BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: The Muslim fasting month has begun in Brunei and a “daytime dining” ban is in place for the second year running.
From dawn to dusk, every restaurant in the tiny Southeast Asian nation is forbidden to serve dine-in customers – regardless of the owners’ or patrons’ religions. The law also applies to any public place that serves food or drink, with exception to medical facilities. For non-Muslims, food and drink can be packed away to be consumed out of the public eye.
All this falls under legislation rolled out in 2014, part of a strict Islamic penal code in the country, where it is estimated 66 per cent of the population of about 420,000 people are Muslim.
There was some initial protest. In mid-2014, The Brunei Times reported 17 non-Muslim restaurant owners had written to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, appealing for permission to serve non-Muslim customers during fasting hours.
However, the same laws are still in place a year later, but those
Channel NewsAsia spoke to seem to be accepting of them.
“I just can tell you the business is very low. You must remember, in Brunei, there are not so many people. It’s not the same as in Singapore or Malaysia. So there’s no point keeping your business open anyway,” said Jessica, a former business owner.
“The majority in Brunei accept the Malay Islamic Monarchy philosophy – it’s a Muslim country. We have to follow the rules and regulations,” said Teh, a retiree.
It is an attitude many non-Muslims adopt toward various restrictions imposed on them, including toward a ban on public displays of non-Muslim festivities, such as Christmas decorations.
Professor James Chin, the Director of the Asia Institute Tasmania, said mino
rity groups are used to the lifestyle in Brunei. The Chinese population’s presence in the nation dates back to the 15th century.
“Minority populations in Brunei accept the fact that Brunei is a Malay-Islamic country ruled by an absolute monarch and they just have to follow the rules if they want to live in that country,” he said.
To some, the laws are a fair trade off for a safe and comfortable life in one of the world’s richest nations, where welfare provisions are extensive, from free healthcare to education.
Nutritionist Catherine Wong hails from the more liberal neighbouring Malaysia, but she has no plans of leaving Brunei after calling it home for five years now. “It’s a peaceful place and everyone here is very helpful and kind,” she said.