This horse would be unwelcome in Brunei this festive season. Source: Pixabay
Brunei has banned public celebrations of Christmas, including sending festive greetings and wearing Santa Claus hats.
Muslims taking part in Christmas ceremonies or celebrations and non-Muslims caught organising events could face up to five years in jail.
However, the country’s non-Muslims, who make up around 32 per cent of the 420,000-strong population, can mark the festive season within their communities on the condition that the no Muslims are invited.
Imams have told the devout in the oil-rich state on Borneo to follow their government’s edict last year banning celebrations that could lead Muslims away from religious obedience and damage their faith, according to the Borneo Bulletin.
“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,” the Ministry of Religious Affairs told the Brunei Times.
The statement said non-Muslims displaying Christmas celebrations violated the penal code which prohibits spreading a religion other than Islam among Muslims.
The Borneo Bulletin reported that imams claimed at a Friday sermon that lighting candles, putting up Christmas trees, singing carols, sending cards and putting up decorations were against the faith.
“Some may think that it is a frivolous matter and should not be brought up as an issue,” an imam was quoted saying.
“But as Muslims … we must keep it away as it could affect our Islamic faith.”
Before Christmas last year religious affairs officials asked shop owners to remove festive decorations and stopped staff wearing Santa Claus hats and clothes.
In other respects, Brunei does not enforce harsh Islamic orthodoxies seen in countries like Saudi Arabia.
There are no sanctions for women who do not wear headscarfs. The sale and public consumption of alcohol is banned but foreigners are allowed to import and drink it in private.
Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 68, one of the world’s wealthiest men, ordered the introduction of sharia law, the strict Islamic legal code, prompting boycotts and protests at hotels he owns in Britain and the US, including the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The laws, which include the amputation of hands and feet for theft and whipping for adultery, are due to be phased in over three years.
The Brunei government said: “Believers of other religions that live under the rule of an Islamic country – according to Islam – may practice their religion or celebrate their religious festivities among their community, with the condition that the celebrations are not disclosed or displayed publicly to Muslims.
“Muslims should be careful not to follow celebrations such as these that are not in any way related to Islam … and could unknowingly damage the faith of Muslims.”
The tough restriction was put in place after children and adults were seen wearing clothes “that resemble Santa Claus” which was seen as promoting a religion other than Islam.
The statement said businesses in the monarchy had cooperated with the requirement not to display any Christmas decorations.
The move is expected to attract more international criticism, following the decision to adopt Sharia law.