After instituting Sharia law and cracking down on Christmas celebrations, Brunei’s suppression of the Chinese New Year has begun in earnest. The rationale, according to religious leaders, is that if these infidels start putting up Christmas trees and performing lion dances in public, Muslims will want to imitate and will be led astray.
The Diplomat elaborates:
A letter widely circulated around social media says that lion dances – a traditional Chinese dance where performers imitate a lion’s movements in a costume to commemorate various occasions including Chinese New Year – can only be performed for a limited number of hours on just three days -February 19 to 21 – and only on three premises – the temple, school halls, and Chinese homes. Performances at all commercial establishments and public areas are strictly prohibited.
The dances must also be temporarily halted a half hour before and after designated Muslim prayers, and they must only involve Chinese students or community members. They may not be accompanied by firecrackers and fireworks.
[…] The reasons behind the restrictions are also clear. Just a few days before the new rules were disclosed, imams warned in a Friday sermon that celebrations that were unrelated to Islam could “entice” Muslims to participate, leading them to commit tasyabbuh (imitation) and damage their aqidah (faith).
“Sometimes the excitement and fervor of the festivities celebrated by the followers of other religions attract and entice some Muslims to want to participate and join in the merriment… It is feared that a casual following of this nature will lead to tasyabbuh and invariably taint the sanctity of the Muslim aqidah,” the sermon reportedly read.
According to the Brunei Times, lion dance troupes are already expecting to raise less money during Chinese New Year. One spokesperson for the largest lion dance troupe in the country told the paper,
“On the first and third day of Chinese New Year, we are allowed to perform from 8am to 5.30pm (with breaks from 11.30 to 1.30), but on Friday we can only perform in the afternoon from 2pm to 5.15pm,” he said.
[…] “(Traditionally) we had packages that began at a few hundred dollars (for shorter performances), running up to a few thousand for more lengthy and elaborate displays – those who wanted performances but could not afford could opt for the smaller package.
“With a tighter schedule this year, we are unfortunately looking at cutting off the lower (cheaper) performances and focus on our higher end bookings,” he said.
He also added that Muslim students have taken part in performances in the past, but they will be disallowed in future, to comply with the new regulations.
In May last year, Brunei implemented a strict penal code based on Sharia (Islamic law) that would be phased in over three years. The first phase would see offenders punished with fines and prison sentences, according to the Brunei Times. Amputations and whippings would come under the second phase, while the death penalty by stone for offenses such as blasphemy and adultery would come under the third phase. The move triggered worldwide protest, and Amnesty International warned that it would send the country back to the “dark ages”.
In December, the Brunei government further clamped down on religious expression when it banned public Christmas celebrations and forced businesses to take down decorations, banners and Santa Claus figures, likewise because the act of celebrating “could damage the aqidah (faith) of the Muslim community”.
The country has a population 420,000. Around two-thirds of the people are Malay Muslims, but it is also home to large Christian and Buddhist communities.