of the 19 sacred words Under Section 217 (1) will face a maximum fine of $12,000, imprisonment of up to three years or both.

Meanwhile, Section 217 (2) lists 16 expressions that are prohibited for non-Muslims to use in certain circumstances. The phrases include Alhamdu lillah; Allahu Akbar; Assalamu ‘alaikum; Astaghfirullah al ‘azim; A’udzubillahi minasy syaitanirrajim; Bismillahirrahmanirrahim; Insya Allah; and La ilaha illallah.

Non-Muslims are also prohibited from using La haula wala quwwata illa billahil ‘aliyil ‘azim; Masya Allah; Rabbul ‘alamin; Subhanallah; Tabarakallah; Wa ‘alaikumussalam; Walillahilhamd; and Wallaahu ‘a ‘alam.

The conditions associated with the prohibition are in publication, speech or public statement as well as speech or statement addressed to an assembly.

It is also prohibited for non-Muslims to use the 16 expressions in “published or broadcast speech or statement and at the time of the speech or statement was made he knows, or reasonably should have known, that it will be published or broadcast”.

“And provided that the expressions are used and attributed to a religion other than the religion of Islam,” elaborated the Deputy Minister.

When the specified phrases are used to state or express any fact, belief, idea, concept, act, activity, matter or instances of or relating to a religion other than the religion of Islam, it is considered an offence.

“However, if these expressions are used as citations or references in accordance with the conditions stated above it is not an offence under Section 217 (2),” he said.

If a non-Muslim uses the 16 phrases as a citation or reference in a publication, speech or statement, it is not an offence. Similarly, it would not constitute as a crime if the sacred expressions are used outside the conditions stated.

It is an offence only when a non-Muslim uses the specified expressions in the conditions stated and relates it to a religion other than Islam.

“If a non-Muslim says to his friend or Muslim friends, “Assalamualaikum”, it is not an offence; or if a non-Muslim were to use any of the above expression in a publication as a citation or reference, it is not an offence,” explained Pg Dato Hj Bahrom.

Offenders convicted for misusing the 16 phrases under Section 217 (2) could be punished with a maximum fine of $12,000, imprisonment for up to three years or both.

“Most non-Muslims in Brunei have made it a habit to use these phrases in daily life, conversations and socialising with friends who are Muslim. This practice is attributed to the habits of socialising and mixing with the culture of local Muslims,” said the Deputy Minister.

He added: “This reflects on them as they take in the culture, way of life, and customs of Muslims. In this matter, these instances may happen out of respect of non-Muslims towards the Muslim community and does not contain any intent to insult or offend”.

Such situations, assured Pg Dato Hj Bahrom, do not fall under the prohibitions that are provided in Section 217 (2).

In his statement, the Deputy Minister also explained that Section 217 serves to protect the most important aspect of Islamic teachings, which is to preserve the dignity and sanctity of certain words as well as phrases deemed sacred by Hukum Syara’.

The provision aimed to ensure the sacred words and phrases “must be used with respect and great care so as to not be used with or subjected to contempt, corruption and so on”.

Other offences provided in Chapter IV of the Syariah Penal Code Order, which relates to safeguarding the sanctity of Islam, include propagating a religion other than Islam to a Muslim or a person without a religion, and persuading a Muslim to become an apostate.

It is also a crime for a person to print, publish or possess any publication which is contrary to Hukum Syara’.

“These provisions are to safeguard and protect the faith and teachings of Islam, and to ensure that the Islamic faith in Brunei is upheld,” said Pg Dato Hj Bahrom, noting that the offences were created based on Hukum Syara’ and Article Three of the Constitution of Brunei.

Article Three of the Constitution of Brunei states that the official religion of the country is Islam, but other religions are allowed to be practised in peace and harmony by its respective believers.

It further states that His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam is the head of the official religion of Brunei. As such, His Majesty has the power to make laws relating to Islamic matters.

“Based on the views of Ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah, it is the duty of a Muslim ruler to provide laws that serve to protect the sanctity of Islam,” said Pg Dato Hj Bahrom. The first of the three-phase Syariah Penal Code Order came into effect on May 1.

The Brunei Times
Saturday, May 10, 2014

http://www.bt.com.bn/news-national/2014/05/10/sacred-words-phrases-usage

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