Chinese-Indonesians were not allowed to celebrate Chinese New Year during Suharto’s New Order dictatorship, just one part of his regime’s attempts to repress Chinese culture. But, since CNY was declared a national holiday in 2002 by then President Megawati Soekarnoputri, celebrations have become widely accepted (as anybody who has been to a Jakarta mall decked out in red and gold during CNY can attest).
However, there are those who still think that CNY should not be celebrated in Indonesia. One of those is Forum Muslim Bogor (FMB), a conservative Islamic organization that released a letter on Jan 23 calling on the West Java city to cancel public celebrations of CNY on Feb 5 as well as Cap Go Meh celebrations on February 19 and for Muslims to not participate in them.
In the letter, FMB argues that CNY and Cap Go Meh are not just celebrations of Chinese culture but also religious holidays, thus making it inappropriate for the government or Muslims to support them since it could undermine Islamic faith.
In previous years, FMB might have received more support. In fact, in 2017, the Bogor branch of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Indonesia’s top Islamic clerical body, similarly urged Muslims not to take part in CNY festivities.
But MUI Bogor seems to have had a big change of heart in the last two years. They strongly denounced FMB’s letter as a threat to the city’s religious harmony.
“I consider this to be an expression of hatred and if anyone wants to report them (to the authorities), we invite them to do so,” said MUI Bogor Chairman Mustofa Abdullah bin Nuh yesterday as quoted by Tempo.
Mustofa also said he was annoyed with the letter because it was made to sound as if it was a fatwa (religious edict), which FMB did not have the right to declare.
Mostofa, as well as other MUI officials and representatives of other religious organizations, held a meeting with government officials yesterday at Bogor City Hall. The meeting was led by Bogor Mayor Bima Arya Sugiarto
Bima said that the celebrations were an important tradition in the city that should be honored and respected.
Indonesia’s minister of religious affairs, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, also spoke out in support of Bogor’s CNY celebrations, saying that the beliefs of people from different cultures, faiths and traditions should be respected.
After seeing so many instances of a small but vocal minority being able to spread intolerance in Indonesia in recent years, it’s heartening to see government and religious leaders forming such a united front to stand up for the rights and traditions of a minority group. Hopefully it’s something we’ll be seeing more of in the future.