Brunei, who has launched the ‘Wawasan 2035 Negara Zikir’, a national goal which intends it to be the purest Islamic state, and a regional spiritual and learning center for Islam in Southeast Asia by the year 2035, has proposed a compulsory act to close all shops in the country for nearly 2 hours every Friday.
This come after the oil-rich Sultanate designated IRK (Islamic Religious Knowledge) as a compulsory core subject to be studied in schools by both Muslim and non-Muslim students in 2010, began drafting Sharia laws to be adopted and implemented across the country in 2011, and placed a 3-day limitation on Chinese New Year lion dance performance earlier this year.
The state has been increasingly devoted itself to religion in recent years, which spooked businesses and investors. Non-petroleum Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Brunei plunged 30% in Q2 last year, while the country now has the lowest economic growth (GDP) among all its ASEAN peers.
Brunei also records the lowest tourist arrivals in Southeast Asia, more than 3 times less than Myanmar, the next lowest in list. Its tourism reputation was stained in 2008 when Brunei raided an international hotel while it celebrated New Year’s Eve, drawing attention across world’s medias. Real standard of living in the country, adjusting to inflation, has dropped below 1985 level.
At the 8th LegCo session yesterday, Brunei Minister of Religious Affairs, YB Pengiran Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohammad bin Pengiran Haji Abdul Rahman supported a proposal to make it compulsory for all shops in the country to close for around 1 hour and 45 minutes during Friday prayer as a respect to the religion and to prevent Muslims from “wandering around” during Friday prayer.
He said this proposal is also in line with the nation’s aspiration to be a Nation of Zikir by 2035.
YB Pengiran Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohammad said the level of faith among the Muslims in the country is high and their awareness not to be absent from Friday prayer is also high. He said mosques around the country during Friday prayer are always full, and in fact the ministry had received requests for mosque enlargement to accommodate worshippers during Friday prayer. He attributed the level of faith in the country to the successful religious programmes and “awareness efforts” played by the ministry and the cooperation from the media such as publication of content of “Khutbah Jumaat”.
Nevertheless, he said the Ministry of Religious Affairs through the Syariah Affairs Department had in the past (April 2004) taken action against Muslims caught not performing Friday prayer, through joint patrols by the Religious Enforcement Unit, with the police, immigration officers as well as penghulus and village heads. Officers also had carried out patrols at commercial buildings, he said.
“I believe this initiative is good, as it follows the Islamic teachings by giving warning before giving punishment,” he said. To prevent Muslims from avoiding Friday prayer, the minister repeated the calls for all shops in Brunei to be closed temporarily during Friday prayer from 12pm to 1.45pm.