Aceh is strategically located and was long time an important
regional trading center and thus became used to people and
influences from all over the world. Religion is important in Aceh.
It was from Aceh Islam spread out all over Indonesia, even to
Malaysia and Southern Thailand. The Acehnese are devout Muslims.
They respect all other religions as long as they themselves are
respected. The recent war/fighting in Aceh was purely political and
had nothing to do with religion. Sometimes the opposite was claimed
in foreign media. In Banda Aceh the main Mosque (Mesjid Raya
Baiturrahman) is just a few hundred meters from the Catholic
Cathedral and a bit further away are Protestant Churches
and a Buddhist Temple.
The Shariat is a part of Islam. It is a set of rules for how to
behave and dress, for example the head scarf or "Jilbab" for
women. It is normally a matter of personal belief; however, in Aceh
these rules are now enforced by Dinas Shariat (a government
Shariat Authority). The Dinas Shariat was a request from a political
elite and supported by Jakarta as they thought it was what the
Acehnese wanted. The former guerillas, GAM, never asked for it and
it seems that many or most Acehnese are less happy about the system.
In some areas the rules are hardly enforced, especially in remote or
smaller places like Pulau Weh and Pulau Banyak.
The rules are only valid for Muslims. They do not allow sale of
beer, but in most tourist places, beer is allowed for non-Muslims.
It is common to mix up religious rules and traditions. Many
traditions are wrongly stamped as religious rules. It is important
to respect both. As responsible tourists we must respect the local
way of life. Many areas in Aceh are still very traditional. This
fact offers a huge opportunity for a visitor to learn about another
culture and see something real. However, in order to let the local
community to develop in a way they prefer, respect them and try to
adhere to the rules. That is a part of eco-tourism and keeps