As the Royal Brunei Airlines flight begins its descent into the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, passengers are reminded that carrying drugs into the country could result in the death penalty.
Submission to Sharia
Drug trafficking is one of several offences which could theoretically result in capital punishment under Sharia law, either by hanging or by stoning. This tiny country made headlines in 2019 after announcing that those convicted of adultery or gay sex could face such punishment, although the Sultan backtracked after international outcry. In fact, over 60 years have passed since the last known execution here.
Nevertheless, the whole episode highlighted the Muslim foundation upon which this society is built. Brunei is run by and for the Muslim–Malay majority, with secure jobs provided in government departments and housing, at one point, handed out like confetti.
Other ethnic groups are considered guests and are expected to behave as such. In particular, it is illegal to criticise the Sultan or to promote another faith, making Christian witness here particularly difficult.
Submission to the authorities
On the surface, Brunei appears to be a prosperous nation of peaceful and contented Muslims who want for nothing. But dig a little deeper and a different picture emerges.
The ‘big state’ approach of the late twentieth century saw every need of the Muslim–Malay majority catered for by the Sultan, fuelled largely by revenue from oil. Only now is the reality is setting in – with oil reserves slowly running dry and spending has been curbed accordingly.
The younger generation is not receiving the benefits bestowed upon their parents, and discontent is setting in. The nation is looking to tourism to solve these problems, but it holds neither the attractions nor the expertise necessary to make this a viable solution.
Dig deeper still and you’ll find that areas of religious life are little more than a façade. Whilst the majority here are devout Muslims, many younger citizens are becoming increasingly unsure of their faith. However, they remain unwilling to express this due to the severe consequences of apostasy, and so continue the rituals and routine.
The close–knit population of under half a million and the presence of secret police on every street mean news travels fast, making the expression of one’s true political or religious feelings a particularly dangerous sport.
Submission to the spirits
Hiding such doubts and struggles might be straightforward if it were simply a case of adhering to Islamic teaching, but spiritual activity here takes on other dimensions. Many believe that certain activities, such as venturing into the jungle, require the permission of the spirits.
Worse still, individuals and even whole families suffer at the hands of these spirits. Some experience episodes of unexplained yet paralysing fear, whilst demonic voices tormenting others and induce self–harm. Those who suffer in these ways are far from at peace.
The people of Brunei are wealthy yet discontent, comfortable yet afraid, devout yet lost. They submit out of fear to worldly and spiritual authorities who have no cares for their eternal destiny. This is a nation in need of the hope and peace which can only be found by acknowledging and delighting in the authority of Christ.
With missionaries prohibited from working in Brunei and outreach prevented by law, it is essential that we pray for the gospel to break into this small nation.
HOW TO PRAY
- Pray for believers to live peaceably in this society and shine like lights on a hill
- Ask the Lord to grant many a desire for something better, and to guide them to the good news of Christ
- Pray that opportunities would open up for believers to wisely share their faith with those whose hearts are receptive
- Pray that laws would be relaxed to allow freedom of speech for all