Somalia bans Christmas, New Year festivities

Somalia’s government has banned Christmas and New Year festivities, warning that such Christian celebrations could threaten the nation’s Muslim faith.

The country mostly uses the Islamic calendar, so January 1 is not observed as the beginning of the new year.

“Those celebrations are not in any way related to Islam,” an official at the religious affairs ministry said.

Security agencies have been directed to stay alert to stop any gatherings.

Foreigners are free to mark the Christian holiday in their own homes, but hotels and other public places have been prohibited from marking the day.

“Having Muslims celebrate Christmas in Somalia is not the right thing, such things are akin to the abandonment,” local media quote Mohamed Kheyrow, a top official at Somalia’s justice and religious affairs ministry, as saying.

Christmas is not widely celebrated in Somalia, which officially adopted Sharia in 2009, but the odd event was held – especially as an excuse to hold a party.

Mogadishu’s mayor, Yusuf Hussein Jimale, told the BBC that such gatherings might also be a target for the Islamist al-Shabab group that has targeted hotels in the city in the past.

Last year, gunmen belonging to the Somali terrorist group attacked a Christmas party at an African Union military base in Mogadishu, killing at least three peacekeepers and a civilian.

“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.

Celebrations will be allowed at UN compounds and bases for African Union peacekeepers, who are in the country to back the government’s fight against the al-Qaeda-linked militants.