December 26, 2015

BRUNEI: The Sultan of Brunei Has Banned Christmas In The Tiny Kingdom (Caliphate) In A Shift Towards Hardline Islamic Law.

The Diplomat
written by Luke Hunt
Friday December 25, 2015

The tiny, oil-rich nation continues its assault on Christmas.

Relations between the Islamic and Christian worlds have seen their fair share of tensions and even conflict, particularly in the Middle East where both faiths were initially fostered. That animosity is also being fostered in the tiniest corners of Earth where religion is often fashioned for political gain.

In Brunei, criticism of the monarch Hassanal Bolkiah is strictly forbidden, alongside acts of charity. As one senior government observer told this reporter: “Charity implies His Majesty is incapable of looking after his own people.”

Such attitudes are difficult to challenge, particularly since Bolkiah began imposing Sharia law on his tiny oil-rich Sultanate more than two years ago. It was gradual process, culminating with a ban on Christmas festivities, including the wearing of Santa hats in public.

The ban was initially introduced a year ago. Despite an international outcry back then and for all the hallmarks of the bigotry it entails, the monarch and the Islamic clergy are insisting it will continue.

Under such laws, Muslims caught celebrating Christmas festivities face five years in jail. The fear is that Christmas could lead Muslims astray, even though such laws are impossible to enforce.

Realizing this, the imams of the local mosques have told their flock that it is okay to attend festivals on December 25 that are held within their own local communities – as long as the Christian reasons behind the celebrations are not advertised. Effectively, nativity plays are to be held in secret.

Imams have also warned followers during Friday prayers that Christmas greetings, trees and songs along with decorations ran counter to the Islamic faith. Ministry officials have also been personally asking businesses to pull down Christmas displays.

Brunei has earned itself comparisons with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan since Sharia was formally introduced in May, 2014, with Bolkiah evoking the divine right of kings: “It is because of our need that Allah the Almighty, in all his generosity, has created laws for us, so that we can utilize them to obtain justice.”

Priests have since warned that a simple baptism could constitute a breach of the nation’s penal code. Under sharia law, capital punishment by stoning to death, floggings, and the amputation of limbs are options to guard against theft, adultery and gay relationships. Sodomy, blasphemy, drinking alcohol and pregnancy outside of marriage are also illegal. Penalties can be imposed on people who were under the age of 18 when a Sharia crime was committed.

Human rights groups were outraged by the new laws and Bolkiah – among the world’s richest men – was subjected to boycotts and angry protests at the hotels he owns in Britain and the United States, including the plush Beverly Hills Hotel.

Their actions also cast an unwanted light on the royal family, whose members have a well-established reputation for partying, the good life and excess, particularly in London where casinos have held a long and deep fascination for the King’s offspring.

The crackdown on Christmas was announced by the Religious Affairs Ministry, which according to the Brunei Times, was “… intended to control the act of celebrating Christmas excessively and openly, which could damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community,”

It also reminded non-Muslims that disclosing or displaying Christmas celebrations violated the penal code which prohibits propagating religion other than Islam to a Muslim.

Brunei has a population of 420,000 people. Thirty-two percent are non-Muslim made-up largely of foreign workers, many of them from the Philippines, which is predominantly Catholic.

The Sultanate also sits on the edge of Sabah, an East Malaysian state where a significant Christian population has seen its influence wane after years of encouraged migration from the country’s Western states, orchestrated by the former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
The Journal, Ireland
written by AFP staff
Thursday December 24, 2015

CHRISTMAS IS JUST around the corner, but there are no trees or Santa hats in the oil-rich sultanate of Brunei, where celebrations have been banned under a shift towards hardline Islamic law.

The all-powerful Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the world’s richest men, announced last year he would push ahead with the introduction of sharia law, eventually including tough penalties such as death by stoning or severed limbs.

Religious leaders in the oil-rich sultanate warned this month that a ban on Christmas would be strictly enforced, for fear that Muslims could be led astray.

“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.

Punishment for violating the ban is a five-year jail sentence, and 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”.

Although Christians are free to celebrate, they have been told not to do so “excessively and openly”, in a directive that has had a chilling effect on the southeast Asian nation, which sits on a corner of Borneo island.

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.

“This will be the saddest Christmas ever for me,” a Malaysian expatriate resident told AFP, requesting not to be named for fear of reprisals from authorities.

Taking the battle to social media

Most people are too scared to speak up about the ban, and while some privately gripe about the rule, they know there is little to be done.

“I will be working on Christmas after church. We just have to cope,” a Filipino waitress – one of Brunei’s many guest workers – said.

Some people dared to post pictures on social media depicting Christmas cheer using the hashtag #MyTreedom, part of a global campaign to highlight oppression against Christians.
At least one church in the capital sported decorations that were visible from the street, a rare glimpse of holiday cheer in the otherwise decoration-free city.

“The ban is ridiculous. It projects this image that Islam does not respect the rights of other religions to celebrate their faith,” said a Muslim mother in the capital, also too scared to provide her name.

Others were more tempered, and urged the prohibition to be respected.

“It is an Islamic country and so with respect to the law, churches need to keep decorations indoors,” said a Christian Bruneian, unfazed by the strict rules.

Controversy at home

However, the prohibition does not extend to the business interests of the sultan, whose estimated $20 billion (€18.2 billion) fortune includes the historic Beverly Hills Hotel – part of his Dorchester Collection with branches in London, Paris, Milan and Rome.

Before unveiling the hardline law, the sultan had warned of pernicious foreign influences such as the internet and indicated he intended to place more emphasis on Islam in the conservative Muslim country.

Strict rules against homosexuality in the sharia law, punishable with death by stoning, sparked a backlash among A-listers including Jay Leno, Ellen DeGeneres and business tycoon Richard Branson, who called for the hotels to be boycotted.

The sultan is no stranger to controversy at home either – the monarchy was deeply embarrassed by a family feud with his brother Jefri Bolkiah over the latter’s alleged embezzlement of $15 billion (€13.6 billion) during his tenure as finance minister in the 1990s.

Court battles and investigations revealed salacious details of Jefri’s un-Islamic jetset lifestyle, including claims of a high-priced harem of foreign women and a luxury yacht he owned called Tits.

Some say that Brunei is on a dangerous path towards religious intolerance in a state where only 9% of the population of 430,000 are Christian.

“In a globalised world, many countries are trying to unite different people and different religions but it doesn’t seem to be the case here,” a Catholic foreign worker said.

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