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from Photographers' Blog:

Living under sharia

Banda Aceh, Indonesia

By Damir Sagolj

A siren rips apart the silence at the tsunami memorial in Aceh. A short announcement follows, after a greeting in Arabic and blessing from God – everyone is to leave the site immediately. It is time for prayers and the memorial built around a huge ship stranded miles inland during the 2004 tsunami will soon close its gates. Visitors are leaving the site, expected to go to nearby mosque and pray.

I’ve been watching different groups silently walking through the gates - students, business-like people, families and tourists – few went praying. Others were more interested in small shops selling souvenirs and in their pictures being taken. Some stood behind the memorial’s fence, smoked a cigarette and then just boarded their buses.

Aside from some smaller districts in Indonesia that have sharia-inspired bylaws, Aceh is the only province in Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, where such laws are implemented. This is something that occurred for complicated reasons some of which go well beyond the religion itself and have more to do with Achenese tradition, the long struggle for the independence and conflict with outside forces, Jakarta included.

Indeed Aceh is where Islam, spreading from the Middle East, landed first in the archipelago (the province is often called "the verandah of Mecca", something that is mandatory for every reporter coming from Aceh to mention) but it was only at the beginning of the 21st century when sharia was announced by the government in an attempt to finally end a rebellion that had lasted for decades.