World

MOGADISHU (Web Desk) – The government of Somalia has banned Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, calling them “contrary to Islamic culture” and citing such festivities as potential targets for terrorists.

The sultanate of Brunei has also banned seasonal celebrations as part of a shift towards sharia law, while the central Asian state of Tajikistan has also issued a tough stance on observing Christmas.

Somalia follows the Islamic calendar that does not recognise January 1 as the beginning of the year.

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Although there are almost no native Christians in Somalia, the country now hosts more than 22,000 peacekeepers from across Africa, many of whom are Christian.

Christmas or New Year’s celebrations “could damage the faith of the Muslim community,” Mohamed Khayrow, director general of Somalia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs said at a news conference, according to Somali news media.

“All security forces are advised to halt or dissolve any gatherings. There should be no activity at all.”

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Sheikh Nur Barud Gurhan, of the Supreme Religious Council of Somalia, also warned against celebrations, saying they could provoke al-Shabab “to carry out attacks”.

Last year, the armed group launched a Christmas Day attack on the African Union’s heavily fortified headquarters in the capital Mogadishu, killing three AU soldiers and a civilian.

Santa hats banned

Similarly, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has also banned public celebrations of Christmas.

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Religious leaders in the oil-rich sultanate warned the ban on Christmas would be strictly enforced, with violators facing up to five years in jail.

“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.

Other banned activities include putting up Christmas trees, singing religious songs and sending Christmas greetings, reported the Borneo Bulletin.

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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 represent about nine percent of Brunei’s 430,000 population. Around 20 per cent of Brunei’s residents are non-Muslim, including substantial Buddhist and Christian communities.

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Businesses have been warned to take decorations down and authorities have stepped up spot checks across the capital. Hotels popular among Western tourists that once boasted dazzling lights and giant Christmas trees are now barren of festive decor.