MY EXPERIENCE WITH MUSLIMS IN BRUNEI
I was in Brunei Darussalam for 1 full day. This very short visit showed me exactly why you shouldn’t judge a country before you have experienced it for yourself.
My 24 hours in Brunei showed me just how warped people’s perceptions are, based on one negative person, act or intention. After simply stepping out of the Bandar Seri Begawan airport, I knew the picture in my head of this country was nothing but ignorance.
I’m going to be completely honest, my expectations of Brunei were so off it’s quite embarrassing. I am blaming my extremely warped perception entirely on the media and our negative political climate.
With all the ridiculous comments, threats and xenophobic people that remark on Muslims and Islam in today’s society, I certainly was curious as to what this place was really going to be like. Numerous people were scared for my safety and were shocked as to why I would ever want to visit. It made me a little nervous. Definitely not scared, just a little curious as to why people had such negative thoughts and ideas.
The things I had seen on television, the internet, newspapers and magazines really lead me to assume that I would be unable to walk around without being almost entirely covered and cautious. I thought people would be staring and that I would feel a little more worried compared to my usual care-free travel self. Well, let me tell you, as a pale skinned ginger who attracts a lot of attention in underdeveloped countries, I had not felt safer in my life.
I felt safer in this country than I had in any other across Asia. I did not feel threatened, scared or frowned upon for being anything other than what I am. I did not get stared at and people did not flinch an eye at me.
You do not need to cover up, you do not need to be cautious about what you do and you do not need to be scared of absolutely anything. Muslims are not bad people, I really don’t know how they can be stereotyped any different.
Brunei Darussalam has a population of 67% Muslim. It is officially a Muslim country, but their law states that all other religions may be practised in peace and harmony. Men and Women receive also equal pay, that’s pretty damn good, right?
Now I am not saying that I agree with all the laws that are in place here, some of them are completely farcical and abhorrent. But the fear that we lay upon ourselves due to a few accusations and news stories are not always true. I can certainly tell you that!
I was under the impression that you had to be very careful, you had to wear a hijab and that all Sharia Laws also applied to non-Muslims. After some research, I discovered that this is definitely not true.
You, of course, should not cause any controversy and should always be respectful of other cultures and religions; don’t offend the royal family, don’t drink alcohol (Brunei is a dry country) and don’t offend Muslims or their practices. Basically, abide by the major laws, but don’t walk around on your tiptoes, it’s simply not necessary.
A lady in a local restaurant was helping us on our whereabouts when walking to the Water Village. We asked her if the area was safe and if we were required to cover up to walk the streets. She firmly responded that it is very safe and that there is no need to cover up. “You are tourists, no one cares!” Ahhhh, how wrong our perceptions are!
I think a lot of the false and negative judgement comes back to what foreigners ‘know’ (and think they know) about the Sultan and his family.
Here in Australia, there was a documentary on the Prince of Brunei and his former escort. A man with so much power over his religious community literally had a playboy mansion. “Do what I say, not what I do” if you know what I mean. But that in itself is no reason to form a negative opinion, there are some crazy things going on with the leaders of first world countries too… I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.
After reading the local newspaper on the flight to Brunei, I discovered that Brunei Darussalam has a very strong connection with Pakistan. I’m not going to lie, my immediate and instant emotion was fear (as I’m sure many other people would feel too), but I stopped and forced myself not to judge.
The media drowns us with such negative ideas that we unintentionally recognise a country, religion or person with terror and threat. It’s not always true, I can’t stress that enough.
Just because the word “Pakistan” was mentioned in a newspaper, does not immediately mean there was a connection with the Taliban… That is such an unreasonable thought. There is no common sense in such miscalculations.
I flew to Brunei on Royal Brunei Airlines. At the beginning of each flight, a prayer to Allah is played over the intercom. I did some research before writing this post and was absolutely shocked to see so many people saying “Do not fly with Royal Brunei, they play a prayer to the Almighty Allah”. My gosh, some people are so shallow minded.
I am completely non-religious, I do not pray to any god, but I would never judge a person, country or airline for that matter, based on their beliefs. The Royal Brunei airline staff were 100% some of the most accommodating, helpful and cheery I have ever encountered.
They really do seem like they love their job, so to be judged for their 1-minute prayer before take off is beyond me. These people did not judge us for not being a part of their religion, so what gives us the right to judge them for being a part of theirs?
The people of Brunei are easily some of the nicest, kindest and helpful you will come across on your travels. I honestly felt less like a foreigner than I have in any Asian country in my life. People here do their own thing, they don’t care about who you are, what you look like or how you dress.
There is such horrible, negative perceptions laid upon Muslims for some horrible things a small percentage of their group have done. I hope one day this will change because there are beautiful Muslims around the world who are copping criticism (along with their nations) for believing in something that others don’t. How farcical!
It is so upsetting to have experienced first hand just how much the media can impact your thoughts. Brunei was safe, the people were kind and our instant perceptions are false.
I am going to try my hardest to be more objective, to question my instant feelings and really think about what it is that makes us be so judgemental. I don’t want to live in a world where we are subjective, censorious or unwelcoming towards groups of people for things they haven’t personally done.
I am going to be optimistic. I think you can join me too.
[ READ NEXT: THE IGNORANCE BEHIND ISLAMOPHOBIA ]
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