Indonesian clerics try to ban non-Muslim greetings

Ulema Council's East Java branch draws fire by saying greetings from other religions are 'heresy'
Indonesian clerics try to ban non-Muslim greetings

People from various religions participate in a peace march in Jakarta in this 2017 file photo. (Photo by Konradus Epa/ucanews)

Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body has warned Muslims against using greetings used by other religions, saying they are not in accordance with Islamic tradition. 

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) in East Java said Muslims must avoid using greetings used by non-Muslims “as they are heretical and symbolize perverted values.”

The warning came in a Nov. 8 letter signed by Abdusshomad Buchori and Ainul Yaqin, the branch’s chairman and general secretary.

They mentioned common phrases such as salam sejahtera bagi kita semua (peace be upon us) used by Catholics and Protestants, om swastyastu (may goodness be upon you) by Hindus, namo Buddhaya (pay homage to Buddha) for Buddhists, and salam kebajikan (only God’s virtue) said by Confucians. 

"Use of greetings from other religions by Muslims is considered an act of heresy and must be avoided," the letter said.

It was backed by Ulema Council officials in Jakarta who said the move was meant to respect the faith and doctrines of each religion.

The order “aims to build good relations with other religions and [should] not be seen as an act of intolerance,” Anwar Abbas, the MUI’s general secretary in Jakarta, told ucanews.

However, moderate Muslim organizations criticized the letter, saying the use of greetings used by other religions should not be a problem.

These greetings are a symbol of tolerance among religious followers in this country, said Helmy Faisal Zaini, general secretary of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization.

“They aim to build a culture of brotherhood,” he told ucanews. "When leaders use such greetings during national gatherings, they mean to unite all people. They are not blasphemous or a form of harassment." 

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a member of a presidential unit promoting communal tolerance, said the warning was ridiculous and that people should not be prohibited from saying such greetings because they are part of tradition to uphold interreligious bonds.

“They are universal and a form of acknowledgment by the state that it wants to ensure religious freedom,” Father Susetyo said. “These are good for our country.”

Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi responded by saying that such greetings are necessary when participants of an assembly are from various religious backgrounds.

"It’s to show tolerance and brotherhood to other believers,” he said. “If all participants were Muslims, then use an Islamic greeting,” he said.

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