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  • » 12/22/2015, 00.00

    BRUNEI

    Brunei bans Christmas, violators can get up to five years in prison (and fines)



    Backed by the country’s Islamic leaders, Brunei’s sultan has banned Christian symbols and celebrations. Violators can be fined US$ 20,000 or get up to five years in jail. The authorities fear Christmas might “damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community." However, some have dared to challenge the ban on social media with the #MyTreedom hashtag.

    Bandar Seri Begawan (AsiaNews) – Brunei, a sharia-ruled small sultanate in Southeast Asia, continues to ban Christmas. Muslims and non-Muslims who celebrate in public Christmas can expect a fine of ,000, up to five years in prison, or both. 

    Brunei’s sultan outlawed the Christian festivity last year on the grounds that celebrating it "excessively and openly" could lead his Muslim population astray. Since then, local Islamic religious leaders have backed him.

    Christians and others can still celebrate Christmas, but must do so in private and have to warn the authorities beforehand.

    The list of offensive practices include: using or wearing Christian religious symbols like the cross, lighting candles, making Christmas trees, putting up decorations, wearing Santa hats, singing religious songs, and sending Christmas cards.

    For Brunei’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, "enforcement measures are . . . intended to control the act of celebrating Christmas excessively and openly” because they “could damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community."

    Undaunted, some people in the Sultanate (pictured) have challenged the ban by posting Christmas pictures on social media using the #MyTreedom hashtag. The same is happening elsewhere, even in countries like Saudi Arabia, where Christian symbols and festivities are also outlawed.

    Brunei is oil-rich, producing on average about 180,000 barrels a day. With natural gas, oil represents half of its annual gross product (GDP).

    It is ruled by an absolute monarch, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 69, who introduced sharia in the spring 2014. The latter applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims, and imposes the death penalty by stoning on adulterers, homosexuals, and blasphemers, amputation on thieves, as well as flogging for other offenses such as abortion and drinking alcohol.

    Sharia enforcement on all residents, regardless of religion, has been quite draconian. In recent years, political pressure on civil society has increased with local media highlighting conversions from Christianity to Islam. Conversely, Muslim converts to other religions can expect the death penalty for apostasy.

    The small nation of 400,000 shares Borneo Island with two large Muslim nations: Indonesia and Malaysia. Its official language is Malay, but English and Chinese are widely used.

    Since independence, it has become a developed country. Almost 70 per cent of its population is Muslim and ethnic Malay. About 13 per cent is Buddhist, mostly ethnic Chinese, followed by indigenous people and other minority groups. Christians are about 10 per cent, 70 per cent from the Philippines, 20 per cent from Indonesia, and 10 per cent indigenous. About 10 per cent of the population does not profess any religion.

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    See also

    22/10/2013 BRUNEI
    The Sultanate of Brunei to introduce Sharia-based rules
    Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah's policy of 'Islamisation' continues. Within six months, rules such as stoning for adultery and amputation for thieves will come into force. The new Penal Code will apply only to Muslims, but residents fear greater repression.

    09/11/2013 BRUNEI
    Church in Brunei, a young and "missionary” reality
    The Apostolic Vicar Msgr. Cornelius Sim tells of a really small, but " prosperous and lively” reality . The prelate thanked the community of Filipino immigrants who make the life of the Church "active", and his hopes for "new vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life”. To date, together with Bishop there are only three priests to care for 20 thousand people.

    04/01/2016 BRUNEI
    For the apostolic vicar to Brunei, Christmas celebrations went well despite the ban
    According to Mgr Cornelius Sim, the ban in the Sultanate is not that bad, and mostly touches Muslims. Catholics “have always been able to practice their faith publicly”. Banning Jingle Bells and Santa Claus did not negatively impact Christian celebrations. Parishes organised the annual observance on 25 December for foreign migrants, especially those from the Philippines.

    06/05/2014 BRUNEI - ISLAM
    Celebrities and business leaders come out against Brunei sultan's decision to introduce Sharia
    Virgin Group founder and owner Richard Branson decides to boycott a hotel chain linked to the sultanate. Human rights groups and associations take aim at the implementation of Islamic law, which is increasingly threatening the religious freedom of non-Muslims.

    29/01/2014 BRUNEI - ISLAM
    Apostolic Vicar: Sharia as a challenge and opportunity for Catholics in Brunei
    Mgr Cornelius Sim calls for a "creative" response to the Sultanate's growing Islamisation. In April, Sharia law will come into force and some inhabitants are afraid of becoming "second class citizens", which is why they are not excluding the possibility of emigration. However, the prelate is unruffled, confident about the future of the Church.



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