INDONESIA: The beginning of sharia law for all…even Christians

Making intolerance an explicit policy of an Island with a population of 50 million people is significant not only for Christians who live their lives under that regime but will embolden others to increase public intolerance of Christianity.

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CatholicismUSA  The provincial administration of Aceh, in the north of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, has approved a law called the “Qanun Jinayat” which imposes both Muslims and non-Muslims to observe the Islamic law (Sharia).

As reported by local sources of Fides, fears and concerns are widespread in the Christian communities of the province: so far, in fact, the application of Sharia law, already in force in the province, concerned only Muslim citizens.

A Sharia law official whips a man convicted of gambling with a rattan cane during a public caning

A Sharia law official in Aceh whips a man convicted of gambling with a rattan cane during a public caning

The provincial councilor Abdulah Saleh confirmed that the controversial decree was approved in December and signed by the governor Zaini Abdullah in recent days: in this way the measure has officially come into force. According to the order, all those who violate the precepts of the Islamic law, regardless of their religion, will be judged according to the Islamic law. Non-Muslims who violate the criminal code will have the chance to be judged in civil courts or Islamic ones. 

Since being arrested at a punk rock concert in the provincial capital Banda Aceh, 59 male and five female punk rock fans have been transported by Aceh State Police to a 10-day  spiritual cleansing/re-education camp.

Since being arrested at a punk rock concert in the provincial capital Banda Aceh, 59 male and five female punk rock fans have been transported by Aceh State Police to a 10-day spiritual cleansing/re-education camp.

As reported to Fides, representatives of churches and human rights activists have defined the measure “harmful for human rights and religious freedom”, criticizing the methods applied by the special “police of the sharia”, that go around the streets to ensure compliance of the Islamic law, particularly in terms of customs and social habits.

In recent days, 62 people, including two non-Muslims, were detained because “wearing inappropriate clothing”.

A Sharia policewoman lectures woman who were arrested for wearing tight jeans during a Sharia police raid in Banda Aceh

A Sharia policewoman lectures woman who were arrested for wearing tight jeans during a Sharia police raid in Banda Aceh

Jakarta Post  Despite the implementation of sharia law, Aceh has been seen as tolerant as Islamic law is limited only to the Muslim population. Non-Muslims are only asked to respect sharia by refraining from violations or from committing acts that are deemed contradictory to sharia. Until now.

The new procedural bylaw stipulates that technical regulations apply to law enforcers as well as to everybody in Aceh.

This rule will take all those accused of violating Islamic law to the sharia court, including non-Muslims. Various infringements regarded as sharia violations do not belong to offenses in the general criminal law in Indonesia. An example is carrying or consuming alcoholic drinks. Under sharia, the tolerable grade of alcohol for consumption is not specified. 

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With reference to the new qanun, Christians will not be able to hold a holy mass, in which wine, albeit containing less than 2 percent of alcohol, is the main element of the ritual. Under the new rule, whoever carries and consumes wine will be considered as infringing sharia.

A simpler and more noticeable example can be found in daily life, such as the Islamic dress code. The bylaw on Islamic principles, worship and religious practice stipulates that Islamic dress must cover aurat (body parts), including jilbab (headscarves). For Muslims, wearing jilbab is obligatory, but it is not so for non-Muslims.

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In Aceh, non-Muslim women wearing Islamic dress with jilbab are commonplace. Frequently, foreigners visiting Aceh are seen wearing headscarves just to respect sharia. In the future, non-Muslim women will no longer wear jilbab as a show of respect, but due to coercion because sharia applies to non-Muslims. There is no reason not to abide by sharia because national law does not regulate Islamic dress code.

The application of sharia for non-Muslims is seen as inappropriate because sharia regulates the life of people individually as well as the Islamic community collectively in the perspective of Islam. It will be very difficult to apply individual or community life outside the teachings of Islam.

Sharia police warn young women of the consequences of not adhering to Islamic dress codes

Sharia police warn young women of the consequences of not adhering to Islamic dress codes

If sharia is imposed on non-Muslims, sooner or later Aceh will have to take risks. There will be a negative perception of Aceh in the international community and this will adversely affect investment in the province. Investors are eying Aceh due to its potential in the tourist industry and its rich natural resources.

Although the Home Ministry has not approved the procedural bylaw, non-Muslims have every reason to worry about intentions behind the legislative and executive endorsement of the qanun in terms of not favoring the minority. 

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There is speculation that Aceh’s councilors lack legal knowledge and simply passed the new bylaw to ensure they met the target to finalize the qanun debate, and to act as political camouflage in the face of general elections in April. 

Aceh has always been called the most tolerant region in Indonesia because despite the application of sharia, Aceh still allows non-Muslims to perform religious worship. But the fact is that the climate of pseudo-tolerance in Aceh remains, due to the many restrictions facing minority groups. 

Sharia re-education camp

Sharia re-education camp

In the case of worship buildings, one should not expect their number in Aceh to increase. Today the number is declining with pressure to close new churches. Banda Aceh has only four churches, three Chinese temples and a shrine.

The construction of places of worship for non-Muslims will be very hard to realize because of the gubernatorial regulation that is far more stringent than similar ordinances adopted in any other region across Indonesia. 

If the procedural Qanun Jinayat comes into force anyway, it will be hard to imagine how non-Muslims will survive in Aceh, notwithstanding their equal rights as citizens before the law. 

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