Monday, December 18, 2017


By Lily Hikam*)

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in every store
But the prettiest sight to see, is the banner that will be
Proclaiming you’ll go to hell for wishing them “Merry Christmas”…

Whoops! That’s NOT how the song goes. My bad.
               But in retrospect, this version of the song is more in accordance to the Indonesian Christmas “tradition” of arguing whether or not one should wish the Christians a merry Christmas. Fortunately, though, growing up, I never have to deal with this ridiculous, yet polarizing, issue of extending salutations to friends who happen to be of a different religion from me. I freely said “Selamat Natal”, “Gong Xi Fa Cai”, “Selamat Hari Waisak” or “Selamat Hari Nyepi” to my friends who celebrate them, and in turn they also wished me “Eid Mubarak” when it’s either Eid Al-Fitri or Eid Al-Adha. So what is the big deal with extending these interreligious greetings?
               Some people might not see the problem with not extending felicitations. But in a country boasting a society as heterogenous as Indonesia, maintaining good relationship between the different groups that made up the civil society is essential to the unity and prosperity of the country. And the easiest way to maintain this harmony is by doing the most basic act of wishing them a good holiday. So why is it so hard for Indonesians nowadays to do that? Every year when it comes to Christmas time, we revisit the same old debate of whether or not it’s permitted to wish Christians a merry Christmas. Honestly by this point Christmas has become an unwelcomed holiday tradition.  Let me then save some time to address questions I know will be asked by people disagreeing with me in the comments section:
“Is it permitted?” I would say “Yes”, it is permitted. Not just to Christians, we can also extend our well wishes to the Hindus, Buddhists, the people celebrating Chinese New Year and even people whose religious beliefs are not part of the officially recognized religion.
“Isn’t it haram?” The Council of Indonesian Ulama (MUI) said so. But there are plenty of Islamic scholars who said otherwise. I would opt to follow the latter opinion. Also a fatwa in our country is non-legally binding law, which why Indonesia is still Indonesia and not Pakistan or Afghanistan. *shudders*
“But wishing them Merry Christmas is the same as embracing their religion.” I wouldn’t go that far, dude!. Wishing them a good celebration is not the same as endorsing their religion and forsaking your own.  Also I’m more worried about you whose religiosity is so insecure that extending well wishes to someone of a different religion is akin to conversion.
“Yeah but, the Quran said Your way is yours, and my way is mine”.” Well, here comes the big gun: the last verse of Al Kafirun. Please don’t misinterpret the Quran for the sake of  winning an argument. That very verse was not written to justify your position of being an insufferable intolerant jerk, but to ensure peace between communities of different religions by encouraging Muslims to not force their beliefs in others.

               In recent years religious-based violence (and isn’t that an oxymoron of monstrous proportion?) in Indonesia has spiked. Recently, the Setara Institute has released a report on the nation’s most intolerant cities, and I’m ashamed to say that our capital city, DKI Jakarta, is ranked as the most intolerant of those intolerant cities. In its report the Setara Institute cited that Jakarta has a “lack of adequate response and action by the local authorities to resolve religious issues”. This is deeply alarming, especially since the nation’s capital, the city that attract migrants from all walks of life and the city that housed the leaders of our nation, is less tolerant than Banda Aceh who operates on Syariah law. Using the Setara’s criteria, Banda Aceh’s local government has a better handle on resolving religious conflicts compared to Jakarta. Is that probably because they have canes and whips at their disposal? Not sure. *cries*
               This is a fever indicating the presence of a persistent and systematic infection in our society.  Other symptoms can also be seen in the boldness of fringe movements like FPI and HTI in organizing numerous mass gatherings. And I mean numerous. It seems like whenever a good date or “tanggal cantik” rolls around, you’d organize something. We don’t need a trilogy, guys. Heck nobody even wants the original one.  It also doesn’t help that the mainstream media seems to be giving these people the platform and stage to further push their agendas to the mainstream audience. To add insult to injury, the police’s failure to bring into justice a renowned fugitive, who has performed umroh for everyone in Indonesia and then some, is also a glaring sign that something is broken in our country.
               All of this, along with the still unsolved permits “problems” for numerous churches in West Java, that crazy memo from a community in Tangerang telling people to report their deaths 3 days before they die, and the refusal to acknowledge the Constitutional Court’s decision that the indigenous beliefs of the Baduy people can be considered religion, indicates that our country’s disease will get worse before it gets better.
               But not all is lost, folks!. There are still people and civil society organizations that are fighting for a tolerant and inclusive Indonesia. To date, the Constitutional Court’s decision in permitting ancestral beliefs to be included in the “Religion” column of our KTP is a big step in improving our nation’s inclusivity, and is a decision rooted in the belief that the right to worship is a God-given right, not a state-given right. These small victories should remind us that the fight we are fighting is the good fight: a fight to protect the soul of Indonesia from forces seeking to destroy its existence.
               With that said, I want to wish my all beloved families and friends a Happy Holiday (trying to be politically correct here, hahaha..). I hope everyone have a happy Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, and a festive New Year. I myself will visit my Batak family in Boston, Massachusetts, who celebrates Christmas. We will be personifying the true spirit of Indonesian inclusivity there.

               And speaking of Indonesian  inclusivity, on December 30th, 2009, our Nation’s Father, Almaghfurlah Gus Dur, returned to the Almighty. This year, like every year before that, my family in Jakarta will hold a remembrance or a KHAUL in his honor; and although I cannot be there physically, I dedicate this article to Almaghfurlah Gus Dur and his tireless efforts to create an inclusive and friendly Islam, as well as to embrace everyone despite of differences in religious and/or ethnic background.

               In  closing, it is timely to remember the words of renowned German physicist, Marx Born, “the belief that there is only one truth and that oneself is in possession of it, is the root of all evil in the world.” Everyone is entitled to one’s own truths, but know that his/her truth might not be his/her neighbors’ truth, and to respect this difference is to live peacefully.

Irvine, California, 17 December 2017.

*) Graduate Student, Zaragoza Lab
UCI Cardiogenomics Clinical and Research Program
Department of Biological Chemistry
School of MedicineThe University of California, Irvine, CA, USA


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