As non-Muslims, the local Ramadhan markets are a fascinating place to visit. Interesting and mouth-watering dishes and drinks that are old favourites, or new finds that we maybe haven’t tried before; tasty looking treats to take home and sample. For the rest of the year I don’t think the food offering in Brunei shines particularly brightly, but for the Ramadhan markets they really pull out all the stops.
Of course, for Muslims in Brunei (and across the world), the daily markets that pop up to provide delicious, pre-prepared food and drinks for breaking fast with that evening, are both a challenge to their commitment and fortitude in fasting, and a promise of good things to come. Having never had to fast, I cannot even begin to imagine the mental strength it must take. Doing it for one day would be a stretch. Doing it every day for a whole month must be an incredible feat of dedication and endurance.
In previous years when we have visited the Ramadhan markets here we have seen some non-Muslim people eating or drinking their purchases as they wandered. Although many did not, out of consideration to Muslims in the vicinity.
This year marked a new dawn, as it is the first Ramadhan since the introduction of Syariah Law here. We did not see a single soul eat or drink anything. And no wonder, with the Brunei Islamic Religious Council (MUIB) stating that “not respecting the month of Ramadhan”, by eating, drinking or inhaling anything in public, is punishable with a fine of up to $4,000 (just under £2,000) and/or a maximum of one-year imprisonment. It’s certainly not a risk I’d take.
The Brunei Times Newspaper has been diligent in reporting the risks to businesses and individuals of flouting the rules. And the application of the law affects the population of Brunei in its entirety. So the Brunei Islamic Religious Council has emphasised that both Muslims and non-Muslims could be charged under this provision.
Even tourists are not exempt. Tourism is not a big market here (at all!); it will be interesting to see whether the introduction of Syariah law improves or worsens that position. But for those hardy few who do visit, rumbling tummy or not, I would highly recommend that you put your purchases in your bag and get them back to the privacy of your hotel room before indulging!