Brunei, a tiny conservative Muslim country on the island of Borneo, has banned Christmas — but for Muslims only.
Hassanal Bolkiah, the sultan of Brunei, reportedly declared that anyone found celebrating the holiday could face up to five years in prison. Even sending a festive greeting or wearing a Santa hat could be considered a criminal offense.
Non-Muslims, who account for roughly 33 percent of Brunei’s population of just 420,000 people, are allowed to carry on with the celebrations as long as they do so within their communities after informing authorities.
"These enforcement measures are ... intended to control the act of celebrating Christmas excessively and openly, which could damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community,” the country’s Ministry of Religious Affairs said in a statement. “Some may think that it is a frivolous matter and should not be brought up as an issue. But as Muslims and as a Zikir nation, we must keep it (following other religions’ celebrations) away as it could affect our Islamic faith.”
Brunei is a sovereign state that borders Malaysia in East Asia and gained independence from the British in 1984. It is ranked as world’s fifth wealthiest nation due to its extensive petroleum and natural gas fields.
Last year, Bolkiah prompted international criticism after imposing sharia law in the country — a hard-line policy he referred to as a “firewall” against globalization. The new measures included flogging, severing limbs and death by stoning for offenses such as homosexuality, rape, adultery and sodomy.
With some of Brunei’s royal family members notorious for their extravagant “Western” lifestyles, which goes against the principles of Islamic sharia, such penalties are apparently reserved for ordinary citizens.