Asians remain gripped by World Cup fever, even as Ramadan starts

As Muslims begin celebrating holy month, many Indonesians remain gripped by soccer fever despite hardline threats to raid 'sinful' bars

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 June, 2014, 11:43pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 June, 2014, 9:02am


Muslims in much of Asia have begun celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, but in Indonesia even threats by hardliners to raid "sinful" bars could not stop soccer fans heading to them to watch the World Cup.

Across the Muslim world, the faithful fast from dawn to dusk and strive to be more pious during the holy month, which ends with the Eid holiday.

Ramadan got under way yesterday in Asian countries including Indonesia - which has the world's largest Muslim population at around 225 million people - Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

Hardliners in Indonesia have pledged to raid bars that continue to sell alcohol, which Muslims are banned from drinking under Islamic law, or stay open too late. Authorities order bars and other nightspots to close earlier during the holy month.

Radical group the Islamic Defenders' Front would "monitor any sinful activities in entertainment places, cafes and bars during Ramadan", said Salim Alatas, the group's chief in Jakarta.

"If law enforcement officials do nothing about immoral activities, we will do anything we can to stop them, using our own methods."

But the threats did little to deter people in the soccer-crazy nation, where most practise a moderate form of Islam, from heading out to catch the latest World Cup action.

Bars that remained open in Jakarta were packed with locals and expatriates late on Saturday and early yesterday.

"For me, the fasting does not really affect my enthusiasm to watch the World Cup," said Intania Permata, a 22-year-old student, who was watching Brazil edge Chile at a South American bar and restaurant.

Endika Setiadi Putra, 27, said that with the World Cup now in the knockout stages, the excitement would keep drawing people to watch the matches in bars even during Ramadan.

"If it is the weekends, most people will go out [to watch the matches]," Putra said.

For many other Indonesians, the start of Ramadan was a time to be with their families or take part in special prayers, with thousands heading to Jakarta's Istiqlal Mosque, the biggest in Southeast Asia, on Saturday evening.

Sri Lanka's Muslims, who account for 10 per cent of the country's 20 million population of mainly Buddhists, are set to observe a low-key Ramadan after a spate of recent religious attacks.

The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, which groups nearly 50 Muslim organisations, said authorities had promised tighter security but many were still afraid of Buddhist extremist attacks after four people were killed in religious riots this month.

In the mainly Catholic Philippines, Von Al-Haq, military spokesman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said the former rebels would seek to use the holy month to try to persuade breakaway groups still fighting the government to lay down their arms.

In Malaysia, Muslims - who account for 60 per cent of the country's 28 million people - will spend the late afternoon buying food at markets or meeting at restaurants to break the first fast together in the evening. There will also be special prayers at mosques every night during the holy month.

Ramadan begins when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. The holy month was also starting across the Middle East, as bloody conflicts rage in Iraq and Syria.