Top Indonesia clerical body MUI to ban Muslims from attire associated with other religions

JAKARTA (Jakarta Post/Asia News Network) - The Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI), the country's top clerical body known for its controversial edicts condemning Islamic minority groups, says it will ban Muslims in the country from wearing clothing associated with other religions, in a move that campaigners say will damage religious tolerance.

MUI edict division head Huzaemah Tahido Yanggo said the Islamic body was currently preparing an edict to justify the ban, which is expected to be announced in April, adding that an MUI team working on the dictum had found prophetic words and deeds that would be used as a legal basis for the initiative.

The cleric said legitimate hadiths examined by the MUI confirmed that it was forbidden for Muslims to wear clothing that featured symbols of other religions, such as retail workers wearing Santa Claus costumes to welcome Christmas.

The MUI said that wearing costumes from other religions, especially ahead of religious festivities, could indicate that wearers acknowledged that the respective faith was true. The council added that believing in a faith other than Islam for Muslims would damage their religiosity.

Huzaemah said the edict would prevent shopkeepers or companies that forced Muslim workers to wear outfits from other religions from welcoming any religious events in the future.

"Hadiths say 'for you, your religion, and for me, my religion'. It is the legal basis, which confirms that people cannot be forced to do something that is not suited to their religion," the MUI cleric added.

The MUI said Islam respected differences of faith and encouraged its followers to help other people on matters not related to faith, but added that Islam discouraged its believers from being involved in festivities of other religions that employed religious symbols.

The MUI said it was up to individuals to decide whether they wanted to comply with the soon-to-be announced edict, as the Islamic body was obliged only to inform Muslims about what is forbidden and allowed in Islam.

"The only punishment for disobedient Muslims is sin, as violating the edict will not result in prosecution because this country has its own law," she said.

In spite of several interfaith conflicts, a survey by the Religious Affairs Ministry in February found that the country did enjoy religious harmony, especially in regions where Muslims are the minority.

Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said the country had performed better in the tolerance index last year because people were more open to interfaith dialogue and his ministry had established the Religious Community Harmony Forum (FKUB) to aid communication between groups.

The Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy said that the edict was unnecessary and would hurt religious tolerance in the country.

"The question is how will using other religions' costumes damage someone's own faith? Such an edict will tend to create wrong perceptions... The edict has nothing to do with increasing the country's religious tolerance," said Setara deputy chair Bonar Tigor Naipospos.

The institute's chairman Hendardi said the edict would clearly sharpen religious segregation given that it would be disseminated via MUI's local branches nationwide.