From the Jakarta Post, Jakarta Mon, December 24 2012
Conservative Muslim leaders are not stopping with edicts forbidding Muslims from wishing Christians a Merry Christmas. Now they want the President not to attend any observation of the holiday in an official or personal capacity.
A representative of the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) renewed on Sunday an edict (fatwa) forbidding Muslims from extending holiday greetings to Christians and said that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had to skip a national Christmas celebration scheduled for Dec. 27.
“If you talk about the MUI edict, it forbids attendance at the [Christmas] rituals. A Muslim should not attend the ritual, because it is a part of worship activities that should only be attended by Christians,” Ma’ruf Amin, the council’s deputy chairman, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
Ma’ruf said that Yudhoyono, as a Muslim, should not attend the national Christmas celebration, which he said would contain a Christian religious element.
Yudhoyono and Vice President Boediono, who is also a Muslim, are among the top officials who are scheduled to attend the national Christmas celebration. Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali joined the President and Vice President during a similar national observance in 2011.
Several Muslim organizations have echoed the MUI’s call. The United Indonesian Muslims (Persis), for example, said that it was inappropriate for the President to attend the national Christmas celebration.
“Even though they are the country’s leaders, they are forbidden to attend such Christmas celebrations,” Persis chairman Maman Abdurrahman said, as quoted by the website of conservative Muslim organization Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia’s (HTI).
Maman said that Yudhoyono and Boediono should instead order officials from the Religious Ministry’s Protestant and Catholic directorate to come to attend the event on their behalf.
Separately, the infamous hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI) said that Yudhoyono and Boediono would “undermine” Islam if they decided to attend the celebration.
Muchsin Ahmad Alatas, the head of the FPI’s campaign division, advised the President and Vice President not to attend the celebration. “They decided to attend the program because they don’t have sufficient understanding of Islam,” Muchsin said. “They should have consulted with people who understand Islam better before making their decision.”
Muchsin said that Yudhoyono should ignore Christians in favor of the nation’s Muslims. “People will understand his decision, because he will have respected the feelings of the [nation’s] majority-Muslim population.”
“If the President shows up, it means that state affairs take precedence over his faith,” he said.
However, representatives of several moderate Muslim groups have disagreed with the conservative groups.
“Wishing Christians a merry Christmas is one form of tolerance between people of different faiths,” Salahuddin Wahid, a noted leader of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the nation’s largest Muslim social organization, said as quoted tempo.co.
Salahuddin said that an interfaith exchange of Christmas greetings was similar to saying “Happy Birthday” or “Happy New Year” — neither of which was forbidden by Islam, according to Salahuddin.
Din Syamsuddin, the chairman of Muhammadiyah, the nation’s second-largest Muslim social organization, agreed, previously saying that he regularly exchanged Christmas wishes with Christian friends, which he considered only greetings.
While conservative Muslims in Indonesia have attempted to make interfaith Christmas greetings an issue for several years, Muslims in other nations no longer have such concerns.
In some parts of the Islamic world, Muslims say “Merry Christmas” and join celebrations. Some Muslim political leaders have even attended Christmas services to strengthen interfaith ties.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, for instance, regularly joins annual Christmas services in Bethlehem, while the leaders and the rank-and-file members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood joined annual Christmas services at a Coptic Christian church in Cairo in 2011.
Ma’aruf, however, said that Indonesian Muslims should not say Merry Christmas. “It is still a debate. They would be better of not doing that.”