Indonesia's police chief has dismissed a fatwa issued by the country's highest Islamic council banning businesses to force their Muslim staff to wear Christmas-related attire during the festive period.

Tito Karnavian has warned religious hardliners that the police will be at hand to stop vigilantes from trying to enforce the religious edict before Christmas. He said the edict is not a law.

Religious hardliners have been trying to stop retail workers in shopping malls from wearing Santa hats, alleging that the festive attire is un-Islamic.

"I have ordered my officers to arrest those doing sweeps in an anarchic fashion because it is a violation of the law," he told reporters, reports AFP.

He had ordered the police units in Bekasi, West Java and Kulonprogo in Yogyakarta to revoke police circulars that instructed owners and management of businesses not to force their workers to wear Christmas attires, based on the fatwa issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council or MUI.

He said the fatwa issued by MUI was not a law but merely a reference that could be used as coordination among police officers, Jakarta Post reports. He said the police circulars issued based on the MUI fatwa was "not permitted."

Karnavian said: "A MUI fatwa is not statutory law that should be upheld. [The police] should not issue circulars that could become a legal document." He added that fatwas "are not a reference for positive law."

Jakarta Post reported that on 18 December, the Surabaya police had accompanied members of the Islamic Defenders Front, a hardline group, to check whether retail outlets were forcing employees to wear Christmas attire like Santa hats.

The group however defended its acts saying: "We Muslims were just spreading the fatwa, because as Muslims it is an obligation to support our clerics."

The group has urged its followers to report any cases of Muslims being forced to wear Christmas attires, AFP reports.

Although Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim-majority country, most of its 255 million people practice a moderate form of Islam, infused with influences from local ethnic groups.