Syriah laws in Aceh and Indonesia

Updated On: Aug 04, 2006

With the replacement of authoritarian rule by democracy, some have argued that hardline or conservative Islam is making a comeback in Indonesia. The re-introduction of Syriah law is viewed as one aspect of this trend.

The situation in Aceh is perhaps indicative of this. One reason for the focus on Aceh is because Aceh is the only province in the country that has the legal right to apply Islamic law. Known for its strong Islamic traditions, Aceh is given autonomy to impose its own set of laws at the provincial level. According to Jakarta Post, “the recently endorsed Aceh Governance Law reinforces the province's special status for Islam, with Article 125 stipulating that the enforcement of Syriah concerns faith, worship and moral character.”

Some argue that poorly trained and hastily recruited Syriah vigilante/police here impose their will on the women and the socially-marginalized like the poor. The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) produced a report that details the activities of the Syriah vigilantes/police. "Women complain that they are disproportionately the targets of sharia [Syriah] police raids, with far more operations against them for not wearing headscarves, or jilbab, than against men for not attending Friday prayer," the 25-page report is quoted as saying. Qanun No. 11/2002 of the Syriah Law on the implementation of Islamic law in the areas of faith, worship and dissemination of Islamic teachings has been used to punish women who do not wear headscarves in public.

As for the poor, the Syriah vigilante/police have meted out corporal punishment for perceived social ills like alcoholism and gambling. "From the start, the canings have been controversial...because those arrested have been overwhelmingly 'little people', men playing cards for stakes of less than US$1," the same report said. The punishment meted out is less than consistent as police-protected gambling rings are excluded from patrols by the Syriah vigilante/police. This lends credence to the perception that the poor are being unfairly targeted.

But, back in the Indonesian metropolitan capital Jakarta, the dominant consensus still seems to be against Islamic-based Syriah law implementation. Economist Faisal Basri and former environment minister Sarwono Kusumaatmaja have both said they will firmly oppose any Syriah-based ordinances in the capital city should they be elected governor in the 2007 election.

Both candidates also took pains to criticize local authorities who implement them. According to the Jakarta Post, Sarwono said that according to the Constitution and the 2004 Law on Regional Autonomy, local authorities were not permitted to supervise the religious affairs of the public. "It's final. (By-laws) with Islamic sharia are not allowed," said Faisal, who was once general secretary of the National Mandate Party. "We are committed to being a secular country, and that means separating state affairs from religion," he said.

But Aceh isn’t the only province implementing Syriah law. In fact, the regionalization of Indonesia seems to have encouraged the process. Other regions may not enact Islamic laws but they get around the restriction by utilizing local by-laws instead. Since the enactment of the regional autonomy law in 2000, 22 municipalities and regencies in Indonesia have implemented Syriah by-laws, including stipulations on religious text literacy among schoolchildren, requiring women to wear headscarves in public and prescribing punishments for adultery, drinking and gambling.


Women, the poor singled out by Aceh sharia enforcers: ICG (Jakarta Post, 2 August 2006)

Candidates say no to Sharia-based bylaws (The Jakarta Post, 1 August 2006)