The Archaic Laws of Brunei
The Sultanate of Brunei is a small country in Southeast Asia, located on the island of Borneo. Because of oil, it is one of the richest and most highly developed countries on Earth. However, while its citizens enjoy its wealth, its sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, is imposing strict new laws that have their basis in Islam. About two thirds of Brunei’s population is Muslim, and only Muslims will be subjected to the new laws. However, this is still an example of religion being used as the basis for archaic laws that restrict freedom or are generally barbaric by modern standards. For example, the punishment for theft is amputation, and the punishment for adultery is stoning.
Brunei is just one of many countries that uses Sharia, or Islamic law, as its legal foundation. Regardless of which branch of Islam is dominant, many countries, such as Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, are even more brutal.
While there are several Muslim countries that are tolerant and modern, such as Albania, Azerbaijan, Tunisia, and Jordan, many Muslim countries are also among the most backwards places on Earth due to the overwhelming influence Islam has on their laws. It is also worth noting, however, that other religions influence archaic laws in modern times as well, such as Christianity in Uganda or Russia. However, Sharia is fundamental to Islam, so it has disproportionate influence on the legal systems of countries where it is an influential religion. Sharia is an important aspect of conservative Muslim culture, as any disrespect to the religion of Islam can be a serious offense. Thus, it is not tolerated by the governments of many countries.
In countries that are more traditionally secular, such as most of Europe and North America, such laws that fundamentally deny freedom of speech would unequivocally be considered a violation of human rights by most people. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah was educated in the United Kingdom, has honorary degrees from several British universities, and has even been knighted by the Queen Elizabeth. His justification for these Sharia-based laws, which he characterizes as “’special guidance’ from God,” is the fulfillment of their “duty to Allah.” Even someone who has spent significant time in the West can be motivated by a strong religious belief to act contrary to human rights and impose archaic, religion-based laws ostensibly thinking that it is for the good of society.