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Christmas carries on in Somalia and Brunei

Bans on Christmas celebrations in Somalia and Brunei appear not to have been enforced by the Muslim majority states’ governments. News agencies reported before Christmas that the religious affairs ministry in Mogadishu had forbidden Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in the Horn of Africa, citing its prohibition under Sharia law. The Sultan of Brunei was also reported to have ordered no public celebrations of Christmas in his kingdom.

However on Christmas Eve, the Somali Religious Affairs Minister told the Voice of America that a government ban on Christmas celebrations had been initiated not for religious reasons, but to prevent targets of opportunity for the Islamist terror group Al-Shabab. In 2014 the terror group attacked a Christmas party hosted members of the diplomatic community and African Union peacekeepers stationed in the country. Mogadishu’s Catholic Cathedral, built during the Italian occupation of the country in 1928, was left in ruins by the country’s civil war in 2008. In 1989 the last Bishop of Mogadishu, Salvatore Colombo, was killed by Islamist terrorists while celebrating mass in the cathedral (pictured).

“The troops or other Christians in Somalia are free to practice their religion on their own, because we Muslims do Eid festivals in non-Muslim countries freely,” Ibrahim said. “Anyone can do a party that is not spreading another religion or ideology, and people can do the New Year celebrations.”

The Rev. Johnny Chin, rector of St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Kuala Belait, the Sultanate’s second largest city, that despite claims of a ban on Christmas made in the international press, services and celebrations were not disturbed in the Southeast Asian nation.

Last year Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced the introduction of Shariah law, and forbad the public celebration of Christmas. Shops and hotels were ordered to remove Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees and Santa Claus figures from public display. Christians were permitted to celebrate Christmas, but in the privacy of their homes or churches. Mr. Chin told the Brunei Times the ban on public decorations did not impact the true meaning of Christmas.

“I guess with regards to Christmas, we have reminded ourselves to remain focused on how Christmas is not just about the music, the decorations and the Santa hats – which have been emphasized – but that has never been what Christmas is about anyway,” he said.

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