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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs   23  December 2010

Indonesian council says Too Much Christmas

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The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) has said that the proliferation of Santas, reindeer and twinkly lights in malls and public places has gone too far for the nation's Muslim majority.

Claiming that the decor has sparked complaints about Christmas overload, the council called on mall managers to consider the feelings of those who do not celebrate Christmas.

He said he had received complaints that some mall employees were even forced to wear Santa Claus costumes against their will.

Such a requirement was unacceptable, he said, since Santa Claus is a symbol for "a certain faith."

"It would be fine if they were in an area where Muslims are a minority, but they should not forget that they are in a place where Muslims are the majority," he said.

He acknowledged that the festive tinsel was mainly for promotional and not religious purposes, however.

"But it should not be excessive, otherwise it might hurt the feelings of the Muslim community," he said.

Syafi'i Anwar, executive director of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism, took exception to the idea, saying that the Christmas trappings around Jakarta were modest and that no one should be offended. The decorations were simply a way to celebrate the holidays, he added.

"After all, the Christian community has the right to celebrate Christmas with joy," he said, adding that it was normal for malls and public places to have seasonal decorations, whether for Idul Fitri, Chinese New Year or Christmas. He stressed that being open-minded and tolerant was necessary in a diverse country like Indonesia.

"We are not a Muslim country and the practice of religious freedom has been exercised in Indonesia since the days of our forefathers," he said.

Syafi'i said that despite Indonesia's democratization, the complaint was worrying if it reflected the decline of religious tolerance in the country and a lack of understanding between different faiths.

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