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'Sharia-based bylaws violate Constitution' TANGERANG - Tangerang is firmly in the spotlight after the issuance of a controversial bylaw to eradicate prostitution in the municipality. It also issued another bylaw that bans liquor. Syafi'i Anwar, executive director of the International Centre for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP), shared his views with Ridwan Max Sijabat >on what is happening in the region.

What is your comment on the 2006 bylaw on prostitution in Tangerang?

The bylaw shows the Tangerang authorities' good intention to eradicate prostitution in the regency but its contents do not reflect this and have sparked controversy in society. Everyone knows prostitution is against religious and ethical norms, but the regency has taken wrong steps in eliminating prostitution as it cannot solve the problem without identifying its root causes and offering a comprehensive solution. Prostitution is a social pathology and it is caused by many factors. Economic difficulties and poverty are still the main factors behind prostitution.

What is wrong with the bylaw?

There are two serious problems with the bylaw. First, several articles of the bylaw are based on preconceptions, assumptions, and suspicions which could give rise to different interpretations. For instance, Article 4 states that anyone who is suspected of being a prostitute is prohibited from loitering on public roads, in parks, hotels and coffee shops, etc. Article 8 states that people are obliged to file reports with the relevant authorities on those allegedly practicing prostitution or pimping.

Those articles bring about legal uncertainty because they allow law enforcers to interpret it in their own way and, more seriously, misjudgment without proof as evident in the arrest of a career woman in a crackdown on prostitutes in the municipality recently. Second, Tangerang apparently issued the bylaw not only to fight prostitution but mainly to follow in the footsteps of other regions in implementing one of the aspects of sharia.

Is the bylaw an appropriate expression of the spirit of sharia?

Many think so but I doubt whether the municipal administration understands the main purpose of sharia itself. The main purpose of sharia is to uphold justice (al adalah). Justice is the core idea of Islam.

Do you see the formal adoption of sharia as a trend in other regions, including Cianjur and Depok?

The growing efforts to implement sharia are really part of the gradual "sharia-ization" in the country. After Aceh which officially adopted sharia under the special Autonomy Law, many regions have followed suit. Initially, only a few regions such as Cianjur, Tasikmalaya, Padang and Bulukumba introduced this bylaw. In 2005, 13 regencies demanded sharia and up to now, 18 regions have already or are about to adopt it.

Some of the regencies have even adopted sharia in a way that discriminates against minority groups. For instance, the Padang municipal administration issued a bylaw requiring all schoolgirls, regardless of their religion, to wear the jilbab (Muslim headscarf). The bylaw is unacceptable because it is not in line with pluralism which the Constitution recognizes.

The move to impose sharia is against the Constitution. Indeed, Indonesia is predominantly a Muslim country, but not an Islamic state. Our Constitution is not based on sharia but the state ideology of Pancasila. Pancasila is a kalimatun sawa, a common platform of Indonesian society.

We have to accept Indonesia as a pluralist society, consisting of more than 400 ethnic groups with diverse customs, and various religions and beliefs in 17,000 islands across the archipelago. This reality was realized by our founding fathers when they drafted the Constitution.

How does the new development affect freedom of religion in the country?

We have produced many regulations which are in some ways in conflict with the Constitution and ignore pluralism. In the name of the state, the government should maintain its neutrality and treat all citizens equally regardless of their religious or ethnic background. It should stick to the Constitution in making laws, bylaws and other regulations.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by Article 29 of the Constitution and therefore, the government in the name of the state must assist all religious communities to practice their beliefs as freely as possible and take actions against those who violate that right. All problems can be solved democratically and in accordance with the law and the Constitution.

What should we do to promote pluralism?

All religious and ethnic groups should respect one another, promote religious tolerance, and develop interfaith dialog to campaign for humanity and tolerance. Both the government and society have to continuously pursue these efforts.

A multi-faith education program is necessary to inculcate religious tolerance in the hearts of the younger generation from childhood.

About this story's picture
The picture with this story, at your upper right, is not directly related with this story. This kiss took place in October 2005, when soldiers were withdrawn from Aceh. A local woman kisses a soldier in public.

Posted in Religion @ 04 May 2006 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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