A high-level official in western Indonesia on Saturday (Dec. 17) announced an agreement with a multi-faith body that prohibits Christmas celebrations in a district at sites without government approval.
The agreement effectively bans religious Christmas celebrations in Java Island’s Maja District, Banten Province as strict requirements and bureaucratic opposition make obtaining official worship permits impossible for small fellowships. The announcement comes despite lack of any national-level restrictions on religious Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in the Muslim-majority country.
The head of Lebak Regency in Banten Province, Iti Octavia Jayabaya, revealed the agreement with the Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB) that restricts Christmas celebrations in Maja, one of 28 districts under her jurisdiction.
“There is no prohibition, but based on the results of an agreement from the Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB) deliberations, Christmas joint worship [in Maja District] may only be held in places that are in accordance with the permits,” Iti said in a press statement on Saturday (Dec. 17).
Requirements for obtaining permission to build houses of worship in Indonesia are onerous and hamper the establishment of such buildings for Christians and other faiths. Rights advocates say Indonesia’s Joint Ministerial Decree of 2006 makes requirements for obtaining permits nearly impossible for most new churches.
Even when small, new churches are able to meet the requirement of obtaining 90 signatures of approval from congregation members and 60 from area households of different religions, they are often met with delays or lack of response from officials.
Instead of celebrating Christ’s birth in prohibited venues, Iti said Christians could hold religious Christmas celebrations in nearby Rangkasbitung District. Iti, daughter of previous regent head Mulyadi Jayabaya (2003-2012), said Christians could take public transportation to Rangkasbitung, a town and district about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Maja, for the celebrations.
“In Rangkasbitung there will be a joint [multi-faith but non-religious] Christmas celebration on Dec. 27, and the combined Christians and I will come,” Iti, a Muslim, said on Dec. 14 in Rangkasbitung at a coordination meeting for Christmas and New Year preparations, according to news outlet Kompas.com.
The former head of the Communion of Indonesian Churches (PGI), Andreas A. Yewangoe, told Morning Star News that banning Christmas celebrations in Lebak Regency should bring reproach.
“The central government must sternly reprimand the regent, since it is against the values of Pancasila and the constitution,” Yewangoe said.
Pancasila is the government’s guiding policy of unity and social justice for all of Indonesia’s various peoples. Yewangoe, one of Indonesia’s leading theologians, said a central government reprimand would represent not only a defense of Christians but would uphold the values of Pancasila and the constitution.
The right to hold religious services is solidly stated in the Indonesian Constitution, said Yewangoe, a member of the Pancasila Ideology Development Agency (BPIP), a newly established government body.
“So it should be that everyone has that right,” he told Morning Star News. “That right is actually a human right which derives from God.”
There are no churches or other houses of worship for minority faiths in Maja District due to the strict regulations imposed on Christians and other minorities.
Of Lebak Regency’s more than 1.4 million inhabitants, 0.14 percent are Protestant Christians and 0.7 percent are Roman Catholics, Mumu Najamuddin, head of the Cross-Religious Forum of Lebak Regency states on the Banten Department of Religious Affairs’ website (banten.kemenag.go.id).
The tension between Christians and other minority faiths in Afghanistan is likely to continue now that the extremist group is once again in control of the country. For those religious groups, the takeover caused “a catastrophe”, said Pontifex.
Christmas is almost never celebrated here, with those that choose to do so running the risk of persecution.
Another Muslim-majority nation, Algeria has not observed Christmas in any official capacity since it gained its independence from France, a mostly Catholic nation, in 1962.
However, the country’s population of Christian African migrants, alongside diplomats and locals, have held small celebrations. A market, organised by a the faith-based charity Caritas in 2017, came as a sign of “stable security in a country that has rebounded from a decade of Islamist militant violence”, Reuters reported.
With a Christian population of just 10,000 (less than 1% of the country’s total), Christmas is not part of the Bhutanese calendar, where Buddhism takes precedence.
The public celebration of Christmas has been banned in the tiny oil-rich Islamic state of Brunei since 2015, with anyone found violating the law facing up to five years in jail or a fine of US $20,000, or both.
Although non-Muslims are allowed to celebrate the holiday within their own communities, they are not allowed to share their plans with the country’s Muslims, who make up about two-thirds of the population.
According to the country’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, the rules are “intended to control the act of celebrating Christmas excessively and openly, which could damage the aqidah (creed) of the Muslim community”. One expat told UCANew.co.uk that “the only way to enjoy the festive season is to get out for a vacation”.
According to the Daily Express, Christmas in China is “another working day and schools, offices and shops all remain open”, adding: “The country is officially a non-religious state, so Christmas was once completely banned.”
In 2018, authorities began “cracking down on Christmas”, with citizens ordered “to instead focus on promoting traditional Chinese culture”, said The Guardian.
At 98% Sunni Muslim, the Comoros archipelago in the Indian Ocean takes a firm stance against Christianity. Sunni Islam became the religion of the state following a referendum in 2018, which World Watch Monitor reported was “expected to have a tough impact on the country’s small Christian minority”.
WorldAtlas reported that the open practice of Christianity is prohibited, and Comoros has “been on the World Watch list for the past 22 years for the persecution of Christians”
Christmas has not been celebrated in this predominantly Muslim nation for years. However, 24 December is the country’s independence day, which gives cause for celebration. This year, presidential elections will also take place on Christmas Eve, the first national election for seven years.
The government of Mauritania, despite having a small population of Christians within its borders, chooses not to recognise them at all, with the most recent census claiming that 100% of the country is Muslim.
The overwhelmingly Buddhist nation of Mongolia does not observe any public holidays around Christmas, and few Christians live here. 1 January is a public holiday, but citizens also hold a three-day celebration for the Mongolian Lunar New Year, known as Tsagaan Sar, at the start of the first lunar month.
Christmas “is something of a non-event” in North Korea, reported The Independent. The country’s extreme, authoritarian interpretation of atheism as supposedly laid out in communist doctrine has led to the total outlawing of all things Christmas.
“The North Korean government works hard to ensure information about religious holidays does not enter the so-called hermit kingdom,” the newspaper continued. Anyone who did mark the holiday could be “imprisoned, tortured or ordered to death”.
The country’s extremely small Christian population “remains full of insecurity” about celebrating Christmas, according to news site Parhlo, and there can be a “threat to the lives of the people celebrating the events”.
The 25 December is a public holiday in Pakistan, but to commemorate the birthday of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, considered to be the founder of the nation, rather than the birth of Jesus.
Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
Christmas is a non-event among the predominantly Islamic population of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a partially recognised state that claims sovereignty over the entire territory of Western Sahara.
Christmas trees or the holding of any Christmas-related festivals were for years banned for decades in Saudi Arabia, said Al Bawaba.
But “Christmas trees and glitter ornaments” for sale in the capital Riyadh are “a sign of the changing times”, reported The Arab Weekly. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman bin Abdulaziz has claimed he is committed to steering the kingdom towards an “open, moderate Islam”.
In 2015, Somalia, which adopted Sharia law in 2009, banned the celebration of Christmas outright, warning that such Christian festivities could threaten the nation’s Muslim faith.
Six years ago, the mostly secular former Soviet state of Tajikistan outlawed Christmas trees and giving presents in schools. “The use of fireworks, festive meals, gift-giving and raising money” were prohibited through a decree issued by the education ministry.
Although Christmas is not banned here, Tunisia has almost no public celebrations of the holiday and it is a regular work day for the country.
Despite almost 10% of the country being Eastern Orthodox Christians, Christmas is not celebrated here. Instead, Uzbekistan’s New Year celebrations closely resemble Christmas festivities, complete with trees and the exchange of gifts. However, it is a secular holiday.
The war-torn state of Yemen has not officially observed Christmas for decades. Last year, Yemeni citizens in the neighbourhood of Al-Jahmiliya lit “hundreds of candles” on 25 December, “to draw the world’s attention” to end the war in their city Taez, Euronews reported.