12/22/2014, 00.00
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Indonesian Islamists threaten Christmas celebrations

by Mathias Hariyadi
For the past few years, the Christian festivity has become an excuse for violence and targeted attacks. Among Muslims, moderates defend Christmas whilst fundamentalists view it as "haram", sinful. Whilst Jakarta Governor sets up a tree, President Jokowi travels to Papua for the celebration. Meanwhile, members of the Yasmin Church prepare to celebrate the event outdoor.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Indonesia's Christian community is getting ready for Christmas celebrations, a festivity that has become in recent years a source of controversy and a pretext for attacks and violence by extremist Islamic groups.

Once again, Muslim fundamentalists have issued warnings and threats, stating that Muslims are not allowed to wear Christmas symbols or exchange greetings with Christian friends and colleagues.

The controversy has generated conflict among Muslims as well. Moderate groups have criticised hard-liners and stressed the pluralistic and multicultural vision of the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesian's foremost moderate Muslim organisation, is an active player in the controversy; its leaders have repeatedly stated that there is nothing unlawful (haram) or anti-Islamic in wishing Merry Christmas and happy holidays to Christians.

The decision by Jakarta's new governor, an ethnic Chinese and a Christian, to put up a Christmas tree in City Hall has been an additional source of conflict, fuelled by social media. Some extremist movements took to the streets in protest, including the 'Ansharusy Syariah (JAS), which has also carried demonstrations in Sidoarjo district, East Java province.

For his part, Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo announced that he would travel to Papua for Christmas, to take part in the festivities associated with the Christian celebration. The province is Indonesia's easternmost territory and has been racked by decades of guerrilla war involving separatist groups.

The Yasmin Church is another issue that still festering, left unresolved from the Yudhoyono administration, which failed to defend religious freedom despite its official pronouncements.

For some time, the community has been forced to hold its religious services outdoor because the local government closed down its church, this despite a Supreme Court ruling in favour of the Christian Church's right to use the place of worship.

The representatives of the Protestant community confirmed that they plan celebrate Christmas services near the church, even though the latter still off-limits.

"Our message (to the president) is clear," said Bona Sigalingging, legal representative for the Yasmin Church. "For us, Supreme Court's ruling is legally binding, and all Indonesian citizens should respect its decisions."

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