Sultan of Brunei questions delay in Syariah law enforcement

 

HIS Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, yesterday ordered authorities to explain the two-year delay in the phased enforcement of Syariah Penal Code Order.

The monarch said the Syariah law has remained “stagnant” without any progress after being actively pursued for a brief period following the launch of the Order in 2014.

Delivering his titah during a meeting with the Brunei Islamic Religious Council (MUIB) at the Legislative Council (LegCo) building, His Majesty questioned how many of the Syariah law provisions have been enforced.

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“How long has passed since it was launched and gazetted until now? It has already been two years but it is still at the stage where only general offences are dealt with.

“What about the other phases? When will they be implemented? I expect the ministry concerned might respond by saying that the Syariah Penal Code could not be fully enforced at this stage because the CPC (Syariah Courts Criminal Procedure Code) has not been finalised,” the Sultan added.

The CPC outlines the rules for conducting criminal proceedings, from the investigation to prosecution.

His Majesty said authorities might respond by saying they are still waiting for the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) to finalise the vetting of the draft documents.

“My next question is when will the draft law be sent to the AGC? Their response might be that it was already sent in 2014,” His Majesty said.

The Sultan went on to say that if this was the case, it is most regrettable because two years have passed and yet the CPC has not been completed.

“How thick is the draft? The AGC might tell us there are many other legal documents that need to be urgently dealt with too. The vetting of the CPC will only be able to be finalised in June 2016, after it has stalled for two years,” the monarch said.

His Majesty said this is an “unacceptable excuse”.

“It is as if people will be under the impression that the Syariah Penal Code is worthless as a law mechanism. Where is the Minister of Religious Affairs? And where is the Attorney General? Why have they not come forward to remedy this unsatisfactory situation?” the Sultan questioned.

The first phase of the Syariah Penal Code was enforced on May 1, 2014. His Majesty added that before the second phase can be implemented, the country has to wait for another 12 months after the CPC can be gazetted.

“Now two years have gone by, but the CPC is not gazetted yet and the vetting process has not even started. This means that after it is gazetted in 2016, we have to wait another year, until 2017 before the second phase can be implemented.”

He said it will be 2018 by the time the third phase of the Syariah law can be enforced.

“So when will the penal code be ready to be fully implemented? Is it true to say that the officers responsible in vetting the draft legislation could not do so as a matter of urgency? Is it just a matter of vetting or did they intentionally refuse to vet?” His Majesty questioned.

The monarch asked why had the religious affairs minister and attorney general failed to keep tabs on how the work was being done by their officers.

“May I remind all that we did not formulate the law out of whims and fancies but we do it solely for the sake of Allah, not in pursuit of glamour. Working for Allah must be done earnestly,” His Majesty said.

Religious education

His Majesty also raised concerns on the direction and future of Arabic education in the country.

Arabic schools are established to bring forth those who are competent in religious knowledge, with the objective of eventually getting Islamic scholars or ulama. With this in mind, Arabic schools must prioritise religious subjects such as Arabic language, fiqh, tauhid, Quran, hadith and tafsir, he said.

He added that this must be done without ignoring the importance of subjects such as Malay language, English language and Mathematics.

Everything went well since the inception, but Arabic schools introduced the science stream from the 1980s, making it compulsory to take Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Additional Mathematics – subjects that are available in mainstream schools under the Ministry of Education, he said.

This meant that students who took the science subjects are required to reduce the number of religious subjects so that it will not be too burdensome, and thus science subjects came to gain more prominence than religious subjects, he continued.

Science stream classes at Arabic Schools currently only offer classes up to O-levels. After completing their O-levels, the students would have to transfer to mainstream schools if they wish to pursue the sciences.

“At that point, they are no longer considered students of Arabic schools and they completely stop studying religious subjects after their O-levels,” he said.

The monarch said there is a need to review the impact of introducing the sciences in Arabic schools when it was implemented in the 1980s.

“Unfortunately, no such research has been done, we do not know the implications whether good and bad of introducing Science stream classes back in the 1980s,” he said.

The Arabic religious education system is experiencing major changes with the implementation of the National Education System for the 21st Century (SPN21).

Under the education system, Arabic school students will be able to master both religious and Science stream subjects. Year 11 students at Arabic secondary schools will have to sit for two major examinations, including the O-levels for their mainstream subjects and the Brunei Islamic Studies Certificate (SPUB) for their religious curriculum.

In Year Nine, the students will be divided into three streams based on their results: 1) fast track Science stream for students who obtained excellent results; 2) normal track Science stream for students who obtained ‘very good’ results; and 3) Arabic stream for students who obtained ‘good’ results and below.

The Sultan said the grading of the three streams reflects that the Arabic stream is of third class level, not on par with the other two categories.

They are also required to study all subjects for their SPUB and O-level examinations simultaneously, possibly doubling the number of subjects that need to be taken in mainstream schools, he added.

“Wouldn’t such a system make it burdensome for Arabic school students and difficult for teachers to teach and complete the syllabus with that many subjects?”

He added that this can cause students to choose the Science stream over the Arabic stream.

The monarch said it is generally known that religious education subjects are more difficult and taxing compared to the other subjects, a factor that can push students away from Arabic classes in favour of the sciences.

“All these need to be deliberated on as thoroughly as possible to save and popularise religious subjects so that they will be seen as a good choice, more attractive and more appealing than non-religious subjects, not a means to open an opportunity for them to get away or escape from.

“This is a matter of much concern to me – the future direction of Arabic schools. Are their roles fading into irrelevancy or diverting towards another direction. All these call for a thorough reassessment to turn back to its original course. Let it not be changed,” he added.

Islamic propagation

The monarch said da’wah (dissemination of Islamic teachings) in the country is still weak and needs to be strengthened amid uncertain times and social ills affecting the country.

Among the issues raised were the number of propagators at the Islamic Da’wah Centre and whether they were properly trained.

“In addition to having many propagators, we want the da’wah delivered to be effective. Effective da’wah is successful da’wah,” he said.

His Majesty pointed out that one important medium of the da’wah is through the mimbar. The mimbar is a pulpit where the imam delivers the sermon in mosques.

“It is vital to deliver effective messages in the sermons. That is why all aspects must be taken into account, starting from preparation, content, writing, policy guidelines and lastly, the individual who will deliver the sermon,” he said.

His Majesty said it is important to practise discretion in deciding the content of the sermon, adding that the content must be appropriate.

He gave an example of an incident where SEA Games become the topic of a sermon. “The khatib (sermon readers) called upon congregants and Muslims to flock to the stadium to witness the events that would take place. We might say that sports is not something Islamically impermissible, but for a khatib to persuade and herd people to the stadium, in my opinion, is something that needs to be given thorough deliberation.

“Have we exhausted all topics and there is no other more important issue other than the SEA Games? This is what discretion is in the choice of topic along with the need to adhere to policy guidelines on sermons,” he added.

The Sultan said khatibs need guidelines on the correct way of delivering the sermon.

“Some readers are too tense and some were repetitive in their presentation. Is this what is expected of them by the Mosque Affairs Department? Where are the mosque affairs officers? Have they not come across incidents like these,” he asked.

Official visits and functions

His Majesty went on to say that it is not necessary for both the Minister of Religious Affairs and his deputy to make visits together as one should stay at the ministry and attend to pressing matters, such as the need to formulate policies for schools and the Islamic Da’wah Centre.

“The minister and his deputy minister should not simply enjoy making visits upon visits, for instance to schools, mosques and elsewhere. In doing so, both of them pay a visit to the same place and enjoy media coverage,” His Majesty said.

The monarch also said there is no need for all senior government officials to attend official functions that were held either in the day or at night.

“It is alright to make a visit and hold a function, but if the events are becoming too many and frequent, what about office work and worse, if too many attend them – the minister, his deputy minister and a horde of other officers! Is it not more reasonable for one of them to make the visit while the other stays behind?

“Is it not true that there are a lot of more pressing matters that need to be dealt with and given serious thought in the office?

He said other pressing matters include formulating policies for schools, Islamic Da’wah Centre, mosques, zakat (tithes), following up on the development of new converts, maintenance and upkeep of Muslim cemeteries and burial grounds, as well as halal certification.

Following the meeting, His Majesty visited the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which houses several units under the Islamic Religious Council before making a stop at the Islamic Da’wah Centre.

The Brunei Times

Sunday, February 28, 2016

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