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Brunei Bans Christmas Celebrations Over Fears Holiday Will Threaten Muslim Faith of Country

( [email protected] ) Dec 22, 2015 12:54 PM EST
The oil-rich country of Brunei has banned public celebrations of Christmas, warning that public observations of the overtly Christian holiday could threaten the country's Muslim faith and result in lengthy prison time.
Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah Reuters

The oil-rich country of Brunei has banned public celebrations of Christmas, warning that public observations of the overtly Christian holiday could threaten the country's Muslim faith and result in lengthy prison time.

According to a report from the Daily Mail, Muslims seen celebrating Christmas -- including wearing Santa hats, singing carols and passing along holiday greetings -- and non-Muslims found to be organizing celebrations could face up to five years jail.

However, non-Muslims, which make up an estimated 32% of the country's population, are permitted to celebrate Christmas, but only within their communities, and they must first alert the authorities.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs said in a statement: "These enforcement measures are ... intended to control the act of celebrating Christmas excessively and openly, which could damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community."

In a warning to Muslims earlier this month, a group of Imams warned that any celebration "not in any way related to Islam" could lead to "'tasyabbuh' (imitation) and unknowingly damage the 'aqidah' (faith) of Muslims".

"During Christmas celebrations, Muslims following that religion's acts - such as using their religious symbols like cross, lighting candles, making Christmas trees and singing religious songs, sending Christmas greetings, using signs praising the religion, putting up decorations or creating sounds and doing anything that amounts to respecting their religion - are against Islamic faith," the Imams said, according to the Borneo Bulletin.

"Some may think that it is a frivolous matter and should not be brought up as an issue. But as Muslims and as a Zikir Nation, we must keep it (following other religions' celebrations) away as it could affect our Islamic faith."

Officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs have also reportedly visited local businesses to ensure they are not displaying Christmas decorations, including Santa hats and banners with Christmas greetings, according to The Telegraph.

Some are pushing back against the ban, however, via the social media campaign #MyTreedom, which encourages Christians and other in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran to post images of themselves celebrating Christmas, includes several contributions from Brunei residents.

Brunei is run as an absolutist Muslim monarchy by the the Sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, 67, who is also one of the world's richest men.  

Last year, Bolkiah came under fire after ordering the introduction of Sharia Law, the strict legal code based on the injunctions of the Koran. The stringent laws were to be phased in over three years, but have yet to go into effect.

"Soon Brunei will have all of the horrors of an Islamic nation," writes Judson Phillips for the Washington Times. "Under the Islamic code that will go into effect, there will be stonings, amputation of limbs for them, whippings and the death penalty for insulting Mohammad and the Koran."

Open Doors USA has ranked Brunei 27th on the list of countries where Christians face severe persecution.

"By decree, contact with Christians in other countries, the import of Bibles and the public celebration of Christmas is banned," reads the report. "Sharia law has been fully implemented since 2011 for all Muslims in the country. Anglican and Roman Catholic churches are the only recognized Christian communities in the country, but even they have to be very careful. They are able to celebrate services, but apart from that, their functioning is restricted."