The nation of Brunei is again banning the celebration of Christmas, as its sultan has reissued an edict first put into effect last year that prohibits any public display of Christmas decorations and even the wearing of Santa hats. 

Britain’s Independent reported that the tiny nation’s ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (shown), introduced the ban on Christmas in 2014. Back in October 2013, the sultan announced his intention to impose Sharia law on the country’s Muslims, who make up two thirds of the country’s population. This change is being implemented in three phases, culminating in 2016, making Brunei the only country in East Asia to introduce Sharia law into its penal code.

While Sharia technically applies only to Muslims, even non-Muslims in Brunei (13 percent are Buddhists and 10 percent are Christians) must refrain from any public behavior that runs counter to the law. Christians cannot have any public Christmas displays and must celebrate their holiday privately. Violations of the ban on celebrating Christmas is punishable by a fine of $20,000, a sentence of up to five years in prison, or both.

The Independent reported that officials from Brunei’s Ministry of Religious Affairs have reportedly visited private businesses to ensure they are not displaying Christmas decorations, including Santa hats and banners with Christmas greetings.

Brunei’s imams defended the ban in sermons published in the nation’s press. An example is: “Using religious symbols like crosses, lighting candles, putting up Christmas trees, singing religious songs, sending Christmas greetings … are against Islamic faith.”

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