Celebrating Christmas in Brunei May Lead to Five Years in Jail

Celebrating Christmas in Brunei May Lead to Five Years in Jail
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像
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Brunei introduced its ban on Christmas last year over fear that celebrating it excessively and openly could lead its Muslim population astray. Local Islamic religious leaders have promoted the ban, warning that celebrating Christmas is tantamount to imitation of another faith and is prohibited in some interpretations of Islam.

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Liberty Times reports, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah issued a new law on December 22 banning Muslims to wear Santa hats, hold banners with Christmas greetings and other activities in celebration of Christmas. Those who break the law may be fined up to US$ 20,000, face up to five years in jail, or even both.

Although Bruneian authorities allow non-Muslim people to celebrate Christmas, they can only do so in private and have to alert the authorities in advance.

Brunei introduced its ban on Christmas last year over fear that celebrating it excessively and openly could lead its Muslim population astray. Local Islamic religious leaders have promoted the ban, warning that celebrating Christmas is tantamount to imitation of another faith and is prohibited in some interpretations of Islam.

Officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs have also reportedly visited local businesses to ensure they are not displaying Christmas decorations.

CNA reports, Islam is the state religion in Brunei. Among its 420 thousand population, 63% of them are Muslims, 12% are Buddhists and 9% are Christians.

Independent reports, the ban has encountered some resistance. The social media campaign, #MyTreedom, encourages Christians and others in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran to post images of themselves celebrating Christmas. This includes several contributions from Brunei residents. Some also believe that it’s not legitimate to use laws to interfere with religions.

ETtoday reports, in addition to issuing the Christmas ban, Brunei launched a new penal code based on the Islamic sharia last year, becoming the first country in East Asia to issue Islamic sharia. Currently, most countries that implement Islamic sharia are in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq.

Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

On May 1, 2014, Brunei implemented the first stage of the penal code, unmarried pregnancies, not performing Friday prayers, not obeying Ramadan rules and spreading other religions will be fined or held in custody. At the end of 2014, the second stage was issued. People who steal or drink alcohol can be sentenced to flogging or have their hands cut off.

The third stage was implemented in 2015. Behaviors including adultery, homosexual sexual intercourse or committing blasphemy against the Koran or the Prophet Muhammad will be sentenced to death. Stoning is included in on of the ways to conduct the execution. The new law has caused a lot of controversy, and has also been criticized by UN human rights officials.

China Times reports, Brunei was a former British colony, and the Sultan inherits a regime that can be dated back to the 14th century. The Sultan is the leader of the country and government. All the parliament members are appointed by the Sultan, thus there is no legislative organization elected by the Bruneian people.

The 69-year-old incumbent Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah came to the throne in 1967, and he has been promoting the Malay and Islamic culture as well as absolute monarchy. Oil and natural gas are the country’s main source of income, accounting for 67% of the GDP and 96% of exportation.
Brunei is in good economic condition, and education and health care are both free, so there is little political dissent in the country. However, the extravagant lifestyle of the royal family is often criticized.

Newtalk reports, in other Islamic countries, authorities hold different attitudes towards Christmas. United Arab Emirates accepts Christmas and considers it a non-religious activity. As for Saudi Arabia, authorities require all Christian festivals to be celebrated in private.

Translated by Vic Chiang
Edited by Olivia Yang

Sources:

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