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Aceh ulema ban Christmas wish, again

Jakarta Post - December 20, 2013

Hotli Simanjuntak, Banda Aceh – The Banda Aceh Ulema Consultative Assembly (MPU) has once again prohibited Muslims in the city from extending Christmas wishes and celebrating New Year's Eve.

The ban, written in an edict, or fatwa, was conveyed by the MPU as it deemed wishing those celebrating Christmas and celebrating New Year's Eve to be against Islamic teachings.

"This is not a question of tolerance, it concerns the Islamic religion, which forbids followers from celebrating Christmas," said Banda Aceh MPU head A. Karim Syeikh.

The fatwa prohibiting Muslims from wishing Christians a "merry Christmas" was issued because Christmas is regarded a Christian ritual. If Muslims wish Christians "merry Christmas", then they are also celebrating it.

"Engaging in Christmas events and rituals, which do not comply with Islamic culture is forbidden, including wishing 'merry Christmas' to Christians," said Karim.

Banda Aceh is one of the largest cities in Aceh, the only province to implement sharia in Indonesia. As the biggest city in Aceh, Banda Aceh is also home to non-Muslims, which make up 0.1 percent of its population.

Banda Aceh is home to four churches, three Buddhist temples and one Hindu temple. The pluralistic population enlivens the city's atmosphere during New Year's Eve with firework displays in virtually every corner of the city.

"This is why we have issued a fatwa prohibiting residents in Banda Aceh from celebrating New Year's Eve because it is a celebration that is not suitable to Islam," said Karim.

To keep residents in Banda Aceh from celebrating New Year's Eve, the MPU will work with the Banda Aceh administration to conduct campaigns and post sharia police members at various locations at the turn of the year.

"We have coordinated with the municipality to place personnel at the city center and public places to prevent people from celebrating the occasion," said Karim.

Banda Aceh resident Munawardi Ismail said he had no reservations in wishing "merry Christmas" to his Christian friends.

"If we wish 'merry Christmas' in the context of social relation, then actually there's no problem. Humans are social beings and mingle with each other. By wishing 'merry Christmas', we maintain our social ties with other communities," said Munawardi.

Regarding the fatwa issued by the MPU, Munawardi perceived the clerics' decision to be informed by their own perspectives of the religious teachings. He added they might have a different perspective from the public in general.

Since the implementation of sharia, the MPU has repeatedly banned New Year's Eve celebrations in any form including fireworks, open-air concerts or trumpet blowing. Many residents, however, do not take the ban seriously, saying that blowing trumpets was not against Islamic law.