Indonesian aide blasted for 'benign' Ramadan advice to non-Muslims

(Photo: REUTERS / Olivia Harris)Muslims wait to break their fast on the last day of Ramadan, at Masjid Jamek (Jamek Mosque) in Kuala Lumpur July 27, 2014.

Conservative political leaders and clerics in Indonesia have taken to task a Cabinet member who issued a perceived benign reminder for non-Muslims concerning the holy month of Ramadan.

Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin appealed to Muslims not to close street-side food stalls, locally known as warungs, during Ramadan, when followers of the religion are obliged to fast during daytime.

"We have to respect the rights of those who are not required to or are not fasting," he posted on his Twitter account for Ramadan which started June 19.

Lukman's fellow party member Fernita Darwis criticized the minister's reminder saying the remarks cast the United Development Party, in a bad light because it had "hurt the faithful."

"We've had a lot of messages from clerics asking us to address this issue," she said, as reported by The Jakarta Globe. "The minister must immediately cease taking positions that hurt the Muslim faithful and cause negative stigma in the community."

A few days after issuing the reminder, Lukman posted clarifications on his message, after it drew stern criticism from religious conservatives. The official pointed out that warung owners should not be forced to close during Ramadan.

"If there are those who close their warung voluntarily, we of course respect that," he explained. "But good Muslims don't force others to give up their source of livelihood."

Lukman stressed that religious harmony can only be built among people if they practice mutual respect and understanding around traditions like Ramadan that requires able-bodied men and women to fast during the daytime for a month.

Despite being predominantly Muslim, Lukman pointed out that Indonesia is also home to people who do not need to fast during Ramadan.

"We are obliged to respect the right [to access to food/drink] of those who are not fasting because they are not Muslim," he wrote. "We must also respect the right of Muslims who are not fasting because of [certain] conditions [traveling, illness, menstruating, pregnancy, nursing]."

Since taking office in June last year, Lukman has taken a more lenient and inclusive approach in dealing with religious affairs but his strategy has drawn criticism for more fundament Muslims.

The holy month of Ramadan is started in Jakarta upon the sighting of the crescent moon fasting has begun.

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