The Librarian

Police back hard-liners clamping down on Christmas

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A fatwa issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) banning Muslims from donning paraphernalia related to other faiths has inspired the hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI) to take the law into its own hands and push shopping centers in Surabaya, East Java, to not ask its Muslim workers to wear Christmas-related gear.

Instead of stopping the FPI’s actions, police moved to secure the group’s visit to seven shopping centers on Sunday, arguing that their presence would prevent clashes between the group and shopping center managements.

The management of Toeng Market had no choice but to comply after around 50 FPI members, escorted by the police, paid a visit.

“We will deliver the demands to our superiors. We did not know about the fatwa. We will comply with it,” said Toeng Market operational division head Wahyu Kuncoro after FPI members thronged his office.

The MUI has issued similar calls ahead of Christmas, but not until this year has the FPI followed up by protesting at shopping centers.

An FPI leader in East Java, Ali Fahmi, said Toeng Market management had agreed to sign an agreement as a guarantee that it would comply with the MUI edict. “They already signed the agreement on a stamp,” Ali said.

Surabaya Police chief Sr. Comr. M. Iqbal said police escorted FPI members as they visited seven shopping centers in Surabaya to prevent clashes.

“The FPI members disseminated information about the edict. We guarded the process to ensure public safety,” Iqbal said.

Police deployed hundreds of personnel to “guard” the FPI’s shopping center visits.

The visits took place two days after members of an FPI branch in Bekasi, West Java, thronged a Honda dealership in the region after it was rumored that Muslims employees, including female staffers wearing hijab, had been forced to wear Santa hats.

Bekasi Police chief Sr. Comr. Umar Fana said police, together with several Islamic organizations, had met with the dealership’s management on Wednesday morning to discuss the matter.

Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which has around 60 million members across the country, lambasted the FPI for acting like a law enforcement agency.

“The state must be present in this case to not let any mass organization exercise its own law on the streets. The Religious Affairs Ministry is taking this incident seriously. The ministry will not give room for radicalism to grow in Indonesia. The MUI has the duty to disseminate information about the edict, not a mass organization,” NU deputy secretary-general Imam Putudu said.

Rights watchdog Setara Institute, which campaigns for pluralism, said an MUI fatwa was not a legal and binding ruling that must be followed by shopping centers, adding that police should have prevented the FPI in the first place and not facilitated them in carrying out such intimidation on department store management.

“Such groups have grown confident following the mass rallies in Jakarta. The National Police should not support edicts that threaten religious diversity,” Setara researcher Ismail Hasani said.

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