Muslims in much of Asia yesterday began celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, with hardliners in Indonesia vowing to raid “sinful” bars after police steamrollered a mountain of alcohol and porn.
Tens of millions across the Muslim world fast from dawn to dusk and strive to be more pious and charitable during the month, which ends with the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
However, Ramadan began in war-torn Afghanistan with a bomb blast, and there was tight security in parts of the southern Philippines after deadly clashes with Muslim rebels.
In Indonesia, which has the world’s biggest Muslim population, hardliners use Ramadan as an excuse to attack nightspots and shops that openly sell alcohol.
There were fears the situation could be worse this year after a recent upsurge in attacks on religious minorities and non-mainstream Muslims.
Critics say hardliners such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) have been emboldened by the government’s failure to crack down on them and to prevent such attacks.
In the days before Ramadan, there were already reports that the FPI — who led protests that forced pop star Lady Gaga to cancel a concert in Jakarta last year — had started conducting such raids.
“We will take firm action against the circulation of alcohol, naked dancing and prostitution,” Habib Idrus Algadri, head of an FPI group in Depok district outside Jakarta, was quoted as saying in a local newspaper.
He was leading a group of FPI members who seized bottles of alcohol from a shop over the weekend.
Habib Salim Alatas, the head of the FPI’s Jakarta branch, said that 50 members would be sent out to monitor nightspots in the capital every evening.
“We will send out groups of two to three wearing civilian clothes to spy on sinful activities like the drinking of alcohol taking place around Jakarta during the Ramadan holy month,” he said.
Authorities have also been making a show of cracking down on the illegal sale of alcohol.
At the weekend Jakarta police used a steamroller to crush thousands of bottles of homemade alcohol that was being sold in places without licenses, as well as pornographic and pirated DVDS.
The start of Islam’s holiest month brought no let-up in Afghanistan’s long-running conflict, with three civilians killed and two others wounded in a Taliban roadside bombing in the southern province of Helmand, authorities said.
The interior ministry said that two dozen rebels had been killed in operations across the country over the past 24 hours.
In the Catholic-majority Philippines, there was tight security at the start of Ramadan in southern Muslim-populated areas after weekend clashes between troops and Islamic rebels left eight dead.
Ramadan begins when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. It has yet to start in some Asian countries with large Muslim populations, including Pakistan and India.