Indonesia sharia stronghold bans New Year's festivities

Islamic police in Banda Aceh have seized thousands of firecrackers and cardboard trumpets after the city administration banned New Year's Eve celebrations for the first time.

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BANDA ACEH, Indonesia // Islamic police in Indonesia’s sharia stronghold have seized thousands of firecrackers and cardboard trumpets after the city administration banned New Year’s Eve celebrations for the first time.

The Monday night raids on street stalls and shops selling the items followed a fatwa by the clerical Ulema Consultative Assembly that said New Year’s celebrations or wishing someone “merry Christmas” was “haram” – forbidden – in the city of Banda Aceh.

The Banda Aceh government backed the fatwa by banning New Year’s Eve celebrations in the city.

“This public-order operation ahead of New Year’s Eve is to ensure residents are compliant with calls from the government and ulema,” said Reza Kamilin, a senior sharia police official in Bandah Aceh. “There should be no activity whatsoever to celebrate the turn of the year.”

The city ban is not technically legally binding but is being enforced by sharia police, whose role it is to “safeguard” morality.

Banda Aceh is the capital of Aceh province – the only part of Indonesia that enforces sharia and where raids to enforce the religious law are an everyday occurrence.

But this year is the first for any administration in the province to ban New Year’s Eve celebrations, in a sign of growing draconianism that rights groups oppose.

Sharia police will also conduct raids on hotels and cafes, which have been warned not to celebrate the day, Mr Kamilin said.

“We will dissolve any mass gatherings. If anyone is seen with firecrackers or trumpets, we will confiscate them,” he said.

Other administrations in Aceh were reportedly also banning celebrations, saying Muslims should only celebrate the Islamic New Year.

Aceh began implementing sharia after it was granted special autonomy in 2001. Authorities now regularly cane people caught gambling or drinking alcohol.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, but most practise a moderate form of Islam, and New Year’s Eve festivities are planned all over the country.

* Agence France-Presse