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Top Indonesian Muslim council bah humbugs festive season

Widespread criticism meets edict banning wearing of Christmas-themed clothing

Top Indonesian Muslim council bah humbugs festive season

This photo taken on Dec. 18, 2016 shows Indonesian protesters near a Santa sleigh installation as they demonstrate outside a shopping mall in Surabaya, Indonesia in a rally to stop retail workers from wearing Santa hats inside malls saying the festive garb is un-Islamic. (Photo by AFP)

Ryan Dagur, Jakarta
Indonesia

January 4, 2017

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It wasn’t quite as merry a Christmas or as happy a New Year in Indonesia as many people would have liked.

In the run up to Christmas especially, Indonesian shopping centers looked different than in the past.

It was quite difficult to find decorations or shopkeepers wearing Santa hats or other forms of Christmas clothing you would normally see ahead or during the festive season.

To many observers, this was the result of an Indonesia Ulema Council edict issued on Dec 16, prohibiting Muslims from wearing non-Muslim attire because anything else was "illegitimate."

Local leaders like Bandung mayor, Ridwan Kamil, asked employers to respect the edict, while radical groups, like the Islam Defenders Front demonstrated outside or went into shopping centers in several cities like Surabaya to demand it be obeyed.

Edicts made by the Ulema Council, Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body, are non-binding but some like this one are looked upon in some quarters as undermining Indonesia’s secular principles and reputation for tolerance.

Others fatwas have included ones against the Ahmadi and Shiite, Muslim communities.

According to Ulema Council chairman, Ma'ruf Amin, the Christmas fatwa was issued within the framework of respect for the principles of diversity and religious harmony in Indonesia.

"The meaning of diversity is awareness of differences, including in performing religious beliefs. Don’t force other faithful to practice your faith," he said.

Many people, including Muslims however, took a different view.

Ahmad Nurcholish, a Muslim intellectual denied the wearing of festive attire was disrespectful to Islam or illegitimate, saying the edict showed, "Ulema’s insensitivity to our nation’s reality of diversity."

The "excessive and abusive" edict had the "potential to rip the harmony that exist in our communities," he said.

Muhammad Boe, a Muslim from Labuan Bajo on the Catholic majority island of Flores thought the edict was excessive.

"For us who live in an area where we, as Muslims, usually celebrate Christmas with Christians, it was hard to obey the edict," he said, adding that the Ulema Council failed to consider social conditions in each region.

The edict also drew an angry response from the national police chief Tito Karnavian, who vowed to crack down on any intimidation.

"An edict is not statutory law that should be upheld," he said.

Tutum Rahanta, vice chairman of Indonesian Business Association regretted the edict, saying the wearing non-Muslim attire is not anti-Muslim.

"We just tried to welcome the holiday by creating a cozy atmosphere for customers while shopping," said Tutum.

Religious Minister, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, also joined the criticism and condemned hardliners like the Islamic Defenders Front for conducting acts of intimidation.

"It was not their place to resort to forceful measures accompanied by threats and acts of violence," he said.

Reverend Jan S Aritonang, a professor at Jakarta’s Protestant Institute of Theology sent an open letter to the Ulema Council criticizing the edict.

Many Christmas and New Year symbols do not have a direct relationship with the Christian faith, he said.

The sale of these items is more to do with gaining material benefit than any religious reason.

"In fact, it may not only be Christians, but people of other faiths who produce and sell these goods."

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a Catholic activist priest agreed with Aritonang, saying that a lot of Christmas attire, decorations and other symbols are not associated with Christian doctrine.

"They are not religious symbols, just trinkets."

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