01/10/2013, 00.00
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For moderate Muslims, ban on women straddling motorbikes not based on Sharia

by Mathias Hariyadi
For Nahdlatul Ulama and the Indonesian Ulema Council, the new regulation in place in Aceh is not in keeping with Islamic law. Islam "says nothing in the matter". The rule is related to "local mores". For activists, it is "absurd" and "discriminatory" against women. But District chief defends it, saying that "women's dignity" is different from that of men.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Indonesia's moderate Muslim groups have come out against a new regulation introduced in a district in Aceh province banning women from straddling two-wheelers in accordance with Sharia.

Amid the fierce debate sparked across the country by the new regulation, top experts from the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued statements saying that "Islam says nothing in the matter," that is related instead to "local mores."

However, the head of the District of Lhokseumawe has no intention of changing the regulation, adding that "women's dignity is different from that of men."

On Monday, the new bylaw came into effect in Lhokseumawe, a district in Aceh, Indonesia's only province where Sharia is enforced. It defines how women can and cannot sit on motorcycles and mopeds.

Under a rigid interpretation of Sharia, women are not allowed to straddle two-wheeled vehicles because for them it would be an unseemly position that would be provocative for men.

For human rights activists, the new regulation is "discriminatory" against women based on an absurd interpretation of religion and morality.

Speaking on the matter, Nahdlatul Ulama President Said Aqil Siradj said that nothing in Sharia can be used as the legal basis for the regulation. The NU is Indonesia's most moderate Muslim organisation.

At a press conference, he said that "Islam encourages women to cover the intimate parts of their body (aurat)" but there are no laws or regulations on how women should sit on two-wheelers. "As far as I am concerned, straddling is morally acceptable."

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) agrees. "The regulation has nothing to do with Sharia," MUI chairman Kiai Hajj Amidhan said. In his view, the bylaw is related to "local mores" rather than "moral issues."

If straddling is safer for women, it is better for them to ride "in this position" on motorbikes, provided that she is the wife of the motorcyclist, or that she is riding the bike in "an emergency situation."

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