Indonesian police warn Islamists against Santa raids

Indonesian shoppers at a mall in Medan, North Sumatra Province, yesterday. The hardline Islamic Defenders Front has said it would conduct "sweeping operations" against businesses forcing Muslim staff to wear Christmas attire.
Indonesian shoppers at a mall in Medan, North Sumatra Province, yesterday. The hardline Islamic Defenders Front has said it would conduct "sweeping operations" against businesses forcing Muslim staff to wear Christmas attire.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA • Indonesian police appealed yesterday for tolerance and respect for religious celebrations after an Islamist group threatened to raid businesses to check for Muslims being forced to wear Santa Claus hats or other Christmas garb.

The hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) said this week it would conduct "sweeping operations" in the world's biggest Muslim-majority country, and that forcing Muslims to wear Christmas attire was a violation of their human rights.

Indonesia is home to several religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and people who follow traditional beliefs.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion in an officially secular state though religious tensions can flare up.

"There can be no sweeping operations... Members of the public should respect other religions that are carrying out celebrations," national police chief Tito Karnavian told police during a security exercise in the capital, Jakarta.

The FPI said it aimed to enforce a fatwa, or decree, issued by Indonesia's Islamic Clerical Council last year prohibiting business owners from forcing employees to wear Christmas clothing.

"We will raid businesses in anticipation of them being stubborn about this and we will be accompanied by police," said FPI's head of its Jakarta chapter, Mr Novel Bakmukmin. Employers forcing staff to wear Christmas clothes were violating their rights.

"Businesses should be aware that there should be no forcing," he said.

The Islamic Clerical Council's decrees are not legally binding but serve as guidelines for Muslims.

Christmas is widely celebrated across Indonesia and holiday decorations are ubiquitous, especially in shops, restaurants and malls, where many enthusiastic workers - even Muslims - don Santa hats or elf costumes.

The FPI built its reputation with raids on restaurants and bars serving alcohol during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

In recent years, it has turned its attention to Christian celebrations.

About 90,000 police officers will be on duty cross the country during the end-of-year holidays, in an operation largely aimed at preventing militant attacks.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesian police warn Islamists against Santa raids'. Print Edition | Subscribe