Christmas theme at Maldives eatery sparks protests

An eatery hung up Christmas decorations in strictly-Muslim nation of Maldives.

Updated: Dec 30, 2010, 16:00 PM IST

Colombo: A restaurant that hung up Christmas decorations in the strictly-Muslim nation of the Maldives sparked angry public protests, police said on Thursday.

The Jade Bistro in the crowded capital of Male was decked in colourful Christmas streamers as part of a "festive food" promotion for diners on the island nation.

But Maldivians must be practising Sunni Muslims by law, and any sign of worshipping other religions is forbidden.

"Some people gathered and protested against the decorations, because it was like celebrating Christmas," police spokesman Ahmed Shiyam said.

Shiyam added one restaurant employee was taken in for questioning on Tuesday and later released. The offending streamers were quickly removed.

The restaurant offered a special Christmas menu of turkey sandwiches and Christmas cake but officials said it was the decorations that angered locals.

The Jade Bistro, which is popular among expatriates working in the country, apologised for causing any offence.

"Our intention was never to upset anyone," the cafe`s management said in a statement.

The Christmas theme had drawn criticism from Muslim groups including the Adhaalath Party, part of President Mohammed Nasheed`s coalition government, and the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives.

Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Hussein Rasheed said it was unlawful for non-Muslims to celebrate Christmas under the Maldivian Constitution.

In July, a Maldivian atheist committed suicide after complaining of being persecuted for not being a Muslim.

Earlier this month, hundreds of protesters burnt Israeli flags when a visiting medical team from the Jewish state offered free eye clinics.

The Maldives, a nation of islands scattered in the Indian Ocean, is famous as a luxury holiday destination but is also home to strongly traditional Muslim communities.

Bureau Report