The Jakarta Post
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) announced on Tuesday that Muslims were allowed to greet their fellow Christians with a 'Merry Christmas', a gesture that may boost religious harmony in the country.
The council chairman, Din Syamsuddin, who was speaking to clarify an earlier MUI ruling banning Muslims from wishing Merry Christmas to Christians, said that not a single article in the ruling explicitly barred Islamic followers from doing so.
Expressing respect through greetings to other religious believers had nothing to do with faith, as claimed by many hard-line Islamic scholars, but it had more to do with socio-cultural activities that could improve friendship in multicultural life.
'Wishing a greeting as a form of our friendship to other faithfuls won't damage our faith. Islam is not a narrow-minded religion. Greetings are more about culture, not faith,' Din said.
Muslim scholars have long been debating the controversy of wishing Merry Christmas to Christians. Some said that Christmas is a religious festivity celebrating the birthday of Jesus, the son of God worshipped by Christians.
Hard-line Muslims believed that wishing Christians a Merry Christmas could be interpreted as believing that Jesus was a divine being and not just a prophet, a violation of Muslim belief.
Din said that the MUI, through its ruling established under the tenure of former chairman Buya Hamka in the early 1980s, prohibited Muslims from attending Christmas festivities, as it claimed that such activities were closely related to worshipping God.
'The MUI created the ruling in the 1970s and 1980s because at that time Muslims were invited to become committee members of Christmas celebrations [at churches]. Islam is very strict when it comes to religious celebration, which has something to do with faith. But not a single article in the ruling prohibits Muslims from wishing Merry Christmas,' he added.
Ahmad Fuad Fanani of the Maarif Institute for Culture and Humanity said that the Merry Christmas controversy had been recurring every year. Thus, he urged religious leaders to sit together to solve the problem.
'Wishing Merry Christmas is an individual right and it has more to do with social life than faith. Both conflicting parties involved in the controversy should understand each other better, that wishing Merry Christmas is a personal right and they cannot blame each other as being wrong or right,' Fuad said on Tuesday.
Churches always become a target of hard-line groups on the days prior to the celebration of Christmas, which falls on Dec. 25 every year.
National Police chief Gen. Sutarman said that 80,560 police officers would be deployed at 1,760 safety posts and 603 service posts nationwide from Wednesday to Jan. 2 to ensure the safety of those celebrating Christmas and the New Year.
He said the military and other related institutions would also assist the security efforts by deploying 19,581 and 65,195 personnel respectively.
Sutarman said two-thirds of their forces would be stationed in provinces where many Christian Indonesians lived and where they were vulnerable to civil disturbances, such as Java, South Sulawesi and Sumatra.
He also said that based on information the police had gathered, there was very little chance that there would be terrorist attacks by militant groups during Christmas or New Year's Eve.
'There is potential [for a terrorist attack], but it's not very significant. However, we remain alert,' he added.
Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said that his ministry had already sent a radiogram to provinces to remind them that they must put all their efforts into making Christian Indonesians feel safe enough to conduct their services at Christmas.
In Jakarta, hospitality and entertainment businesses provide various offers, ranging from special packages for Christmas dinner and musical performances, although they are expecting a lower number of visitors.
Due to the long weekend, many Jakartans prefer going out of town to enjoy their Christmas and New Year holidays. The increasing number of travelers from Jakarta to other cities can already be seen at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.
Corry Elyda contributed to this story.
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