Sharia Law and the Politics of “Faith Control” in Brunei Darussalam. Dynamics of Socio-Legal Change in a Southeast Asian Sultanate

  • Dominik M. Müller (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


The government of Brunei is currently coming in for sharp criticism from international observers and human rights organizations for enforcing a far-reaching Sharia law reform which carries drastic maximum penalties such as stoning to death for religious offences. This article contextualizes Brunei’s approach to Islamic governance vis-à-vis its domestic discursive context. It ethnographically illustrates how religious policies are interrelated with normative changes in everyday life, particularly pertaining to long-established Malay cultural practices that have been outlawed and socially marginalized in recent years. However, although Brunei society is often portrayed as streamlined and docile, the state’s exercise of classificatory power does not simply determine social behaviour. Despite sophisticated disciplining strategies, some practices declared as deviant continue to persist, either concealed as everyday forms of resistance or creatively reframed and controlled by government institutions. It would, therefore, be inadequate to simplify the dynamics of socio-legal change in one-dimensional totalizing terms, despite undeniable tendencies of “Shariatization” in the post-independence era.