03/10/2008, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Fears growing over local laws inspired by sharia

by Mathias Hariyadi
According to Muslims and minorities, the norms threaten religious freedom and multiracial coexistence. The laws are in practice applied even to non-Muslims. It's a growing phenomenon, while the central government stands by and watches.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Muslims and religious minorities in Indonesia are raising their voices against the spread of local laws inspired by sharia, and denouncing the inaction of the central government, which in spite of its promises is doing nothing concrete to confront the phenomenon.  This concern emerged during a recent meeting of scholars in the country. Masdar Mashudi, one of the Muslim experts who spoke at the meeting, warned that what is at stake is the multiracial spirit itself that has always characterised Indonesia.

Since 2004, following the implementation of regional autonomy, dozens of local governments and municipalities have adopted laws in line with sharia.  These should be applied only to Muslim citizens, but their application is affecting and limiting all others as well.  Some of the laws criminalise behaviour prohibited by Islamic law, like adultery, prostitution, games of chance, and the consumption of alcohol.  They also restrict the freedom of women.

Minority groups, Muslim intellectuals, and deputies from various political parties have for some time been asking Jakarta to abolish these norms, warning against the "creeping" Islamisation of Indonesia.  The central government, which in 2006 had promised a revision, is delaying action.  And meanwhile, the phenomenon is spreading.  It is believed that 22 local governments and municipalities have already introduced norms of this kind.  The anti-prostitution law adopted in 2005 by the government of Tangerang raised strong protests after the case of a woman accused of prostitution because she was walking on the street alone at night.  In regions like southern Sulawesi and Aceh, local laws require understanding of written Arabic for all public officials. In Padang, a province of West Sumatra, female students are required to wear the veil, and the same is true in the province of Banten.  Even non-Muslim students are forced to observe this norm to avoid the risk of discrimination or marginalisation.

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