A Somali government minister said there is no ban on Christmas and New Year's Day celebrations in the country, contrary to earlier reports.
The minister of religious affairs, Abdikadir Sheekh Ali Ibrahim, told VOA's Somali service Thursday that the director of his ministry announced a ban at the urging of religious scholars, who warned Christmas or New Year's parties could be targeted by al-Shabab militants.
He said while authorities reserve the right to cancel a party for security concerns, any Christians in Somalia, including African Union soldiers, diplomats and embassy staffers, have the right to celebrate the Christmas holiday.
“The troops or other Christians in Somalia are free to practice their religion on their own, because we Muslims do Eid festivals in non-Muslim countries freely," Ibrahim said. "Anyone can do a party that is not spreading another religion or ideology, and people can do the New Year celebrations.”
Christmas parties are a rarity in the overwhelmingly Muslim country.
On December 25 last year, al-Shabab carried out an attack on an AU military base in Mogadishu, killing more than 10 people, including three AU soldiers. The group said the attack targeted a Christmas party at the base.
On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement paying tribute to persecuted Christians around the world who are not free to celebrate the Christmas holiday, one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar.
Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama held in mind "those who have been driven from their ancient homelands by unspeakable violence and persecution," such as areas of the Middle East where Islamic State militants have silenced the traditional ringing of church bells.
The statement did not mention any country by name, but Islamic State controls territory in Syria and Iraq.