Jakarta (AsiaNews) - The Ulema Advisory Council of Banda Aceh (MPU), the capital of the Indonesian province of Aceh, the only one where Sharia law is enforced, has called on the Muslim community not to "celebrate" Christmas and New Year.
A few days before the holidays, the movement's leaders issued a statement saying that the two events do not belong to the Islamic tradition, and for this reason should not be celebrated.
The same occurred in 2003, when Muslim leaders in the province addressed their community, telling Muslims not to take part in the two festivities, which are typical of "Western and Roman culture."
At the time, President Abdurrahman 'Gus Dur' Wahid personally spoke on the issue. An iconic figure across the nation for his defence of human rights and minorities, he told his compatriots to "feel free" to celebrate these festivities.
Indeed, Indonesians have celebrated the New Year for quite some time with dancing, drums, motorcycle racing in city streets and fireworks.
However, "The nature of the celebrations for the New Year does not belong to the spirit of Islam," said MPU chief Tengku HAS Karih Syeikh.
In a statement to fellow Muslims, the leaders of the Islamist movement said that they should not send "greetings" and "best wishes" to Christians because "Christmas is not an integral part of the Islamic tradition."
"The law is clear," they explain. "It is haram (forbidden, according to the sharia)" and for this reason Muslims must refrain from going to parties, celebrations or festivities planned for the coming days.
Ulema in Aceh have also warned the Christian minority to "respect" the province's Islamic rules and obligations. Any planned Christian ceremonies, they said, "must not disturb or create problems."
This obligation also applies to local hotels and other accommodation facilities, which are already required not to hold celebrations or balls.
Finally, the ulema want the authorities to be strict in enforcing Islamic law and severely punish anyone who violates it.
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world. Increasingly however, it has become the scene of attacks or episodes of intolerance against minorities, whether they are Christians, Ahmadi Muslims or belong to other faiths.
Aceh is the only Indonesian province where Sharia (Islamic law) is enforced, following a peace agreement between the central government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Yet, in many other areas of the country, a more radical and extreme vision of Islam is spreading among ordinary Indonesians.
Certain rules such as the infamous building permit (Izin Mendirikan Bangunan or IMB in Indonesian) have been used to prevent the construction of Christian places of worship or stop construction already underway, as was the case for the Yasmin Church in West Java.
Catholics are a small minority of about seven million, or 3 per cent of the population. In the Archdiocese of Jakarta, the faithful represent 3.6 per cent of the population.
Catholics are nevertheless an active component of society and have contributed to the nation's development as well as to emergency operations when they arise, as was the case in last January's devastating flood.
Although the country's constitution recognises religious freedom, Catholics have been the victims of violence and abuse.