The Jakarta Post
Religious schools across the country welcomed an overall increase in new students this year, which included 89 non-Muslim enrollments.
A total of 5,358 new students began their studies at religious schools nationwide yesterday, marking a slight rise from 5,036 enrollments last year. Brunei-Muara District recorded the highest number of new students with 3,927 enrollments.
Although only 89 non-Muslims have joined this year compared to 116 in 2010, the total number of non-Muslims attending religious schools jumped from 569 to 680 over the last four years.
Statistics from the Islamic Studies Department at the Ministry of Religious Affairs revealed that 52.2 percent of existing non-Muslim students in religious schools hail from Tutong, followed by 25.5 percent in Brunei-Muara, 16.6 percent in Belait and 5.5 percent in Temburong.
Most of the non-Muslims attending religious schools are from the indigenous groups of Dusun, Murut and Iban, who live in rural areas, according to a previous report.
In 2010, the department attributed the rise in non-Muslim students at religious schools to the newly-adopted National Education System for the 21st Century ( SPN21 ).
Religious Studies became a core subject under SPN21, making it compulsory for all students in Brunei to take up the subject.
The Islamic Studies Department explained that non-Muslim students chose to enroll in religious schools to support their understanding of the Religious Studies subject.
Hj Ahmsani Hj Ahmad, a principal at the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) Religious School, said they have welcomed non-Muslim students for many years.
The religious school located in Mukim Gadong currently has eight non-Muslim students, including a pair of siblings who had embraced Islam last year.
Hj Ahmsani added that several non-Muslims have also achieved top scores in end of year examinations.
'We have non-Muslim parents who willingly enroll their children in religious schools as they want to learn about Islam,' he said, noting that religious education remains voluntary for non-Muslims.
Under the Compulsory Religious Education Order 2012, religious education was made mandatory for every Muslim child born on or after 1 Jan 2006, holding either a citizenship or permanent resident status in Brunei. The new law took effect from 1 Jan 2013.
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