BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Brunei has prosecuted 652 general Syariah offences since it started the phased enforcement of the Islamic criminal law in 2013, with 43 percent of the cases involving khalwat or close proximity among unmarried partners.

During the Legislative Council proceedings on Monday, the religious affairs minister said 268 of the khalwat cases involved Muslim couples while another 13 offences were committed between a Muslim and non-Muslim.

Under the Syariah Penal Code 2013, anyone found guilty of khalwat may face a fine of up to $4,000, a prison term not exceeding one year, or both.

YB Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Hj Badaruddin Pengarah Dato Paduka Hj Othman said there were 17 cases of non-Muslim men “impregnating Muslim women out of wedlock” and 15 cases of pregnancy out of wedlock involving Muslims.

Other violations included seven cases of indecent behaviour; two cases of disrespecting the month of Ramadan; two men posing as a woman and one offence on insulting religion.

A total of 23 theft cases were charged under tazir, a lighter punishment compared to hudud. Theft is punishable by the amputation of limbs under hudud.

The Syariah Penal Code came into full force on April 3, 2019.

Online zakat payment services in the works

The religious affairs ministry is looking to offer online zakat (tithe) payment services this year.

“The mechanism is being studied. What the ministry wants to make sure is that it is safe and systematic,” said YB Pehin Dato Ustaz Hj Badaruddin.

He said there was no significant drop in the amount of zakat collected last year despite COVID-19 control measures at mosques.

A total of $977,815.59 was collected last year from 346,103 Muslims compared to 347,208 Muslims who paid $980,254.22 in 2019.

All adult Muslims who are financially able must pay tithes before Ramadan ends.

MoRA receives slight budget boost

The ministry is expected to increase its spending in the 2021/22 financial year after proposing a budget of $262.97 million, a two percent increase from the previous fiscal year.

The majority of the budget (63%) will go towards staff salaries.

It has also allocated an additional $33.85 million for projects under the 11th National Development Plan.

YB Pehin Dato Ustaz Hj Badaruddin said his ministry will continue to prioritise efforts in delivering effective and efficient services.

He added that the ministry needs to focus on implementing its programmes and staff should always be open to constructive criticism in carrying out their duties.