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Fearing Islamists, Indonesian mall 'bans' Christmas accessories

Malang shopping complex advises tenants, employees not to wear festive items

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Fearing Islamists, Indonesian mall 'bans' Christmas accessories

Indonesian shoppers pose for a picture with Christmas decorations at a mall in Jakarta in December 2018. (Photo: AFP)

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The management of an Indonesian shopping mall has caused a stir by advising its tenants and their employees not to wear Christmas accessories.

Olympic Garden Mall in Malang, a town in Indonesia's East Java province, said in a Nov. 28 circular that it wanted to respect religious tolerance and prevent protests and raids from hardline groups.

Two years ago, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) conducted raids following a fatwa, or an Islamic edict, forbidding Muslims from wearing Christmas accessories such as Santa hats. The Indonesian Ulema Council issued the fatwa in December 2016.

Peptina Magdalena, the mall's tenant relations chief, said the circular was only advice, not a ban, and that it had issued a similar notice for the past few years.

Stores are free to put up Christmas-themed ornaments and decorations such as Christmas trees and lights, she said.

However, Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, an activist priest and member of a presidential task force that promotes national unity, criticized the move, saying the mall's advisory amounts to a ban.

"This is too much. They do not understand the context. Christmas accessories have nothing to do with liturgy and religious ceremonies," he told ucanews on Nov. 27.

"It is not wise to issue such circulars. If they want to respect [religious tolerance], there should not be any discrimination." 

He said there was no legal basis for raids conducted by certain hardline groups. "Law must be enforced. Police must take strict action," he said.

Similar criticism came from Mohammad Aan Anshori, coordinator of the Islamic Network against Discrimination in East Java.

"This concerns us. It seems they [the mall management] are not sensitive about interreligious harmony," Anshori told ucanews.

However, he said, the shopping mall's management was "a victim" of discrimination and persecution carried out by hardline Islamic groups.

"I understand that they want to protect themselves from raids," he said, adding that it was police's duty to guarantee freedom for everyone.

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