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Sharia law, Christmas, atbp. Pew Forum on Religion

Sharia law, Christmas, atbp. Featured

THIS holiday season, Christendom celebrates Christmas, as the birth of baby Jesus, the savior, Son of God and Redeemer. Central to the festivities is the traditional Christmas narrative of Mary and Joseph arriving in the town of Bethlehem to register as belonging to the house of David, seeking decent shelter but couldn’t find one except for a stable where the messiah was born humbly in a manger amid farm animals. Then the angels in heaven proclaimed the good news to the shepherds and thus to the world. For 2,000 years this virgin birth was joyfully celebrated although the actual birthday of Jesus is unknown. It was by Church fiat in the fourth century that December 25 was designated as Jesus’ birth.

Multifaceted Christmases
But the “other Christmas” celebrated in a more boisterous and colorful manner is the Western civilization’s version with Santa Claus, the central figure, a jolly old fellow bringing gifts to the homes of well-behaved children. He goes by the name of Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas or even Kris Kringle. This is the more exciting adaptation, spurring commercialization and debauching the original narrative.

The Jews don’t celebrate Christmas, but some festivities occur for a different reason. It is Hanukkah, the eight-day festival of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is also known as the Festival of Lights. These days of merriment are in no way a commemoration of the virgin birth, but cultural assimilation and traditional practices over the centuries coincidentally meld around the same time in December.

But in the Philippines, the yuletide season is observed for three months, beginning October when the air is filled with music, “Dreaming of a White Christmas,” and malls putting last year’s light bulbs on Christmas trees complete with faux snow while Santa Claus sits on his sleigh pulled by the prancing Donner, Blitzen and Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer. If there is anything that America has bequeathed and so influenced Filipino culture, aside from a legacy of a depraved concept of democracy and our system of government, it is the way Christmas is celebrated. And there is no way that the Christmas atmosphere is dampened in the country or in most of Christendom.

But in Brunei, the despot Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has “stolen Christmas,” not unlike the Grinch. He has reinforced the ban on Christmas with a punishment of a $20,000-fine and up to five years imprisonment or both. This was part of a decree promulgated in 2014 protecting the Muslim population of Brunei from going astray. “Local Islamic religious leaders have promoted the ban, warning that adopting the trappings of Christmas is tantamount to imitation of another faith, prohibited in some interpretations of Islam” (Alexander Sehmer, Independent.co.uk).

As a concession to the minority Christians and other religious groups, they are allowed to celebrate Christmas, but must do so in private and have to first alert the authorities and may not do this publicly or else.

Thus, Islam, the third great religion that sprouted from the Levant has allowed the banning of Christmas in Brunei, through a mere proclamation of a decree, on a country of half a million, two-thirds of whom are Muslims.

Sharia law
Which brings us to this disturbing arbitrary interpretation of Sharia law. As I have written in a past column “…I have been under the impression that Brunei, ranked by Forbes as the fifth richest out of 182 countries in the world, would be one of those liberal and progressive developed Muslim countries practicing a benevolent and tolerant kind of Islam” (“Sharia law, LGBTQ and BARMM,” The Manila Times, April 10, 2019). But by a stroke of the pen, incorporating the same into the Sharia law (in Brunei), and not satisfied with amputations and dismemberments for transgressions against the tenets of the Quran, it has not only reversed centuries-old tradition or at least tolerate the celebration of Christmas, but even criminalized the same. On top of this, Brunei becomes the first country in Southeast Asia to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. And all these emanating from a “religion of peace.” To quote its potentate, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah: “The decision to implement the [penal code] is not for fun but is to obey Allah’s command as written in the Quran.”

I am reprinting relevant portions of my column of “Sharia law, LGBTQ and BARMM” in the light of these developments in the capricious reinterpretation of what are haram by the authority of a despot’s whims:

“This is also the same enigma facing the Philippines today, as the country embarks on an experiment in an innovative type of governance. The unitary presidential system practiced in the country as a whole and that of the ‘parliamentary’ system or a version thereof practiced in parts of Mindanao through the Bangsamoro Transition Authority that governs the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

“In the Philippines’ 1987 Constitution, Church and State are separate, following traditional Western influence and values. In Islamic tradition, religion and governance are intertwined; which could be a major irritant in the BARMM though technically, it operates under the sufferance of central government.

“True, the Sharia law in BARMM will cover and apply only to Muslims and only on matters affecting personal status and family. Although still based on the Quran and the Hadith and other scriptural sources, and interpreted by independent Islamic jurists, it is a modernized (not Westernized) set of legal jurisprudence compatible with Philippine laws with harsh and medieval punishments done away with. Still the ultimate arbiter is the country’s Supreme Court. But cynics abound gleaning from what is happening in Brunei, Aceh and Malaysia, where interpretations are reversed, and protocols are altered….”

The fear that what happened in Brunei and other Muslim provinces in Southeast Asia could happen in Southern Philippines in the process of its politicocultural experimentation in creating the [BARMM], is real. Although there are mitigating factors that may preclude going the way of Brunei. “The BARMM is the country’s petri dish for federalism and harmonizing seemingly conflicting values of differing religious beliefs. But favoring both sides is the underlying deep-rooted bond as Filipinos. And this could be an effective prophylactic against initiatives by the likes of Brunei, Aceh and Terengganu against an Islamic revival agitating for full implementation of Sharia law, including the reinstatement of hudhud, the dreaded and medieval system of corporal punishments.”

For centuries, despite Christian and Muslim conflicts, we managed to iron out our differences and the tolerance for each other’s beliefs has held the nation together and not driven the country into perdition. It may also be a sign of a workable and bright future that even during this holiday season, citizens and friends of both religions, Christian and Islam, have warmly greeted each other a “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Whether by convention, tradition or force of habit, it really doesn’t matter. What gives meaning to the salutation is perhaps the intention to bestow goodwill to one another.

So, a Merry Christmas and a Happy, Safe and Prosperous 2020 to all!000
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