HOHO-NO

How the Sultan of Brunei Stole Christmas

He kept his own harem, and believes gays should be stoned to death. Now the hypocritical sultan has banned all manner of festive merriment.

12.23.15 6:00 AM ET

At least the Grinch had an excuse.

Dr. Seuss’s most hated character endured a miserable childhood that saw his love of Christmas cruelly snuffed out.

The sultan of Brunei suffered no such hardship.

The “Playboy Prince” grew up in unparalleled luxury in a gilded palace that looms over the tiny kingdom of Brunei on the northern shores of Borneo in Southeast Asia.

Behind the palace gates, his lavish and lascivious lifestyle—think harem of international models—stands in sharp contrast to the strict religious control he has imposed upon his people.

Last year, he announced that Sharia (Islamic law) would be introduced in Brunei—transforming the lives of his subjects who now face being publicly flogged or stoned to death for breaching the strict moral code.

Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei attends a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office at the White House on March 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. The two discussed strategic and economic issues in advance of October's East Asia summit and US-ASEAN summit in Brunei.

Drew Angerer/Getty

In response to his state-sanctioned murderous homophobia, the celebrity world mobilized to boycott his Dorchester Collection group of hotels.

The latest crackdown is on people “openly” enjoying Christmas. The penalties for crimes such as wearing a Santa’s hat in public stretch to five years in prison.

Last year, the Sultan’s Religious Enforcement Division raided businesses and demanded that Christmas trees be destroyed and store clerks take off their Santa costumes.

This year, the kingdom’s imams are concentrating on Muslims who might join the end-of-year celebrations.

“Prophet Muhammad said, ‘Whoever imitates a people is one of them,’” they said, according to the Borneo Bulletin.

In other words, any Muslim who so much as jingles a bell automatically becomes a kafir, or “unbeliever.”

And if there’s one thing Sultan Hassanal Bolkiahhat understands, it’s the power of temptation—so he has also banned non-Muslims from celebrating in public.

Speaking during a sermon at Friday prayers, an imam explained that the ban included lighting candles, putting up Christmas trees, singing carols, putting up decorations or “creating sounds and doing anything that amounts to respecting their religion.”

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“Some may think that it is a frivolous matter and should not be brought up as an issue. But as Muslims and as a Zikir Nation, we must keep it away as it could affect our Islamic faith,” he said.

The main thrust of the intervention appears to concern not just Christmas, but partying in the name of anything other than Allah.

“When celebrating such festivities, there certainly exists beliefs and practices that are against the teachings of Islam,” the imam explained. “Be careful not to follow such celebrations that are totally not related to Islam.”

What, like massive sex parties? The sultan and his brother Prince Jefri were described as “constant companions in hedonism” in a 2011 Vanity Fair profile.

They famously keep a harem of beautiful women from all over the world at their beck and call in their palaces, aboard their fleet of private jets, or invited inside what is thought to be the world’s most expensive collection of supercars.

Jefri, who is said to have blown billions on gifts and parties, once owned a 150-foot yacht called Tits.

Among his collection of unusual art was a set of—generously sculpted—statues showing Jefri and his fiancée in flagrante delicto.

These are the most powerful men in a country where the punishment for other people committing adultery is stoning to death; alcohol consumption is a flogging offence; and there’s capital punishment for rape and sodomy.

One member of the harem told The Daily Beast last year that the sultan was also prone to straying from his three wives.

“I am no expert in international human rights,” wrote Jillian Lauren. “My only qualification in commenting on this issue is that one drunken evening in the early ’90s, the sultan and I committed at least two of the aforementioned offenses as we looked down on the lights of Kuala Lumpur from a penthouse suite.”

“Theory states that Allah’s law is cruel and unfair,” said the sultan when he introduced Sharia. “But Allah himself has said that his law is indeed fair.”

The latest crackdown comes as Christmas-lovers all over the Middle East take to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to proclaim their freedom to erect Christmas trees in their homes against the wishes of hardline clerics.

Many of those featured on the My Treedom Facebook page come from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria, where Christmas parties are wisely kept below the radar.

Lisa Daftari, who edits the Foreign Desk website, has even had a submission from Brunei, where a secret party was held in a restaurant that boasted a wreath, a couple of Santa’s hats, and magnificent, star-topped Christmas tree.