Following a decision to implement Shari'ah law in the country, the Brunei government has banned 19 Islamic words from use by non-Muslims.
The words, which include Allah—long used by regional Christians to refer to God—and other words with religious associations, can no longer be used in reference to other religions after the new penal code takes effect in April, according to the Brunei Times.
The government also plans to implement strict punishment for crimes, including death by stoning for adultery and amputation of limbs for theft, Religion News Service reported in October. Those penalties will take effect in phases, beginning in April.
Brunei, an independent state bordered by Malaysia, is located on the northwest edge of Borneo Island in the South China Sea. Its population of 416,000 is 67 percent Muslim and ethnic Malay, and the country is ruled by a constitutional sultanate. Residents speak Malay, a language heavily influenced by Arabic.
The country rose this year from No. 27 to No. 24 on Open Doors' World Watch List for severe Christian persecution. The country implements full Islamic law, considers pastors "enemies," and monitors Christians through spies and the police.
The ban on the 19 words follows the long-standing debates in Malaysia, where the government recently instituted a ban on the word Allah. In an unprecedented move, officials raided the Bible Society of Malaysia and seized 300 Bibles. Some Malaysian states ban up to 32 religious words from use by members of other religions, according to the Malay Mail.
Along with Allah, the banned words in Brunei, with their English meanings, are: Azan: the call to prayer five times a day; baitullah: "mosque"; AlQuran: "the Koran"; fatwa: legal opinion or ruling issued by an Islamic scholar; FirmanAllah: "the Word of God"; hadith: "tradition," and Muslim holy writings; Haji: "pilgrimage"; hukumsyara': "Shariah law"; ilahi: "divine"; Ka'bah: Muslim shrine in Mecca; kalimah al syahadah: "word of testimony"; kiblat: "Direction of the Prayers"; masjid: "mosque"; imam: "priest"; mufti: Muslim legal official; mu'min: "believer"; solat: "prayer"; and wali: "guardian."
The punishments for committing acts prohibited in the penal code range from a $4,000 fine or a year in prison for a non-Muslim who cohabits with a Muslim, to death by stoning for a married non-Muslim committing adultery with a married Muslim. Parents who leave their children in the care of non-Muslims can be fined and jailed.
In 2001, CT reported the release of five arrested Christians in Brunei after being arrested for smuggling Bibles and evangelizing Muslims.