Conservatives Pushing Religious Law in Aceh

The struggle between those wanting to hold firm to Indonesia’s secular Constitution and those who favor the introduction of Sharia (Islamic law) is becoming more intense. Nearly 30 local governments, including Aceh, have introduced Sharia laws or Sharia-inspired legislation.

More than 50 members of parliament urged the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to abolish the Sharia-inspired local laws.

In Aceh, Sharia took effect in 2005, but at first was slow to be implemented due to the tsunami’s devastation. Shariah police have become a fixture in the daily lives of the Acehnese. They stop women who do not have their head scarves properly adjusted and often impose fines. In some instances, women have been publicly whipped for being caught in public with men who are not their husbands. Men have sometimes been whipped for gambling.

Many Acehnese, mindful of their tradition of tolerance and pluralism, oppose religious law. But scholar Faud Mardhatillah says that the tsunami helped conservatives usher in Sharia, as they lectured the traumatized population that the disaster was punishment for immoral behavior.

In June, hundreds of people from Islamic boarding schools drove tourists away from a beach resort near Aceh’s city of Lhokseumawe, vowing to continue their campaign along the coast. They justified their actions by saying that “wicked deeds” could invite additional disasters like the tsunami.

In Aceh, the struggle for women’s rights and status continues with the issuance of a new governing law for the province. Activists have demanded allocating at least 30 percent of posts in local political parties to women

“Women Call for Quota in Aceh Bill,” Jakarta Post, 8 July 2006.
Nancy Amelia Collins, “Linking Terrorism and Sharia in Aceh,” Voice of America News, 28 June 2006.
Jane Perlez, “Women Caught in a More Radical Indonesia,” International Herald Tribune, 27 June 2006.
“Hundreds Wearing Robes Force Tourists to Leave Aceh Beach Resorts,” Bernama (Malaysian National News Agency), 27 June 2006.