Brunei bans public display of Christmas decorations

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Here's the Brunei Ministry of Religious Affairs press release; it was distributed Dec. 27, but I just saw it in Religion Clause, based on an International Business Times story from Thursday:

Referring to recent reports in the local media regarding visits carried out by the Religious Enforcement Division under the Syariah Affairs Department, Ministry of Religious Affairs to several business premises, restaurants and eateries owned by both Muslims and non-Muslims in the Brunei-Muara District which publicly displayed Christmas decorations such as Santa Claus figures, Christmas trees, banners displaying Christmas greetings, and sales personnel dressed like Santa Claus.

Muslims should be careful not to follow celebrations such as these that are not in any way related to Islam, for it is feared that this could lead to tasyabbuh (imitation) and could unknowingly damage the aqidah (faith) of Muslims.

Muslims are prohibited from imitating the customs and practices of other religions that are related to matters of aqidah (faith). In a hadith narrated by Ibnu Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, "Whoever imitates a people is one of them".

For example, in conjunction with Christmas celebrations, Muslim children, teenagers and adults can be seen wearing hats or clothes that resemble Santa Claus. Actions such as these can amount to an offence under Section 207 (1) of the Syariah Penal Code Order, 2013, that is performing or practicing a ceremony or act contrary to Hukum Syara'.

Meanwhile, believers of other religions that live under the rule of an Islamic country—according to Islam—may practice their religion or celebrate their religious festivities among their community, with the condition that the celebrations are not disclosed or displayed publicly to Muslims. This is stated in the Fatwa of the State Mufti of Brunei Darussalam (Siri 03/2005).

The act of publicly displaying festivities of religions other than Islam can be seen as propagation of religions other than Islam, and it can amount to an offence under Section 209 (1) of the Syariah Penal Code Order, 2013, that is propagating religion other than religion of Islam to a Muslim.

The Religious Enforcement Division under the Syariah Affairs Department has taken several measures as an effort to enforce the provisions under Section 207, 209, 210, 211, 212 and 213 under the Syariah Penal Code Order, 2013. Among the measures are giving advice, providing guidance and calling to comply with the Syariah Penal Code Order, 2013. These enforcement measures are also intended to control the act of celebrating Christmas excessively and openly, which could damage the aqidah (faith) of the Muslim community. Alhamdulillah, a majority of business owners and entrepreneurs have given positive responses and full cooperation in this matter.

The measures taken by the Religious Enforcement Division of the Syariah Affairs Department does not ban Christians from celebrating Christmas at their places of worship, within their community and in their homes.

Brunei Darussalam is an Islamic country and Negara Zikir that upholds the Melayu Islam Beraja (Malay Islamic Monarchy) philosophy, and respects the rights of non-Muslims to practice their religion, as provided under the Constitution of Brunei Darussalam. Religious freedom rights for non-Muslims are practiced with peace and harmony, and also subject to other laws.