It's officially that time of year again! No, not for Christmas cheer, but for the annual "take off that Santa hat" paranoia.
On Monday, Mall Olympic Garden (MOG) in the East Java city of Malang issued a circular advising tenants that their employees should "refrain from wearing Christmas-related fashion accessories." The circular then leaked to the public, causing a PR debacle for the mall as outraged netizens accused it of discrimination.
The mall did not include a reason for the advisory in the circular.
Soon after the circular went viral, the mall issued a revised circular, this time advising tenants "not to force employees to wear Christmas-related fashion accessories" out of respect for their religious beliefs.
Speaking to Kompas, MOG tenant relations officer Peptina Magdalena said the circular was a preemptive measure to prevent "sweeping" – the term used in Indonesia to describe the raiding of business establishments, often illegally by hardline groups, for policies that they feel go against their beliefs.
"We're just being proactive. There's no intention [to be discriminatory]," she said. Peptina added that there's no advice not to put up Christmas decorations at the mall, so the tenants have that going for them at least.
Muslims aren't allowed to wish Christians a Merry Christmas – at least according to one contentious interpretation of Islamic law. Yet it's one many Muslims in Indonesia ascribe to, believing that wishing people of other faiths joy on their holy day equates to validating their beliefs, while casting into doubt your own faith in Allah as the only true God.
It's no wonder then, that Muslims in Indonesia are reminded not to say "Merry Christmas" to their Christian friends year after year. Some Islamic organizations even go so far as to ban Muslims from wearing Christmas-themed fashion accessories, while all-too-willing hardline groups take it upon themselves to enforce those bans.