The government is putting in more effort to market Aceh as an Islamic tourist destination during the holy month of Ramadan from May to June, with a host of religious-themed events planned during the month when Muslims fast from dawn till dusk.
Aceh, known locally as the “terrace of Mecca” since historians believe Islam first spread in Southeast Asia from the city, offers many attractions for tourists looking to immerse themselves in Islamic traditions or enjoy Islamic architecture, as exemplified by its beautiful Baiturrahman grand mosque in Banda Aceh, the capital of the province.
The mosque has long served as the icon of Aceh. It is located in a spacious square right in the middle of the city, covering an area of 1,500 square meters, and features seven domes and eight minarets.
The mosque can accommodate up to 30,000 people and is a favorite photo object for tourists — including for selfies.
The Tourism Ministry’s marketing development deputy Esthy Reko Astuti said Aceh’s tourism agency this year has devised a new marketing campaign called the “Charms of Ramadan” that will highlight the province’s unique Islamic traditions.
One particular traditional event to be held just two days before Idul Fitri is called Meugang, where Muslims sacrificed cows to mark the end of the fasting month. Visitors can observe the day-long ceremony from the slaughter of the cows to the dinner in the evening where the meat has been cooked into a variety of traditional dishes.
If you go to Aceh’s interior during Ramadan, you can also witness Koran recitations in villages — that can often get quite competitive — and taste many seasonal delicacies sold only during Ramadan for buka puasa, or the breaking of the fast, at sunset.
A few days before Idul Fitri, Muslims in Aceh also gather for a special prayer known as the Dzikir Akbar to welcome the day when they are purified of sins.
Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said he is more than confident Aceh can be one of the centers of Islamic tourism in the world with the government’s full support.
Aceh last year snatched two prestigious awards from the World Halal Tourism Award to be crowned the World’s Best Halal Cultural Destination and the World’s Best Airport for Halal Travelers, given to Banda Aceh’s Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport.