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Christmas Is Officially Canceled in Somalia

Somalia's Ministry of Religious Affairs has issued a ban on Christmas and New Year's celebrations in the Muslim country, reportedly ordering the country's security forces to "prevent such un-Islamic acts."

by VICE News and Reuters
Dec 23 2015, 7:05pm

Photo de Bert Kaufmann

It turns out that the war on Christmas is actually no joke. In some quarters of the world, 'tis the season to keep your holiday cheer quiet.

On Tuesday, Somalia's Ministry of Religious Affairs issued a ban on Christmas and New Year's celebrations in the Muslim country, and reportedly ordered the country's security forces to "prevent such un-Islamic acts."

"We warn against celebration of Christmas, which is only for Christians," Sheikh Mohamed Kheyrow, director of the ministry, said on state radio. "This is a matter of faith. The Christmas holiday and its drum beatings have nothing to with Islam."

His ministry has sent letters to the police, national security intelligence, and officials in the capital of Mogadishu instructing them to put an end to such activities, though no criminal penalties for merrymaking have been stipulated.

"All security forces are advised to halt or dissolve any gatherings," Kheyrow said at a later press conference. "There should be no activity at all.''

It was not immediately clear what prompted the government announcement. It seemed to echo the view of the Islamist militant group al Shabaab, which controlled the capital Mogadishu until 2011. Among the group's edicts was a ban on Christmas celebrations.

Somalia is almost entirely Muslim, but it hosts thousands of African Union peacekeepers, including from the majority-Christian countries Burundi, Uganda, and Kenya.

The country, which is struggling to emerge from two decades of fighting and chaos, has also seen a growing number of Somalis returning from Europe and North America, sometimes bringing foreign traditions and attitudes with them.

Officials warned that Christmas celebrations could attract attacks from al Shabaab.

"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," Abdifatah Halane, spokesman for Mogadishu mayor, told Reuters. "Christmas is for Christians. Not for Muslims."

Last December 25, al Shabaab claimed responsibility for an attack on the main African Union base in Mogadishu, which lasted several hours and left three peacekeepers and a civilian contractor dead.

Somalia is not the only country to impose such a ban. Last year, the small oil-rich Asian nation of Brunei adopted a stricter Sharia penal code and banned Christmas out of concern that public celebrations would confuse and mislead the country's Muslims. Christians are still allowed to observe the holiday there, but must do so in private after notifying the authorities. Doing so "excessively and openly" is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Photo via Flickr