Ramadan starts in Indonesia

Muslims in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, Indonesia, began observing the fasting month of Ramadan on Saturday.

President Joko Widodo welcomed the occasion with a message calling for unity amid concerns about rising religious intolerance.

“I hope that during this holy month, we will increase our devotion, our brotherhood and unity as a nation,” Joko said.

The Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was jailed for two years earlier this month for blasphemy, following protests by conservative Muslims angered by remarks he made about the Koran.

Ramadan, a month-long period where healthy Muslims must abstain from eating or drinking from dawn to dusk, is a time for increased charity and heightened religious fervour for the faithful around the world.

In Indonesia, TV programmes, including soap operas, are dominated by religious themes. Comedy shows featuring famous Indonesian celebrities accompany millions of Indonesians who eat the sahur, the daily pre-dawn meal before the start of fasting.

Ramadan also means a crackdown on vice. Authorities in the capital Jakarta have banned nightspots from operating during Ramadan.

Places such as discos, massage parlours and saunas have been ordered to shut from one day before Ramadan until one day after Eid al-Fitr, a festival marking the end of the holy month.

This year Eid al-Fitr runs from June 25-26.

Exceptions are to be made for establishments located in hotels and specially-designated entertainment centres. Similar rules also are in place in other cities in Indonesia.

Many in Jakarta welcomed Ramadan with a sense of gloom however.

“We are supposed to welcome Ramadan with joy, but those terrorists spoiled it,” said Triyoga Wahyu, a Jakarta resident, referring to a suicide bomb attack in eastern Jakarta on Wednesday which killed three policemen and wounded 10 others.

“I hope they go to the deepest hell,” he said.

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