Somalia – According to reports, the Muslim-majority nation banned Christmas. They argued Christian celebrations could threaten the nation’s Muslim faith. In 2013, the nation also banned the Christian holiday citing security reasons, this was the first time it was banned because of religious sentiment. The Somalian population of 10 million is almost entirely Muslim. The country officially adopted Sharia in 2009.
Sheikh Mohamed Kheyrow, director of Somalia’s ministry of religion, said on state radio,
“We warn against celebration of Christmas, which is only for Christians. This is a matter of faith. The Christmas holiday and its drum beatings have nothing to do with Islam.” He said the ministry has sent letters to the police, national security intelligence and officials in the capital Mogadishu instructing them to “prevent Christmas celebrations”
He also claimed, “We [Islamic scholars] are warning against the celebration of such events which are not relevant to the principles of our religion. Such events give also al-Shabaab [incentive] to carry out attacks.”
Ebenezer Obadare, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Kansas who focuses on Africa said,
“I find it difficult to understand how the arbitrary abrogation of Christians might help to deter al-Shabab’s attacks. Not only is the government of Somalia giving in to insurgents and their radical ideologies, unfortunately, it is trampling on the legitimate rights of Somali Christians in the process.”
Foreigners were allowed to celebrate Christmas in their homes, but public celebrations were not allowed. Hotels were included in the ban, along with other public places and prohibited from marking the day.
The ban was announced days after suspected al-Shabab militants attacked a bus near the Kenya-Somalia border and killed at least two people. Some of the Muslims refused the request of the gunmen to split into groups of Muslims and non-Muslims, and shielded the Christian passengers instead. In 2014, the extremist group attacked a Christmas party at an African Union military base in Mogadishu that killed at least three peacekeepers and a civilian.
In a televised interview with Network Africa, a Reuters photo journalist was asked to describe the reaction of the Somalian people towards the banning of the Christmas holiday. The journalist relayed the population welcomed and supported the government’s decision because all were Muslims. He also said there was no need for celebrations because Somalia had no Christian communities.
Tajikistan has also issued its toughest-ever ban on seasonal celebrations, banning Christmas trees and gift-giving in schools. The education ministry put out a decree prohibiting “the use of fireworks, festive meals, gift-giving and raising money” over new year as well as “the installation of a Christmas tree either living or artificial” in schools and universities.
AFP reported that Brunei, a predominantly Muslim country, also banned Christmas celebrations as the Sultan shifts the nation towards Sharia Law.
Religious leaders warned that the ban on Christmas would be strictly enforced, for fear that Muslims could be led astray. “Using religious symbols like crosses, lighting candles, putting up Christmas trees, singing religious songs, sending Christmas greetings … are against Islamic faith,” imams said in sermons published in the local press.
Punishment for violating the ban is a five-year jail sentence. The government warned last year that Muslims would be committing an offence if they so much as wore “hats or clothes that resemble Santa Claus”. Christians were allowed celebrate, but told not to do so “excessively and openly”.
Businesses were told to take down decorations, including Hotels who put up dazzling displays as they cater to western tourists during the holiday. Authorities ramped up spot checks across the capital. A Malaysian expatriate told AFP,
“This will be the saddest Christmas ever for me. The best part of Christmas Day is waking up and having that feeling that it is Christmas, but there’s just none of that here and you just feel deprived. “All this is just because of what the Sultan wants. In 2013, I saw many Muslims together with Christians having a good time at their house parties. Everything was normal and good,” he said.
“All this is just because of what the sultan wants. In 2013, I saw many Muslims together with Christians having a good time at their house parties. Everything was normal and good,” he said.
Most people are too scared to speak up about the ban, and while some privately gripe about the rule they know there is little to be done. “I will be working on Christmas after church. We just have to cope,” a Filipino waitress – one of Brunei’s many guest workers – said.
A Muslim woman called the ban ridiculous and projected the image that Islam does not respect the rights of other religions to celebrate their faith. “Islam teaches us to respect one another and I believe it starts with respecting other religions even if what is being banned are ornamental displays.”
A Christian addressed the ban saying, “It is an Islamic country and so with respect to the law, churches need to keep decorations indoors. The meaning of Christmas for us isn’t all about Christmas decorations.”
A Catholic foreign worker in Brunei told AFP, “In a globalised world, many countries are trying to unite different people and different religions but it doesn’t seem to be the case here. What’s happening here is that Christians are being alienated from the majority Muslim community.”
Some people dared to post pictures on social media depicting Christmas cheer using the hashtag #MyTreedom, part of a global campaign to highlight oppression against Christians.
Last year, the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, announced the implementation of the first phase of the sharia-based penal code. The Islamic criminal law is set to include punishments such as flogging, dismemberment and death by stoning for crimes such as rape, adultery and sodomy. Consensual sex between homosexuals will also be criminalized, with death by stoning the prescribed punishment.
Brunei became the first East Asian country to adopt sharia law, despite condemnation from international human rights groups. Amnesty International said that it will “take the country back to the dark ages.”
“It makes a mockery of the country’s international human rights commitments and must be revoked immediately,” said Amnesty’s regional deputy director Rupert Abbott.
It’s interesting to note that the Sultan is one of the richest men in the world. Prohibition did not extend to his business interests. His estimated $20bn fortune includes the historic Beverly Hills Hotel – part of his Dorchester Collection with branches in London, Paris, Milan and Rome. Christmas was very visible in the upscale Le Richemond hotel in Geneva where guests were greeted by lavish Christmas displays in the hotel lobby. The Le Meurice hotel in Paris advertised a Christmas Eve seven-course gourmet menu for €650 (approx. $713 USD) – before drinks – while the Beverly Hills Hotel was also decked out for the holidays.