Edict against Christmas attire 'not law'

Protesters rallying outside a shopping mall in Surabaya, Indonesia, on Sunday, in a bid to stop retail workers from wearing Santa hats inside malls. They regard the festive garb as un-Islamic.
Protesters rallying outside a shopping mall in Surabaya, Indonesia, on Sunday, in a bid to stop retail workers from wearing Santa hats inside malls. They regard the festive garb as un-Islamic.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JAKARTA • Indonesia's police chief Tito Karnavian vowed yesterday to crack down on any vigilantes trying to enforce Islamic rulings before Christmas, saying religious edicts do not amount to law in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.

Police General Tito's remarks came as religious hardliners attempted to stop retail workers from wearing Santa hats inside malls, saying the festive garb is un-Islamic.

Indonesia's highest Islamic council issued a fatwa - or religious edict - making it sinful for businesses to force their Muslim staff to wear Christmas attire.

The ruling inspired dozens of hardliners to rally outside malls in Indonesia's second-largest city Surabaya at the weekend, earning a sharp rebuke from General Tito.

"I have ordered my officers to arrest those doing sweeps in an anarchic fashion, because it is a violation of the law," he told reporters.

He also reprimanded two police units caught passing on the ruling to their officers, telling them fatwas "are not a reference for positive law".

The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the prominent hardline group behind the weekend's action, defended its conduct.

"We Muslims were just spreading the fatwa, because as Muslims, it is an obligation to support our clerics," said Mr Mohamad Mahdi al-Habsyi, the head of Surabaya's FPI chapter.

The FPI has urged its followers on social media to report any cases of Muslims being forced to wear Christmas attire.

Most of Indonesia's 255 million inhabitants practise a moderate form of Islam, often infused with influences from local ethnic groups.

However, critics say an unwillingness by the authorities to take action has emboldened fringe radical groups and fuelled intolerance.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2016, with the headline 'Edict against Christmas attire 'not law''. Print Edition | Subscribe