National Police Chief Tito Karnavian: MUI’s fatwa is not law in Indonesia

As many observers predicted, the Indonesian Ulema Council’s (MUI) fatwa forbidding business owners from forcing their Muslim employees to wear Christmas accessories led to more acts of religious intolerance, acts which seem to be happening with alarming frequency lately.

Even though MUI’s fatwas are not law in Indonesia, some local police departments act as if they are. The most recent example of that occurred yesterday when some 200 police officers were deployed to escort members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) in “socializing” the fatwa to several malls in the city of Surabaya.

National Police Chief Tito Karnavian today spoke out against those wishing to enforce MUI’s fatwa as national law, particularly those within his own force, such as when the Bekasi Metro Police released a circular reminding business owners to observe MUI’s fatwa.

“I have given a heavy warning to the Bekasi Metro Police Chief (Umar Surya Fana) because issuing a circular referencing MUI’s fatwa is forbidden,” Tito said, as quoted by CNN Indonesia today.

Tito also urged the MUI to keep religious tolerance in mind whenever they issue a fatwa.

“And for mass organizations, MUI’s fatwa is not positive law in Indonesia. So if you want to socialize (enforce) it, do it in a way that doesn’t promote fear among the public,” he said, as quoted by Detik.

Tito’s warning did have some immediate effect, particularly in Bekasi. The city’s police chief, Umar Surya Fana, said he would amend the circular to include a prohibition on mass organizations from carrying out “sweeping” (a term which is used to describe groups like FPI going around and intimidating businesses that don’t comply with their religious rules, often using violent tactics) in the lead up to Christmas.

We hope that Tito’s words will remind the rest of the Indonesian police force that their job is to preserve religious tolerance in the country, not undermine it.

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