NAIROBI — The government of Somalia has banned Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, calling them “contrary to Islamic culture” and citing such festivities as potential targets for terrorists.
Although there are almost no native Christians in Somalia, the country hosts more than 22,000 peacekeepers as part of an African Union mission, and many of them are Christian.
Christmas or New Year's celebrations "could damage the faith of the Muslim community,” Mohamed Khayrow, director general of Somalia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, said at a news conference, according to Somali news media. "All security forces are advised to halt or dissolve any gatherings. There should be no activity at all.’’
Last year, gunmen belonging to the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab attacked a Christmas party at an African Union military base in Mogadishu, killing at least three peacekeepers and a civilian. One of the dead was retired American Delta Force member Brett Fredricks, who was in Mogadishu to train a unit of Ugandan troops.
“We [Islamic scholars] are warning against the celebration of such events, which are not relevant to the principles of our religion,” said Sheik Nur Barud Gurhan, deputy chairman of the Supreme Religious Council of Somalia, according to the Somali news agency Horseed Media. Such celebrations could serve as targets for al-Shabab attacks, he said.
Al-Shabab has continued to carry out large-scale attacks since last year’s Christmas incident. In March, the group took control of a university across the border in Kenya and killed 148 people. At least 15 people were killed last month in Mogadishu when al-Shabab attacked the popular Sahafi Hotel.
Still, the Africa Union’s mission has successfully dislodged al-Shabab from some of its strongholds, and it would seem a contentious move for the Somali government to ban A.U. soldiers from celebrating Christmas and New Year's. The troops are pooled from 13 African countries and are already under enormous pressure. The Ugandan contingent has not been paid for seven months, according to Gen. Jeje Odongo, the minister of state for defense.
Officials at the A.U. Mission in Somalia did not respond to a request for comment.
The only Somali Christians are “converts from a Muslim background,” according to Open Doors, a California-based nonprofit supporting persecuted Christians.
“As the [Somali] government gains more control, state actors are joining the vicious two [Islamist terrorists and clan authorities] to persecute Christians,” says the Open Doors website, which ranked Somalia No. 2 in the world among countries where Christians face the most persecution. North Korea is No. 1.
Somalia mostly uses the Islamic calendar, so Jan. 1 is not observed as the beginning of the new year there.
Earlier this week, the sultan of Brunei also banned public Christmas celebrations, saying they could “damage the beliefs of the Muslim community," according to the Brunei Times.