Brunei Becomes First East Asian State to Adopt Sharia Law
Image Credit: Flickr (heatherbell2011)

Brunei Becomes First East Asian State to Adopt Sharia Law


This week, Brunei made waves across Southeast Asia when Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced that he would move his nation towards implementing Islamic Sharia law into its national penal code. The Sultan has ruled Brunei since 1967 and possesses absolute executive authority as head of state. While Sharia had previously existed in Brunei in the form of an Islamic court, its role was mainly restricted to dealing with family law and disputes.

The recent announcement is expected to take Brunei's legal system, at least for its Muslim population, in a direction similar to Saudi Arabia's penal code. According to USA Today, at a legal conference in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei’s capital, the Sultan said that the new Sharia penal code "should be regarded as a form of 'special guidance' from God and would be 'part of the great history' of Brunei.”

Notably, the new penal code will only be applicable to Muslims–about two-thirds of Brunei’s 420,000 residents. Under the new penal code, violators will be subject to brutal capital punishment including having their limbs severed for theft and stoning for adulterers.

The shift towards strict Sharia represents another step in the increasing Islamization of the small Southeast Asian nation. According to the BBC, "The sultan had already made religious education compulsory for Muslim children and ordered businesses to close during Friday prayers.”

The move has already come under criticism from Western human rights groups. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that "Brunei is showing its feudal characteristics as an 18th-century state rather than an important member of a regional Southeast Asian economic and social consensus in the 21st century.” Brunei will become the first and only eastern Asian country to implement such strict Sharia law at the national level. Brunei’s neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia, implement Sharia law to a lesser degree, using it to regulate personal matters like custody rights and marriage–similar to Brunei’s previous stance. Malaysia’s Terengannu province, and Indonesia’s Aceh province have however implemented Sharia in full.

One noted Bruneian scholar of Islamic law, Mufti Awang Abdul Aziz, defended the new penal code: "Let us not just look at the hand-cutting or the stoning or the caning per se, but let us also look at the conditions governing them," he said. "It is not indiscriminate cutting or stoning or caning. There are conditions and there are methods that are just and fair.”

Still, there are concerns among some that this decision might negatively impact the tourist industry in Brunei.

Despite the Sultan’s efforts to strengthen the role of Islam in Bruneian life, some commentators have suggested that such strict Sharia law may be in conflict with Malay culture, and Brunei’s peaceful nature. Brunei, officially known as the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace, might find itself hard-pressed to retain that moniker with its foray into such a draconian legal system.

Ankit Panda is Associate Editor of The Diplomat. You can follow him on Twitter @nktpnd.

March 31, 2014 at 01:10

The Indonesian province of Aceh introduced a watered down version of Sharia several years ago. They conveniently left out the cutting off of the right hand if one is caught stealing or with the fingers in the public till. Regardless, Aceh has since then, rapidly descended back into the Stone Age. Misery loves company so it appears Brunei wishes to join them.

February 8, 2014 at 19:25

Why hate on Brunei when you Westerners have been mostly ignoring our existence until now? Our economy isn’t even increasing because of your ignorance that you don’t make the effort even to try investing in Brunei. Look at Singapore, it’s even smaller than Brunei yet extremely famous. Why are you all discriminating Brunei for it is a Muslim country? I’m a Christian and I still get along with my Muslim friends in school. I respect their beliefs while they respect mine. There, it’s called peace. Why are you all so worried about the stoning or limb fracturing? Do you have any intentions to commit robbery? No one in Brunei even owns a single firearm for it is prohibited to maintain our peace. Employment; the government has to annually create thousands of jobs for its people as there are not enough businesses to employ people and we kind of blame Westerners that they don’t want to help us with that. We feel like as if we’re isolated or somewhat. Us? Useful idiots? So what that some parts the Royal Family is messed? We can choose to not follow in some of their footsteps. Oh so you’re complaining that our Sultan doesn’t have biceps, well at least he’s being realistic. You complain that our Sultan is short? You’re basically implying that God isn’t perfect in creating humans. I’ve been living in this country for like, 13 years and so far I’ve not any major problems. Primitive? Seriously, why are you so narrow-minded? Democracy in Brunei is just so wrong in many ways. What much good has democracy done in America? Americans still have to pay loads of money in medical care even if they just have a slight fever, we Bruneians get free medical check-ups and so on. You are basically slaves for money which is not what God wanted to happen.

John James
February 27, 2014 at 01:04

What in gods green earth are u bickering about? Who do you think has been stopping foreign investors from putting $ into Brunei? You think the western world doesn’t want a slice of the pie? Get your facts right. Yeah this will get Brunei noticed, for all the wrong reasons

March 7, 2014 at 03:34

In all honesty, I couldn’t care less about a law that actually discourage crime. I do however care about some freaking law in some parts of the USA (Stand your ground law) You want to call Sharia Law draconian, fine. But fix your own damn laws before going into others

February 5, 2014 at 13:42

Most of those opposing our Syariah laws belong to the “C” race. They should know that as minority they are to respect the rules of our land and not to mess around with us. If they don’t like Brunei they are free to go back to Singapore or China. Any attempt to provoke or push us Malays to the edge, we will eventually storm and burn down Singapore and China embassises. Don’t assume we don’t have the guts to do so.

MIB is the philosophy for Brunei Darussalam. It is our way of life and we will not allow anyone to challenge it. Islam is our sacred religion and no one can criticize it. If the British, American, Russian or European Government try to interfere with our internal affairs. If they insist, we will mobilize our armed forces to arrest their ambassadors in Brunei and make their respective countries apologize to us for meddling. If it is inconvenient for our government to do so, we will do it ourselves!

Regardless of Race
February 8, 2014 at 17:47

It is interesting how in 2014, people still see this as a debate of race. I suppose such ways of arguments are the easiest method to justify their own sentiments. At the end of the day, most of us are questions whether the implementation of the new legislation is compatible with international and/or basic human rights law. It is about setting standards and achieving a reasonable human rights standard based on the current secular world.

The whole ‘leave if you do not agree/like’ way of conducting a debate is so backwards, I think anyone who is in for a genuine debate for the future of a country needs to go there.

Again, no one is criticizing MIB or Islam as a religion. I have serious concerns about your comprehension skills. And the rest of your point of view, forget about it. ‘I hate you hating me, hence I’ll destroy you.’ Nothing conducive was said.

curbing the surface but curing the not the heart
January 8, 2014 at 00:07

what is not seen is that the poverty rate in brunei is rising. unemployment rate is high, people are ignorant. they say “no, we have a low unemployment rate”, “oh, you mean registered unemployed?”

here are some actions worth questioning,
1) limiting recreational entertainment as a form of civil obedience and social order control. dancing, karaoke, parties and etc are not allowed. explain how will this help? where there is pressure, there will be a backward force of repulsion, it is the very core cause of the whole problem.

2) CLosing of shops on Fridays, have you been to the Sg 7 customs and immigration checkpoint? how many muslims are there? you think its working?

3) employment of foreigners only for hard labour and specialist. specialist, i can understand. hard labour? what gives? you saying that bruneians cannot work under the heat? why are all the civil infrastructure workers foreigners? why waste the money on manpower that we can locally provide? because “memalukan”?

end to brainwashing cultists
December 24, 2013 at 04:31

Djamal K. from Algiers.Algeria , well done mamm it is impossible to find a better example of an uneducated brainwashed cultist than yourself, no one else needs to claim islam is a joke when brainwashed muppets like yourself can open their mouths and prove it themselves! of course we have the obligation to stop brainwashing cultists from lying to the stupid people like Djamal K. from Algiers.Algeria are far to stupid to think for themselves!

Djamal K. from Algiers.Algeria
November 20, 2013 at 22:49

May Allah protects. His Majesty for taking such an important decision in front of Allah and His people. One must know that Islam is not a joke. As the proverb says ” one cures evil by evil”. Ruling is a big responsibility in Islam, not a game. A lot of freedom is harm for the society
What freedom brought to permissive nations ? Drugs, alcohol, adultery, prostitution, homosexuality and gay mariage (which leads to the end of Western nations), suicide,criminality, robbery, etc,etc. May Allah protect the Muslim nations against such evil. Amin. Yours sincerely.

November 10, 2013 at 18:20

In this modern world you would stone women and cut the hands off thieves, where is the compassion of allah  in that, sir.

March 7, 2014 at 03:24

The amount of ignorance on your part is truly staggering.
Do please read up more on your behalf before you embarrass yourself again

November 10, 2013 at 18:18

Lets not forget the Iban, though everone else does

November 5, 2013 at 05:01

'crime rate'?  What crime rate?

Stealing one's sandals from their porch?  One, 1 person wielding a knife in Gadong ~ 6 months ago?

The true crime is the useful idiots, like yourself, whom like many Bruneian lemmings, useful idiots condone this devolving-like action.

November 5, 2013 at 04:59

Actually a majority of them are Hindu, Buddhist Chinese.  Not to mention they and Western expats control ALL Bruneian business matters.

Bruneians are tunnel visioned useful idiots whom dare not go against this or previous Sultan's bidding.

As for their being a mostly '' country – hahahaha

Maybe if they're related to the Sultan or in some high functioning government position, appointed again by some Sultan relative-yes man type.

The Bruneian government is big but doesn't employ the entire population..!

Nonetheless thanks for the chuckle. 

November 5, 2013 at 04:50

Being a Westerner and having lived in Brunei for 2 years and recently getting back to the states – this is sadly not surprising.

The geriatric Sultan is doing these draconian measures (the recent law of closing ALL businesses even Western world-based ones during Friday lunch times for but one example) to continue to keep his collective population stupid, under his family's thumb.

Seriously.. in Brunei's archives is the ludicrously fictional writings of this Sultan being related to a particular, popular Islamic prophet.. you know who I'm talking about.  Kid you not!

Bruneians treat this little man (Seriously the guy is really short!  There's a pic of him in BSB's museum walking by some English soldiers for some moronic parade/ inspection and he bare;y comes up to most English soldiers biceps!) and their previous 'leaders' as some sort of deity. 


It's a beautiful place but has been devolving for some time.  Brunei's hypocritical reigning family is widely known amongst the overwhelmingly-Western world ex-pats whom do ALL the countrys finances, oil development/ excavation, transportation etc.,


The locals are useful idiots turning their collective heads in blissful ignorance.  Content reading their fictional and anti-Semitical state-controlled papers..

November 2, 2013 at 23:26

im agreed with this law,and im local bruneian,i support this law and support our king,may Allah bless our king,we love you,you do the right thing,we dont care what peopel say negative about this,we dont have problem with this law,we will acpeted and support this law,,

Rivas. M
October 29, 2013 at 12:00

Personally I dont approve, i think it's best if they go back to how they previously run the country. But that's their decision and we shouldn't interfere in their affairs. If majority of their people support it then let them be, plus I think it works for them since they are after all a rich and peaceful country and majority of them are muslims.

October 28, 2013 at 13:41

Assalaamualaikum, This is the Incredible and very good step towards being Islam.Islamic Law is the Greatest Law of All in the World.So I will sincerely

Thank and Congratulate  to His Majesty To impose It.

October 28, 2013 at 13:14

Totally agreed with you. the Human rights has to go and see the human rights voilations against Phalestin, Afghanistan and Burma and other places in the world. why they are forcing there unjustice western culture to every one. 

October 26, 2013 at 16:17

This is a backward and primitive action. The West should take steps to replace the government with a democracy which is the ultimate form of government for ALL countries.

February 9, 2014 at 02:17

I don’t agree with your statement, you think that by allowing the “West” as you say it to take over Brunei then it will be a better place? US or most Western countries are not a ‘democratic’ country, they are mostly controlled by the zionists / illuminati / free masons. Look at what’s happening to Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon? You call that War on Terror? Yet, you say Brunei should implement that “democratic” system? I don’t agree with you.

Don’t be ignorant, the Syariah Law implemented in Brunei does not apply to non-muslims nor should the muslims fear it. The way I see it, if you are not planning to COMMIT a crime then why should you be afraid of the law? Plus, those who think that the Syariah Law is evil and against human rights should really investigate how the law will be carried out. It’s just and it is fair. I don’t think they’ll cut hands of ‘criminals’ unnecessarily without following thru the steps or guidelines set in the law.

The West, the Zionist has been scapegoating Muslims with this ‘War on Terror’. As A. puts it, most of the population of the world didn’t know about Brunei or have never even heard about the country. Yet when the implementation Syariah Law was announced, all the international “Zionist” media went on the loose trying to tarnish the country’s good name by saying the Sultan is this, the Sultan is that.

So typical and downright amusing.

I advise you all, learn more about the true Syariah Law, not those mambo-jambo’s on the net. Before you condemn the law and if you want a proper ‘debate’ about the law, educate yourself first on what it’s all about.

Most importantly, watch:

October 25, 2013 at 23:57


October 25, 2013 at 19:58

This is Brunei's internal affairs. Whether you like the law or not, no one should interfere in their domestic affairs.

October 25, 2013 at 15:04

Totally agreed!!!!

Hwang BaekHyun
October 25, 2013 at 11:55

Brunei Sharia Law will be the best to some extend in order to lower the crime rate! SAY NO TO WESTERN HUMAN RIGHT WATCH!!! sincerely from S.Korea

April 11, 2014 at 21:19

sounds like the old guard are struggling to keep young malays in check; so, having no imagination, they invoke religion to lend credibility and justification to an absurd legal code.

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