The Mogadishu That Stole Christmas

The Mogadishu That Stole Christmas

Somalia’s central government has a lot to worry about: corruption, upcoming elections that look less democratic each day, and a deadly extremist group terrorizing the already fragile nation — just to name a few.

Now add Christmas and New Year’s festivities to the list.

This week, the Somali government labeled both holidays as anti-Islamic and banned celebrations on either day.

Speaking on state radio, Sheikh Mohamed Kheyrow, director of Somalia’s ministry of religion, said police have been ordered to “prevent Christmas celebrations.”

“We warn against celebration of Christmas, which is only for Christians,” he said. “This is a matter of faith. The Christmas holiday and its drum beatings have nothing to do with Islam.”

In Somalia, where Sharia law has been in place since 2009 and the vast majority of residents are Muslim, there probably isn’t much desire to celebrate the birth of Jesus or the Christian calendar’s New Year anyway.

But it’s not only Muslim Somalis living in Somalia: It is also the temporary home for 22,000 African Union troops, including some from countries like Uganda and Kenya, where they are used to celebrating their Christmas traditions.

All the rhetoric aside about Christmas being anti-Islamic, Mogadishu’s move isn’t only rooted in a desire to keep Somalia as a Muslim state. It’s also about security concerns. Last year, Islamist al-Shabab militants who want to implement an extreme version of Sharia law launched a deadly Christmas Day attack on the country’s main African Union base. Three peacekeepers and a civilian contractor were killed. With increased security, some bases may still be allowed to celebrate the holiday this year.

“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.”

Somalia isn’t the only place where Christmas won’t be celebrated on Dec. 25. In Tajikistan, giving gifts and decorating Christmas trees is banned in schools. And in Brunei, Christmas celebrants risk a five-year prison sentence if they’re caught.

Photo Credit: YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images