Friday, February 03, 2017

Secular Indonesia's Shariah Law

"They're not brave enough to say anything [even though] a silent majority [of Indonesians in the Acehnese Provincial Legislature feels the government has gone too far in permitting Sharia Law to prevail]."
"The discotheques would close at 3 a.m. But at 3 a.m. if we weren't satisfied yet, we'd go to the beach, and from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. we'd play disco music with no problem [in the 1990s]."
Irwan Johan, vice speaker, Acehnese Provincial Legislature
Members of the Aceh government and the Aceh police destroy illegal alcohol seized in Banda Aceh, Indonesia March 7, 2016.(Photo: HOTLI SIMANJUNTAK, EPA)

That was then, this is now. Not all that many years later, but a wholesale change in social, religious values. Indonesia is the world's largest, most populous Muslim-majority country. This nation of 190 million Muslim citizens prided itself on its secular-type of democracy with a Muslim flavour. It was and is not like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf States, a kingdom, nor was it or is it a theocracy like Iran, nor yet a tyranny or dictatorship like Iraq and Syria. Its model was more like Turkey before it became Islamist.

But that is the trajectory that Indonesia seems headed toward; a greater Islamism with Sharia Law instituted on a gradual basis. In Aceh Province, however, full-blown Sharia is now the norm, and the discotheques that Mr. Irwan recalls with such fondness from his youth could no more flourish in this new fundamentalist environment than could Disneyland.

In fact, it is the first area in northern Sumatra that transformed itself into an established Sharia Law environment in Indonesia, irrespective of the nation's secular Constitution. Now, if a discotheque presumed to open for business, it would be raided and summarily shuttered, its proprietor arrested for unIslamic activity insulting to Muslim values. Since 2001 women must dress modestly, alcohol is strictly prohibited and various offences are punishable through public whipping.

In total, three Acehnese couples were sentenced to receive public lashes for violating Sharia law in a brutal new crackdown in the region
In total, three Acehnese couples were sentenced to receive public lashes for violating Sharia law in a brutal new crackdown in the region

Indonesia's central government acceded to Aceh's request to launch Sharia. The central government mindful of the need to instill calming waters over separatist inclinations in the area, gave its blessing. Sharia police now conduct surprise raids wherever they feel unIslamic behaviour may be carrying on; anywhere from hotel rooms to beaches, in search of immorality to be shut down and violators arrested.

Other regions of the country evincing their own interest in Sharia-based laws now look to Aceh to provide a template for their own aspirations. Leaving those Indonesians concerned about the nation's departure from secularism to worry about the alarming realities that are changing the country's social compact and laws. Over 442 Sharia-based laws have been introduced in the nation since 1999, at a time that the capital Jakarta endowed the provinces and districts with powers enabling them to make their own laws.

Local officials in Aceh are proud that they represent the tip of the spear introducing Sharia to the nation. "They look at how we facilitate an atmosphere of religiosity", conceded Syahrizal Abbas, head of the Department of Shariah for Aceh, himself considered a moderate. Under his direction the version of Shariah practised in Aceh is gentler than the Wahhabist form in Saudi Arabia since Aceh's accepts female leaders where Saudi does not.

A flurry of new Islamic laws have been introduced in Aceh in recent years, drawing howls of protest from rights groups


In the capital, Banda Aceh, Illiza Sa'adddin Djamal is the first female mayor the city has ever had. Women's rights activists supported her in the polls with the hope that she would be a moderating influence, a progressive leader, only to discover that she became an enforcer of the conservative moral code practised in Aceh. She has issued nighttime curfews for women, persisting in dispersing events considered by her to represent contradictions of Sharia values.

A fundamentalist cleric, leader of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front, Rizieq Shihab's speech in Banda Aceh proceeded as he spoke, inviting a response from the crowd: "When Islam first came to Indonesia it entered through Aceh, correct?" "Correct!" roared the crowed right back at him.
"Aceh is a model for the entire Indonesian nation. It must become the locomotive for the movement to apply Shariah law throughout Indonesia. Agreed?"

"Agreed!" enthused the crowd uproariously.

A large crowd gathered to watch religious officers deliver the sentence of lashes. Aceh has become increasingly conservative in recent years and is the only one in Indonesia implementing Sharia law
A large crowd gathered to watch religious officers deliver the sentence of lashes. Aceh has become increasingly conservative in recent years and is the only one in Indonesia implementing Sharia law

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