Banda Aceh (AsiaNews) - Christians cannot greet each other with "Merry Christmas" and Muslims cannot celebrate the New Year. This was decided by the administration of Banda Aceh, capital of Aceh province in northern Sumatra and the only place in Indonesia where shariah is law. For the third consecutive year, citizens have been prohibited from making any reference to the birth of Christ and Muslims banned from celebrating New Year's Eve because they "are not part of Islamic culture."
The prohibition for Muslims to celebrate the New Year was announced by Zainal Arifin, Deputy Mayor of Banda Aceh: "We have reached an agreement that in Banda Aceh - he said - the celebrations for the new year are banned because they are not part of the Islamic calendar or Islamic culture”.
The prohibition applies only to Muslims: "From the moral point of view - said Arifin - is totally wrong for all Muslims in Aceh to celebrate the New Year. We allow those who are not Muslims to celebrate the event, but they must do so in private not in public, to avoid disturbing the local population. " Last year, mayor Djamal had ordered non-Muslims to celebrate "at home".
Illizza Sa'aduddin Djamal is the first female mayor of Banda Aceh and was a founder of the regulations. The province, however, is governed by Zaini Abdullah, former "foreign minister" of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), a separatist Islamic group that reached a peace deal with Jakarta in 2001.
Aceh province began to introduce Islamic law (shari'a) in 2005, following the deal. Many in Aceh oppose greater restrictions, especially with regards to women wearing jeans and tight skirts , travelling astride motorcycles, or dancing in public because they "stir desire" and a ban on St. Valentines Day.