Somalia’s government issued a nationwide ban on Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Although the country is predominantly Muslim, the authorities have maintained that the ban “has nothing to do with Islam.”
The country previously claimed that the festivities might spur attacks from al-Shabab insurgents. Somalia has ordered its security forces to stop any public gatherings from observing the Christian holiday.
Sheikh Mohamed Khayrow, the director general of the religious affairs ministry, said, “All events related to Christmas and New Year celebrations are contrary to Islamic culture, which could damage the faith of the Muslim community. There should be no activity at all.”
Hotels and other public places are strictly barred from holding or hosting any events related to the Christian holiday. Officials have clarified that such celebrations are contrary to Islamic culture and faith. Security forces are expected to conduct random sweeps to ensure Christmas celebrations do not take place. They have been ordered to “peacefully” break up any celebrations.
It is not immediately clear what the penalty for celebrating Christmas will be, but given the fact that the country is predominately Muslim, it is up to the religious leaders to announce whatever punishment they deem fit.
Interestingly, while the locals are barred from celebrating Christmas and the New Year, foreigners are allowed to celebrate the religious holiday. As long as foreigners keep their celebrations confined to their homes, they are allowed to celebrate Christmas. Additionally, peacekeepers are also free to mark the holiday at the United Nations and the African Union compounds.
While the religious leaders of the country claimed that the Christmas festivities could threaten the East African country’s Muslim community and inspire attacks from al-Shabab insurgents, Sheikh Mohamed Kheyrow, director of Somalia’s ministry of religion, categorically mentioned that the ban wasn’t out of fear of attacks.
“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. “
However, Sheikh Nur Barud Gurhan, the deputy chairman of the Supreme Religious Council of Somalia, had previously claimed such celebrations could incite Islamic extremist group al-Shabab. It was said that the extremist group could launch attacks in the Muslim-majority nation.
“We [Islamic scholars] are warning against the celebration of such events that are not relevant to the principles of our religion. Such events could provoke the al-Shabab to carry out attacks.”
Last year, al-Shabab carried out an attack on Christmas day. The gruesome attack, which lasted for several hours, was carried out on Mogadishu airport. The extremist group killed 12 innocent people, including three peacekeepers and a civilian contractor. The group still controls some parts of the Somalia’s capital. Among the many edicts is a blanket ban on any Christian festivals. Incidentally, Somalia follows the Islamic calendar. According to the calendar, January 1 isn’t the beginning of the year.
It is not clear why Somalia banned Christmas celebrations, other than the looming threat of al-Shabab. The country hosts thousands of African Union peacekeepers, including from the majority-Christian countries Burundi, Uganda, and Kenya, reported the Express Tribune.
What’s concerning about the decision is that Somalia is gradually emerging from two decades of infighting and the resultant chaos. As it readies itself to welcome hordes of Somalis returning from Europe and North America, it should be allowing foreign traditions and customs, which its own people have picked up. But instead, the country is trying to ban one of the largest communal festivals.
Shockingly, Abdifatah Halane, spokesperson for the mayor of Mogadishu, said, “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’s population of 10 million people is virtually entirely Muslim, with the bulk belonging to the Sunni sect of Islam, reported the International Business Times. By banning Christmas, is the country giving in to the demands of radical Islamists?
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