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Jakarta Post

Indonesian bakery reignites debate over Xmas greeting

  • News Desk

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, December 24, 2017   /   05:23 pm
Indonesian bakery reignites debate over Xmas greeting A Makassar bakery's refusal to write a Christmas greeting on a cake has stirred debate among netizens. (Shutterstock/File)

The annual debate over whether Muslims can say “Merry Christmas” to their Christian fellows took a new turn on Sunday after a Makassar-based bakery refused a customer's request to write "Selamat hari Natal keluargaku" (Merry Christmas, my family) on top of a cake she had ordered.

Indonesian netizens, whether Muslim or Christian, are sharply divided over the company’s policy. If a Muslim believes that their faith prohibits them from saying "Merry Christmas" on the grounds it is akin to confirming the beliefs of Christians (an argument that has been widely refuted by top ulema), would they be considered intolerant if they denied a request of writing it on a cake?

The bakery, Chocolicious Indonesia, believes that it did nothing wrong, saying the policy should by no means be interpreted as an act of intolerance.  

"With all due respect and humility, first of all, we would like to offer our deepest regrets. We from Chocolicious Indonesia are not yet able to write 'Merry Christmas' or other similar expressions," the bakery said in a statement on its official Instagram account.

"This does not mean we do not respect your religion. But with all due respect this is what we have to practice based on our religious principles,” it said.

“Again, we sincerely apologize from the bottom of our hearts and with a feeling of respect and honor as Indonesians. We will still provide greeting cards and chocolate boards as additional services for your order. You are welcome to add your own writing. Again, we wish for your understanding.”

For some netizens, the seemingly inoffensive and carefully worded explanation still failed to conceal what they perceived as the bakery’s intolerance toward Christians.

Journalist Dandhy Dwi Laksono tweeted: “In the case of Chocolicious, what if the word 'Christmas' in the decorous sentence were replaced by 'Idul Fitri'? Or what if the same attitude were displayed by chocolate farmers in Flores who refuse to serve their buyers who celebrate Idul Fitri?”

Other social media users were less diplomatic, condemning the bakery as “racist”, “fanatics” and “unfit to live in Indonesia".

But not all netizens were furious or alarmed.

Burhanuddin Muhtadi, a political analyst from Jakarta Islamic State University, argued that the bakery had the right to refuse the request, saying, “Other people also have the right to buy cakes from other shops if they feel uncomfortable with [the bakery owner’s] religious interpretation.” 

The Christmas cake controversy came amid concerns over rising identity politics in Indonesia, with the nation’s burgeoning middle class now seen to be growing more religiously conservative. While many have become used to the antics of hard-line Islamic groups in their war against Christmas, it is unusual for a seemingly law-abiding Muslim shop owner to politely refuse a small request of writing “Selamat Natal” on the cakes they are selling.

Specifically, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), regarded as the highest religious authority in the country, does not prohibit Muslims from greeting Christians on their holiday. The late Buya Hamka, one of the most influential Muslim clerics in Indonesia, also made it clear that Muslims were permitted to say "Merry Christmas" despite many Muslims basing their argument against Christmas greetings on a 1981 MUI fatwa released by Hamka.

Yudi Latif, who heads the presidential working unit on the implementation of the state ideology of Pancasila (UKP-PIP), said more work needed to be done to instill tolerance in society.

He said the shop owners had “the right to refuse or accept” an order, adding that it was the task of religious leaders to spread the message of tolerance, including persuading the bakery owner to grant the customer’s request.

Yudi said, “The government must ensure that business owners can operate freely and accept any order they want, as long as it is not against the law.”

But regardless of the debate, Chocolicious Indonesia is losing some of its customers because of its policy.

Makassar resident Widya Sabila said she and her family had long been customers of the bakery. “I never thought they would do that. I am no longer a fan of their pastries,” she said, adding that she and her friends would just stop buying from them. (vla/ami/ahw)