Aceh ban on "un-Islamic" attire stirs debate
Wearing jeans or shorts could lead to a public caning as Banda Aceh authorities launch stricter enforcement of Sharia-inspired regulations on clothing. Some say their personal liberty is under attack.
Indonesia's Aceh province, governed under Sharia law since a decentralisation agreement of 1999, is cracking down on jeans, shorts, tank tops, tight-fitting pants and other fashion choices deemed inappropriate for religious reasons. Advocates of the stricter controls say they are needed in order to fend off Western influences.
A Sharia police officer escorts women caught wearing tight pants during a street raid in West Aceh's Arongan Lambalek district on May 26th, 2010. Earlier this month, a Sharia official in Aceh said stores will be banned from selling such clothes in the province. [Junaidi Hanafiah/Reuters]
The director of control and enforcement for Aceh's Sharia police, Samsuddin, announced on June 7th that Aceh retailers will soon receive a directive warning them not to buy or sell tight clothing. His comment came after a raid in which 50 inappropriately dressed women were apprehended near a mosque in Banda Aceh, according to the Aceh Kita news agency.
Until recently, enforcement of Sharia law had focused more on gambling, drug and alcohol sales, adultery and close proximity between unmarried individuals. But the local administration now feels compelled to act against what it views as increasing disrespect for Islamic dress code rules among men and women alike.
Sayuti Abubakar, the chairman of the Aceh Graduate Students Association (IMPAS), is among those in favour of the crackdown.
"As an Acehnese who understands the culture and values of Aceh, I very much agree with the tight clothing ban. Such regulation is necessary to filter western influences and preserve Acehnese values, which are rooted in Islam," Sayuti, who is based in Jakarta, told Khabar.
"Young people have to remember who we are, and not forget our own culture."
Not everyone agrees, however.
Ayu Priska, an aspiring designer who lives in Lhokseumawe, five hours from Banda Aceh, feels bothered by the ban, and she doubts it will stick. "Personally, I don't agree with a ban on clothing – that's a matter of personal freedom," she told Khabar by phone.
Women in Aceh already feel intimidated by the Sharia police, or Wilayatul Hisbah (WH), she said.
"One girl told me during a raid an officer slashed her jeans and told her to wear sarong instead. Makes me wonder if the law enforcers are there to correct us or to insult us," Ayu told Khabar.
Meutia Fachrina, a fashion merchandiser and Jakarta resident originally from Aceh, told Khabar she would comply with the rule when she's in the province, even though it bothers her.
"I think the dress code regulation is irrelevant for today. It should be a clear guideline but not too strict -- for example, if one wears jeans then she should also wear a loose top to ensure modesty," Meutia said.
Asked for a response to the latest development, Bonar Tigor Naipospos, vice chairman of the Jakarta-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said his group condemns regional regulations that invade the private lives of citizens.
"In Aceh, Sharia controls the public sphere and the lives of residents. Sharia should be more of a guideline, and not compulsory," he said.
Sharia law in Aceh applies only to Muslims, while non-Muslims are encouraged to observe and respect the customs. The province set up its first Sharia Court in 2003, and in 2004 a gubernatorial decree provided for establishing the WH.
Acehnese women and men caught violating Islamic dress norms receive counseling from the WH and may have to pay a fine or sign a declaration acknowledging that they have violated Sharia.
Dress code violations on more than three occasions can result in a public caning, with the recipients of the penalty often moving to another village or town to escape the shame.
By Yamko Rambe for Khabar Southeast Asia in Jakarta