Over 40,000 people briefed on Syariah in Brunei

Minister of Religious Affairs YB Pg Dato Dr Hj Mohammad delivering his remarks during the declaration ceremony of the Syariah Penal Code Order

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN - More than 40,000 people have attended briefings on the Syariah Penal Code Order, with many claiming to have gained a "very good" understanding of the new law, said the Religious Affairs Minister.

According to Yang Berhormat Pg Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Pg Hj Abd Rahman yesterday, briefings on the Islamic criminal law have been presented to 40,000 people from 82 groups, including the public and private sectors, foreign missions, NGOs as well as education institutions.

He was speaking at the declaration ceremony for the Syariah Penal Code Order, where His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam announced the new law will come into force today.

Also present were His Royal Highness Prince Hj Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office, His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, His Royal Highness Prince Hj Jefri Bolkiah, and His Royal Highness Prince 'Abdul Malik.

The minister said the Islamic Legal Unit also received individual requests for briefings from locals and visitors. Over 25 individual requests have been made up until April.

Meanwhile, as many as 10,000 survey forms were distributed during the briefings in a bid to assess the public's understanding of the new law. A third of the survey forms have been returned with initial findings indicating that the people's understanding of the Islamic criminal law is very good.

YB Pg Dato Dr Hj Mohammad added that two committees have been established to address enforcement awareness as well as queries about the Islamic criminal code.

The two committees are co-chaired by Dato Paduka Hj Abd Wahab Juned, Deputy Minister at the Prime Minister's Office, together with Pg Dato Paduka Hj Bahrom Pg Hj Bahar, Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs.

Seven groups - comprising 32 officials from the Islamic Legal Unit, Attorney General's Chambers, State Mufti's Office, Universiti Islam Sharif Ali, Syariah Affairs Department and Islamic Da'wah Centre - have been appointed by the enforcement awareness committee to deliver briefings on the new law.

The briefings, conducted from January to April, aimed to raise awareness and overcome doubts that have emerged in relation to provisions under the Islamic criminal law.

"There is no doubt that the role of Islamic law is important in jointly maintaining the safety and well-being of citizens and residents, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. This is among the issues explained in the briefings," said YB Pg Dato Dr Hj Mohammad.

To avoid discrepancies and contradictions, the briefings on the Syariah Penal Code Order were conducted in both Malay and English.

Queries that have been raised during the question-and-answer sessions at the briefings will be compiled and made available online, while some of the queries have been collected for further deliberations by policymakers.

In his speech, the minister disclosed that a website containing information on the Syariah Penal Code Order has been developed and constantly updated.

A book on the Islamic criminal code written by the State Mufti, Yang Berhormat Pehin Datu Seri Maharaja Dato Paduka Seri Setia Dr Ustaz Hj Abd Aziz Juned, is also set to be published in the official government newspaper Pelita Brunei.

The first phase of the new law will be carried out starting today, covering all offences that are punishable by ta'zir (penalties set by the Head of State, such as fines and imprisonment).

Amendments will also be made to enforced acts under the Syariah Courts, including the Islamic Religious Council and Qadi Courts Act, Chapter 77; Syariah Courts Act, Chapter 184; and Syariah Courts Evidence Order, 2001.

The minister encouraged the public to support the implementation of the new law as a responsibility towards ensuring the security and safety of the nation.