The efficiency of the Department of Brunei Islamic Religious Council was called into question by His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, during an unscheduled visit yesterday to the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA).
“MUIB Department bears the responsibility of managing Baitulmal, together with the management, collection and distribution of Zakat affairs, and so on. However, the role of the department is perceived as not proactive enough in carrying out duties in assisting the underprivileged community,” said His Majesty in a titah delivered at the ministry.
“There are also complaints about the management and administration of Zakat. The applicants and recipients are said to have made repeated trips to the MUIB office to settle matters. Apart from that, members of the public often encounter difficulties when contacting the department by telephone.
“Another issue concerns house rental payments made by MUIB under a Baitulmal scheme, where the landlords were paid in arrears after a two-year delay. If this is true, then it needs to be rectified.” The monarch also described the existence of MoRA as vital to the management of Islamic affairs, saying, “It has a broad range of fields encompassing the religious section, policy and Syiar, the education section, the legal and enforcement section, and the corporate and services sections.
“Under these sections are the Islamic Da’wah Centre (PDI), Syariah Affairs Department, Islamic Studies Department (JPI), Mosque Affairs Department, Haj Management Department, Department of Brunei Islamic Religious Council (MUIB), Administrative Department, Religious Affairs Offices in each district, and others.
“Taking its vast responsibilities into account, MoRA needs officers and members of staff who are dedicated, efficient and capable of making quick decisions. Otherwise, it will affect important issues or hinder progress in carrying out duties.
“For instance, the Dakwah propagation movement seems to be waning. Previously, several Dakwah programmes were carried out in rural areas, to promote Islam, but it has ceased to exist now. If the Dakwah movement has been truly abandoned, there is a risk of alternative movements, especially in the Temburong District.
“On the other hand, the PDI is actively promoting Islam, aside from producing local preachers of a fine quality. This is vital in ensuring the effectiveness of Dakwah among all levels of society.
“Therefore, the Dakwah movement should be maintained. It should not be diminished or abandoned, to meet the desired objective.”
His Majesty also alluded to the important role of mosques in the country: “Alhamdulillah, the number of mosques is increasing in an organised manner, but the management aspect needs to be examined.
“We keep hearing about how Imams and mosque officials are unable to cope with the requirements of mosques in the country. As a result, some Bilals are carrying out the duties of an Imam. Are we lacking in religious graduates to fill this need?
“There are also complaints regarding certain Imams who failed to fulfil their obligations during prayer times, or simply deserted the mosque after carrying out their duties. This is an ongoing problem, but when will it be addressed?
“It has become a habit for MoRA to ascribe all weaknesses to a lack of funding. Is the scarcity of imams and their poor performance also due to a lack of budget allocation?
“Among the ministry’s primary responsibilities is the administration of Islamic education. A department has been set up for this purpose and its basic duties include upholding the welfare of religious teachers. To that effect, a scheme called the Religious Teachers Service Scheme (SPGU) was implemented in August 2018. But has this scheme been fully utilised to meet certain needs, such as addressing the shortage of religious teachers?
“The irregularities in the management and administration are apparent when several religious teachers are obliged to carry out the duties of Imams and mosque affairs officer. Meanwhile, the lack of religious teachers is hardly or never addressed at all.
“On the other hand, we have many Religious Teachers University College of Seri Begawan (KUPU SB) graduates who are still unemployed. The scarcity of Imams should not be an issue when we have many religious graduates from local or overseas institutions, who are still looking for work.
“Another issue which has not been addressed is the use of the Arabic Language among students in the Arabic stream. As of now, the country has seven Arabic schools.
“I am aware that this department has a strategic plan towards effective religious education in producing a generation of intellectuals and professionals through Arabic language programmes. It looks good on paper, but we want to see a better or a more excellent outcome from this strategic planning, including holding examinations for teachers, aligning teaching methods with learning needs, and so on.
“If the usual methods are no longer relevant, then why don’t we create a new and relevant approach? This is an educational issue which needs consideration.
“Another issue which deserves attention is the condition of student housing and school buildings in Egypt, which require proper inspection and conservation to prevent more damage and unwanted incidents from occurring.
“Regarding the role of the Syariah Affairs Department in implementing Halal food control under the Halal Certificate and Halal Label Order, which have been enforced since 2017 – more food control standards need to be applied, especially among Muslim.
“For example, in April 2018, among the several restaurants approved for Halal certification, one was discovered with non-certified meat and alcohol drinks on its premises.
“The matter was verified and the restaurant was fined BND800 under Chapter 37 of the Halal Certificate and Halal Label Order.
“There were a number of similar cases, but the relevant enforcement agencies appeared to be unconcerned. All aspects of these cases should have undergone re-evaluation. This includes a close examination of the existing Acts for revisions, especially if these go against Syariah laws. These Acts should be reviewed for amendment or repealed and substituted with more relevant acts.”