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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Life in Brunei under hudud

Customers can only buy takeout food during the fasting time

Brunei Darussalam is the first Asian country to have implemented the highly controversial hudud law. The lives of Bruneians have to be adjusted to fit into the lifestyle of the majority Muslims.

Since PAS has first voiced out its intention of implementing the hudud law, Malaysians have grown curious to the possible influences of the hudud law. Many might wonder how average Bruneians lead their day-to-day lives two years into hudud implementation.

Sin Chew Daily recently crossed the border to take a peep into what life is like under hudud.

No eating in public during fasting

Malaysia is a secular country with Islam as the official religion. However, the Constitution has provided equal treatment for all citizens of different races and religions. As such, before a new policy is implemented in the country, the government will have to take into consideration the needs and feelings of Malaysians from different ethnic backgrounds in order to ensure the rights of all Malaysians are protected.

But things are not quite the same for our neighbor Brunei, which began implementing the Islamic law in stages from 2014. Despite powerful backlash from the international community, in particular the Western media, the Brunei government has been insistent in implementing the hudud. As if that is not enough, the hudud enforcement covers a very broad aspect and has made its way into the day-to-day lives of even the non-Muslims in that country.

Non-Muslims' right to eat freely during the Muslim fasting month is no longer protected in Brunei. Enforcement personnel have been dispatched to arrest local residents and even tourists found eating in public during the fasting hours.

Eating and smoking at all eateries, including restaurants, coffee shops and food stalls, is strictly prohibited and the offender can be fined up to B$4,000, or jailed not more than a year, or both.

However, we were informed by a local resident that the fine for eating in public during fasting hours is normally B$300 only.

Ramadan could be a very inconvenient time for non-Muslims, especially foreign tourists. The moment you wake up, it's already fasting time and you can only buy takeout food to eat inside the hotel room.

Even with the sultry heat in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan, we could only hide ourselves in the toilet to get a few good sips of water. This is what many non-Muslims in the country have done if they can't resist the heat and thirst. Anyone caught drinking in public could be grilled on social media as well as in the court.

Only takeout

Other than ordinary citizens, businesses also feel the pinch with restaurants taking the brunt of the temporal food ban. A restaurant owner told us her business plunged by 80% during the Ramadan.

Customers are not allowed to eat inside the restaurant during the fasting hours but food can be bought and taken out.

"Our business drops 80% this Ramadan, much worse than last year."

She said tourists were still not aware of the new ruling last year and continued to come to the country for holidays, but this year, many have opted to stay away due to the strict enforcement.

We talked to several other people in town and were told, "Dine-in is not allowed but you can take out food.

"Many people have been summoned. People will take a picture of you eating and then report you."

Brunei has ruled that every Friday afternoon during and before the Muslim praying time, all government departments, agencies and shops have to close for business between 12.00p.m. and 2.00p.m.

We rushed to a local Chinese restaurant to pack our lunch before the closing time, and were shocked to see a few customers eating inside.

Some of the shops in town have taken the risk of opening their restaurants to dine-in customers in order to keep their business.

The shop we visited is an air-conditioned establishment selling pork dishes. The glass door is very heavily tinted and the lighting inside is remarkably dimmed looking from the street.

"Dine-in is allowed? Can we eat in, too?"

The shop assistant said Ok but we had to sit at a specific corner of the restaurant which we later discovered was a blind spot that cannot be clearly seen from outside.

Moreover, the shop is selling non-halal Chinese food and local Muslims will normally stay away from it.

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