Tiny conservative nation on Borneo warns citizens that putting up festive decorations or singing carols could threaten the country’s Muslim faith
By Barney Henderson
Brunei has banned public celebrations of Christmas, warning that putting up festive decorations or singing carols could threaten the country’s Muslim faith.
The conservative Islamic country on the island of Borneo allows non-Muslims to celebrate Christmas, but only within their communities, and they must first alert the authorities.
At least 65 per cent of the 420,000-strong population of the oil-rich state are Muslims.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs said in a statement: “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.”
In a warning to Muslims earlier this month, a group of Imams warned that any celebration “not in any way related to Islam” could lead to “‘tasyabbuh’ (imitation) and unknowingly damage the ‘aqidah’ (faith) of Muslims”.
“During Christmas celebrations, Muslims following that religion’s acts – such as using their religious symbols like cross, lighting candles, making Christmas trees and singing religious songs, sending Christmas greetings, using signs praising the religion, putting up decorations or creating sounds and doing anything that amounts to respecting their religion – are against Islamic faith,” the Imams said, according to the Borneo Bulletin.
“Some may think that it is a frivolous matter and should not be brought up as an issue. But as Muslims and as a Zikir Nation, we must keep it (following other religions’ celebrations) away as it could affect our Islamic faith.”
Some Brunei residents rejected the ban, by posting Christmas pictures on social media using the #MyTreedom hashtag.
Brunei, a former British protectorate, is run as an absolutist Muslim monarchy by the Sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, 67.
Political discontent is limited thanks to a high standard of living and free education and health care, although members of the royal family have been criticised for their extravagant lifestyles.
Michael Jackson, the late pop singer, was reportedly paid more than £10 million to give a concert in Brunei in 1996 to mark the sultan’s 50th birthday.
Last year, the sultan caused controversy by introducing Sharia criminal law, which allows for punishments including stoning, whipping and amputation.
This policy triggered a boycott of the hotel chain owned by the Sultan of Brunei’s sovereign wealth investment agency by a group of celebrities, fashion designers and other famous names.
Backed by the likes of Stephen Fry, Stella McCartney and Sir Richard Branson, the rich, famous and chic were urged not to book into any of the Dorchester Collection venues, including the Dorchester in London, Le Meurice in Paris, the Beverly Hills Hotel in LA and Il Principe in Milan.