Banda Aceh, Indonesia (Compass) — Led by two decorated elephants, about 5,000 people in the city of Banda Aceh marched, sang Muslim songs and chanted prayers to mark the inauguration of the court, which coincided with Islamic New Year celebrations, Indonesia’s Kshare News reported on March 4.
While the government of Indonesia has tried to remain secular, its estimated population of 220 million is 80 percent Muslim, making it the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Aceh province, located at the extreme northwest tip of Sumatra island, practices a more conservative brand of Islam than most of the country.
After nearly three decades of civil war, Indonesia’s government granted greater autonomy to the region two years ago in a move to appease the rebels, which included the right to implement Islamic law, Kshare said.
The Aceh legislature recently passed sharia, the Islamic legal system, which governs every aspect of individual and social life based on the teachings of the Quran. The new court can implement punishment, including caning, for Muslims who propagate beliefs other than Islam, fail to attend Friday prayers three times in a row, or sell food, cigarettes or drinks in daylight hours during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Officials said the court will mete out justice for violators of the new laws and will eventually handle murder, adultery and theft cases.
Aceh’s population of 4 million includes small numbers of Christians. Local officials have said that non-Muslims cannot be prosecuted in the Islamic court.
Rebels in Aceh began fighting for an independent state in 1976 in this oil and gas rich region, located about 1,100 miles northwest of Jakarta. An estimated 12,000 people have died in fighting during the last decade. A recent peace accord has reduced the violence, but many issues have yet to be resolved.
Copyright 2003 Compass Direct