Christmas Celebrations Banned and Obama Denounces Christian Persecution

Christmas Celebrations Banned and Obama Denounces Christian Persecution December 24, 2015

Al Jazeera reported yesterday:

An avenue in downtown Mogadishu in 1963. Photo credit: Somaliweyn via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
An avenue in downtown Mogadishu in 1963. Photo credit: Somaliweyn via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Somalia has issued a ban on Christmas celebrations in the Muslim-majority country after the Southeast Asian sultanate of Brunei announced a similar prohibition earlier this month with the threat of five years in jail.

Sheikh Mohamed Khayrow, director general of Somalia’s religious affairs ministry, said on Tuesday that Christmas and New Year celebrations threatened the country’s Muslim faith.

“There should be no activity at all,” he told reporters, adding security forces had been ordered to break up any such festivities.

“All events related to Christmas and New Year celebrations are contrary to Islamic culture, which could damage the faith of the Muslim community.”

Sheikh Nur Barud Gurhan, of the Supreme Religious Council of Somalia, also warned against celebrations, saying they could provoke al-Shabab “to carry out attacks”.

Foreign diplomats, aid workers, and soldiers living in the [African Union] compound are permitted to mark the day privately.

We should remember that on Christmas Day last year, al Shabab, a terrorist organization, launched an attack that killed four.

Somalia and Brunei aren’t the only places where celebrating Christmas is dangerous.

Yesterday, The White House released a statement by President Obama on persecuted Christians.

The statement reads:

During this season of Advent, Christians in the United States and around the world are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. At this time, those of us fortunate enough to live in countries that honor the birthright of all people to practice their faith freely give thanks for that blessing. Michelle and I are also ever-mindful that many of our fellow Christians do not enjoy that right, and hold especially close to our hearts and minds those who have been driven from their ancient homelands by unspeakable violence and persecution.

In some areas of the Middle East where church bells have rung for centuries on Christmas Day, this year they will be silent; this silence bears tragic witness to the brutal atrocities committed against these communities by ISIL.

We join with people around the world in praying for God’s protection for persecuted Christians and those of other faiths, as well as for those brave men and women engaged in our military, diplomatic, and humanitarian efforts to alleviate their suffering and restore stability, security, and hope to their nations. As the old Christmas carol reminds us:

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.

Brunei, Iraq, and Somalia are joined by several others when it comes to the persecution of Christians.

Celebrations of anyone’s birth – let alone the birth of Jesus – seems to be dangerous, if not only prohibited, in Saudi Arabia.

Of course, some commentators on the religious right have suggested that Obama fails to state once and for all that it isn’t ISIL that’s the problem, but Islam in general.

It doesn’t seem to be the case, though, that Islam or Muslims are the persecutors, but individual states and peoples. Nor are the individual states and peoples all Islamic theocracies or Muslim.

(It seems we can also say that this persecution is incompatible with Islam and that to be suspicious of Muslims for being Muslim is the result of a misunderstanding of Islam and our brothers and sisters who are Muslim.)

A whole, decent, wiki article talks about the persecution of Christians through the ages and touches on contemporary persecution.

Atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, non-Catholic Christian, and Orthodox groups and individuals have also repressed or persecuted Christians – and not without some inconsistency when it comes to their creed.

While the Holy See noted that 100,000 Christians are killed each year for their faith in Christ, Open Doors – a Christian non-profit organization – finds that the nation most hostile to Christians does not identify with Islam, but with atheism, that is, North Korea.

Obama was right to denounce the persecution of Christians this Christmas Day, but he seems off in limiting it do the work of ISIL. I think the US is especially wrong in contributing to the increased resentment of Christians/Westerners across entire regions with violations of human rights and social principles such as subsidiarity, solidarity, and the universal destination of goods – most recently I think of the atrocities in Iraq after having considered the testimony of Peggy Faw Gish in her text Walking Through Fire: Iraqis’ Struggle for Justice and Reconciliation (2013).

So, this Christmas, as we celebrate the Nativity of the Prince of Peace, let’s work for peace in our world, which necessitates working for justice. Keep in mind that being born in a land where we can somewhat live according to the demands of your faith doesn’t change the fact that this very day others will be persecuted should they choose to celebrate this great solemnity.

Work to protect religious liberty, and do not be blind to the suffering of those from different religions caused by “Christians” – even here in the United States.

Until next time,

Keith Michael Estrada

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Thank you!

Consider reading some of Saint John Eudes’ meditation on the birth of Jesus from earlier today.

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