Ban on Christmas celebrations in Brunei after sharia law is imposed
The oil-rich sultanate of Brunei became the first country in South-east Asia to impose Sharia law, a move which has serious implications for people of other faiths there, particularly the 10% of Bruneians who are Christians. Human rights groups have criticised Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah decision to implement strict Islamic laws which include punishments such as whipping, stoning and amputation.
One of the first measures against Christianity has been the total ban on any open Christmas displays or celebrations this year. Displaying Christmas trees, Santa Claus or religious figures, playing Christmas carols or even sending Christmas cards is now against the law…. which applies to everyone, Christians and Muslims alike.
The consequences for those who break the ban can be serious. According to provisions in the Syariah Penal Code Order 2013 law, offenders can be fined 20,000 Brunei dollars or serve a jail term of up to five years.
Ustaz Haji Anwari Haji Rawee, a cleric from Brunei’s Religious Affairs Ministry’s propagation division, said the ban was to prevent Muslims from being led astray: “If Muslims offer wishes of Merry Christmas, it means they give recognition to that religion and consider it to be acceptable by Allah. But that cannot be, as our religion says there is only one God, not many Gods”.
Both Muslim and Christian residents of Brunei are unhappy about the Christmas ban. Some have openly criticised the decision claiming the ban was ridiculous and gave the impression that Islam does not respect the rights of people of other religions, even if what is being banned is just ornamental displays.
However, Christians admitted they were used to celebrating Christmas quietly and that the ban had not been much of a shock after Sharia law was imposed. Determined to remain cheerful, they are re-using last year’s Christmas trees, decorations and cards since these items are no longer allowed to be sold. “The meaning of Christmas for us isn’t all about Christmas decorations” they said.