The Jakarta Post
In a rare event, the non-active chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), which is seen as the guardian of Islamic orthodoxy, has sent a Christmas greeting to Christians throughout the country.
Ma’ruf Amin, who is running alongside incumbent Joko "Jokowi" Widodo in the 2019 presidential election, is seen wishing all the nation's Christians a “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” in a 22-second clip of what appears to be a official campaign video.
The video immediately sparked religious and political controversy.
Indonesian Muslims have long been divided over whether saying “Selamat Natal” (Merry Christmas) is religiously permissible.
Some believe that doing so would compromise their strict monotheistic belief, arguing that Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ as God Incarnate. Others argue that Jesus is Islam's Prophet Isa so there is nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of an Islamic prophet.
During his active stint as chairman of the MUI, the Islamic body in charge of issuing fatwas, Ma’ruf previously exercised caution in his response when asked if he would wish Christians "Merry Christmas", given the ongoing and prolonged debate.
“The issue is debated, [so] it’s better not to say it,” he said in December 2012 as reported by tempo.co. He reiterated his stance in 2016 as reported by tribunnews.com, that "I would rather not say ['Merry Christmas']” if disagreements existed on the issue.
The MUI has never declared Christmas greetings as haram, although it clearly stated that Muslims were forbidden from taking part in Christmas Mass and donning Christmas attire in the fatwas it issued in 1981 and 2016.
Responding to questions about Ma’ruf’s Christmas well-wishes, MUI general secretary Anwar Abbas said the council had yet to take a stance on the issue.
“The MUI has never issued a fatwa on it,” Anwar said.
President Jokowi, who is facing negative campaigns attacking his Muslim credentials, picked Ma’ruf as his running mate in August, shortly before officially registering his 2019 candidacy.