KUCHING, Dec 26 — Christians in Brunei celebrated Christmas yesterday without a hitch as no new regulations were imposed to restrict the religious celebration, it was reported today.
Head of the Catholic Church in Brunei Bishop Cornelius Sim and Reverend Johnny Chin of an Anglican St Andrew’s Church told The Brunei Times that despite international media outlets reporting the blanket ban there on Christmas, there was no clampdown or any notice from the government on any new restrictions.
“To be quite honest there has been no change for us this year, no new restrictions have been laid down, although we fully respect and adhere to the existing regulations that our celebrations and worship be confined to the compounds of the church and private residences,” Bishop Sim said in the paper’s report.
In fact, it was also reported that Christmas day remained a public holiday for Brunei folk.
Thousands of Christians reportedly attended mass yesterday and on the eve of Christmas Day at the Church of Our Lady Assumption (COLA) in Brunei’s capital of Bandar Seri Begawan, Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in Seria and St John’s Church in Kuala Belait.
Long-reigning Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced last year the introduction of Shariah penal code of hudud, which leads to tough penalties against crimes such as death by stoning or severed limbs.
The ban against any public celebration of Christmas was also announced, along with its punishment for violating the ban: a five-year jail sentence.
Shopping complexes and other businesses in the Sultanate were told to remove decorations including Christmas trees, banners and Santa Claus figures from their premises.
Churches and Christians were told to have their celebration held within their compounds or in their homes.
But Bishop Sim insisted, however, that Brunei was fortunate to still enjoy such unhindered peace and prosperity.
“In my experience, the authorities are respectful and considerate towards other religious communities. In comparison to what is seen elsewhere in the world, we are fortunate to have religious harmony,” he was quoted by the English daily as saying.
He said tolerance is part of the country’s constitution and that Christians have always been free to practise their religion.
Reverend Johnny Chin said relationships between the country’s Muslims and those from other faiths continue to be positive, with the restrictions on Christmas decorations in public which made headlines last year not diluting the true meaning of Christmas to Christians.
“I guess with regards to Christmas, we have reminded ourselves to remain focused on how Christmas is not just about the music, the decorations and the Santa hats – which have been emphasised – but that has never been what Christmas is about anyway,” he was quoted as saying.