Indonesia: Activists Criticize Clerics Over Dress Code

Publication Date: 
February 10, 2011
The Jakarta Post

The Network for Civil Society Concerned with Sharia (JMSPS) in Aceh has criticized clerics and asked them not to overly interfere in enforcing the Muslim dress code, especially for Muslim women in the province. 

“Aceh clerics should not stunt their important position by dealing with trivial matters related to the daily lives of Aceh residents,” said Hendra Fadli from the Aceh Legal Aid Institute (LBH).

The Aceh LBH is one of 15 NGOs affiliated with the JMSPS in Aceh.
According to Hendra, the role of clerics is far more important than just dealing with matters concerning how people dress, such as criticizing the provincial administration which has not yet improved the welfare of people in Aceh. 

The clerical council in Aceh is regarded as a credible institution and is influential in the lives of people in Aceh.

“There is a possibility that the clerical institution is currently being exploited by politicians for personal or groups’ interests, especially ahead of the leadership election,” said Hendra.

The issue came to light after pressure from clerics urging the provincial administration to issue a bylaw on Islamic dress code for Muslim men and women in Aceh, in line with Islamic sharia law.

“The dress issue is a personal matter, so clerics should not deal with it as it is too trivial,” said Hendra. 

The pressure to enforce the Islamic dress code arose during the 4th Aceh Islamic boarding school (pesantren) students’ conference at the Darul Hikmah pesantren in West Aceh recently.

One of the recommendations issued in the meeting was to push for a bylaw on the Islamic dress code for residents in Aceh.

“We urge the provincial administration to immediately issue a regulation on the Islamic dress code in Aceh in line with sharia law, which has been announced,” said Aceh cleric Tengku Jalaluddin.

According to Jalaluddin, the Islamic dress code ordinance must be immediately issued by the provincial administration because many people in Aceh, especially women, are wearing clothes regarded as too revealing.

The clerics also claimed that the condition had led to the high rate of sexual harassment cases faced by women in Aceh.

Activists said the claims by clerics were irrelevant.

“Regardless of wearing clothes the Islamic way or not, women and children are often subject to sexual harassment and violence. Many of the abuse cases experienced by women in Aceh have even taken place under the name of sharia law,” said Fatimah Syah from Aceh LBH Apik.

According to Fatimah, many of the abuse cases faced by Aceh women have come from sharia police members, citing raids conducted by the Wilayatul Hisbah sharia police, the extension of the Islamic Sharia Office in Aceh, enforcing sharia law. 

“How many women in Aceh have been treated rudely and arbitrarily by state apparatus? They have even been treated as criminals during raids,” said Fatimah.

She added that implementation of sharia law in Aceh had instead caused new violence within the Aceh community.