Somalia has banned Christmas celebrations, joining Brunei, citing reasons of faith and security. The Muslim majority nation, which officially adopted Sharia in 2009, says that Christmas celebrations and festivities “have nothing to do with Islam” and fear that it could attract Islamist attacks.
New year celebrations are also banned as Somalia follows the Islamic calendar that does not recognize January 1 as the beginning of the year.
Abdifatah Halane, spokesman for the mayor of Mogadishu, told Reuters, “Christmas will not be celebrated in Somalia for two reasons; all Somalis are Muslims and there is no Christian community here. The other reason is for security. Christmas is for Christians. Not for Muslims.”
Somalia was created in 1960 from a former British protectorate and an Italian colony. It collapsed into anarchy following the overthrow of the military regime of President Siad Barre in 1991. As rival warlords tore the country apart, the two relatively peaceful northern regions of Somaliland and Puntland effectively broke away. Mogadishu and much of the country’s south was seized by a coalition of Islamist shariah courts in 2006. Later, Ethiopia and the African Union forces intervened. A new internationally-backed government was installed in 2012. Somalia has been inching towards stability, but the new authorities still face a challenge from al-Qaeda-aligned al-Shabab insurgents.
There are almost no Christians living in Somalia. A bomb-torn, Italian-built Catholic cathedral remains a city landmark in the capital Mogadishu as a reminder of the previous existence of Christianity. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, Somalia has a Christian popular of less than 10,000.
However, more than 22,000 peacekeepers are stationed there as a part of an African Union mission, many of them being Christians. As the country is recovering from civil war, many Somalis who grew up in the diaspora are returning and bringing along Western customs and traditions.
Last December, the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for an attack on a Christmas party at an African Union military base in Mogadishu, which lasted several hours and killed at least three peacekeepers and one civilian.
Sheikh Mohamed Kheyrow, director of Somalia’s ministry of religion, announced on state radio, “We warn against celebration of Christmas, which is only for Christians. This is a matter of faith. The Christmas holiday and its drum beatings have nothing to with Islam.”
Somalia also issued a previous ban in 2013. Security agencies have been directed to stay alert to stop any gatherings.
He added, “All security forces are advised to halt or dissolve any gatherings. There should be no activity at all.”
The move follows the Sultan of Brunei’s decision to jail Muslims who celebrate the festivities. Hassanal Bolkiah told residents of his country that if they plan to celebrate on December 25, they could face up to five years in jail. 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.” 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.
Suspected al-Shabab militants ambushed a bus near the Kenya-Somalia border on Sunday, killing at least two people and wounding others. A group of Muslims on the bus shielded Christian passengers from the gunmen by refusing to be separated into groups, according to an eyewitness report on BBC News.
BBC News reported that celebrations will be allowed at UN compounds and bases for African Union peacekeepers, who are in the country to back the government’s fight against the al-Qaeda-linked militants.
[Image via Pexels]