Bachtiar Effendy , Jakarta , | Thu, 11/05/2009 11:53 AM | Headlines
It seems almost natural that the Aceh legislature has passed a bill on adultery based on Islamic sharia - which derives from the Koran and Sunnah (traditions of Prophet Muhammad). According to the Koran, adultery is punishable by 100 strokes of the cane. A married person committing adultery has to be stoned to death.
This should come as no surprise to us given the central government's commitment to honor the political arrangements of 2001 that gave Aceh semi-autonomy and the unique position of being administered by Islamic sharia. Interestingly, the bill on adultery which was passed in early October this year by Aceh's regional parliament is still being put on hold. Aceh governor, the sole executor of any policies designed for the province, is reportedly still not willing to sign it into law.
The bill's fate is still not clear. But, if such thing - the passing of the bill by the regional parliament on one hand, and the unwillingness of the executive to sign it on the other - persists, it will not only create a political debacle in the region, but also raise questions regarding the whole idea of sharia as the governing mechanism of the province. Why bother having Islamic law if it is not going to be put into practice?
While the impasse between legislative and executive bodies may generate concern, especially with regard to the seriousness of some of the elites to implement sharia, it provides opportunities to once again discuss the position of sharia in Aceh. In this case, one simple question that has never actually been presented to the Acehnese in general is whether or not they really need their justice system to be based on sharia.
More than any other region in the country, Islam occupies a very special position in Aceh, to the extent that Aceh is symbolized by the nickname "Veranda of Mecca". Due to this socio-cultural trait, Aceh has never been historically treated as a secular region. At the same time, the government never authorized Aceh to be administered by Islamic principles.
Interestingly, no complaints were ever lodged against the central government on this matter. The uneasy relationship between two important leaders, rebel leader Daud Bereueh and former President Sukarno, for instance, did not involve religious issues. Similarly, Hassan Tiro's bitter enmity toward the government did not concern Islam among Acehnese. Indeed, the existence of the Free Aceh Movement only strengthened the belief that it was economic and political justice that the Acehnese were after.
A struggle to demand economic and political justice is not something that is unique to Aceh. Virtually all the other regions seek the same agenda. These were actually the expectations of any existing regions when they decided to join the unitary state of Indonesia. By integrating themselves into a greater Indonesia, the common ideals - stability, security, and prosperity - can theoretically be more easily achieved.
Under these circumstances there was no justifiable reason for the government to authorize Aceh to administer its affairs in accord with Islamic law as part of its special status. In fact, by doing so, the central government has actually planted a time bomb where Aceh would be viewed by other regions as a regional test case for Islamic sharia at work.
During my recent visit to Aceh I sensed that not even the Acehnese are interested in turning their region into a laboratory for the implementation of sharia. Instead, they want to seize their moment - the golden opportunity that has been presented to them since the fall of Soeharto, and especially after the 2005 peace agreement - so that they can develop Aceh socio-culturally, economically, and politically.
I might be wrong, but the Acehnese perceive the implementation of certain sharia laws such as the adultery law as hindering their efforts to catch up with the country's more developed regions.
It is time that both the government and the parliament need to re-evaluate the authority given to Aceh to administer itself by sharia. It certainly has influenced other regions to pass controversial sharia bylaws - a development that has raised concern and called for a repeal of these bylaws.
The fact that Islam is an important aspect of Indonesian social, political, and legal culture is not something that can be overlooked. Yet as shown in many of our national laws, the necessity to accommodate Islam has to be partial in nature.
While the existence of Islamic family law and rules concerning the management of hajj (the pilgrimage), are perfectly acceptable, an attempt to introduce or pass criminal laws based on Islamic sharia would certainly polarize the country.
Bringing Aceh back in the unitary, secular nature of Indonesia's legal arrangement is an initial step in preventing that from occurring.
The writer is Dean of the State Islamic University's School of Social and Political Sciences in Jakarta