Brunei’s sharia mixed news for countries with Muslim communities


Siddartha Sarma, IBN Live

After years of creeping fundamentalism, Brunei’s Sultan has decided to say it like it is: the country has opted for the Islamic sharia legal code in full. At a time when the Uniform Civil Code is in the news here, Brunei’s decision has little immediate impact considering the limited application of sharia throughout the Islamic world.

The worrying factor for countries with significant Islamic minorities including India, Sri Lanka and the West, however, is the increasing radicalisation that tipped the balance in Brunei. On the other hand, large parts of the Islamic world which have opted not to have sharia at all, like European or Central Asian Islamic majority states, have also not seen radicalisation.

On the face of it, Brunei is not a significant power: its twin claims to fame being the one barrel of crude oil it produces for every four of its citizens every day, and a Sultan known for his very conspicuous consumption, gold-plated bathrooms, car collections, the works. Despite the kind of lifestyle that would leave radical Islamists apoplectic, or perhaps because of it, the aging sultan had been displaying signs of Islamisation for some time.



Amid the widespread condemnation, including by the United Nations, of what is seen as adoption of a system that promotes torture, legalised cruelty and misogyny, this development needs to be looked at in the context of the wider Islamic world. The good news for everyone else is Brunei is a rather isolated instance, and a strange one. Its EMI method of sharia implementation means Islamic laws will be gradually introduced, with the more violent criminal codes coming into effect after a year.

There are only a few Islamic countries in the world where sharia is implemented totally and exclusively. These include the obvious examples, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. Like Brunei, these are absolute monarchies or theocracies.

Brunei therefore will have a far easier time implementing sharia in toto than most other countries can today.

Afghanistan and Pakistan, the other two in this list, have struggled as democracies and been subsumed by Islamic radicalisation over time. Pakistan’s Federal Shariat Court (FSC) model, for instance, has supremacy over High Courts and lower courts, remnants of the British legal system. Even the Pakistan Supreme Court, the only court of appeal against the FSC, is bound by judgments which determine whether a law is Islamic or not. Like Pakistan, Mauretania on the northwestern African coast opted for sharia in the early 1980s, not without considerable opposition from its black and women citizens, who feared victimisation, with good reason as it turned out afterwards.