Islamic police hold sway in Indonesia’s Aceh
BANDA ACEH: In Indonesia’s only province ruled by strict Islamic law, the sight of the "morals police” prompts women to quickly adjust their headscarves and male and female companions to move apart.
In Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra island, it is the job of the 1,000-strong Wilayatul Hisbah, or Islamic police, to enforce syariah laws that mandate public modesty for women, and forbid unmarried couples from socialising.
In the capital Banda Aceh last week, a woman peeled away from her husband, reached for a scarf and quickly wrapped it around her head as a patrol approached; a petrified couple hopped on a motorcycle and fled.
But another pair hiding behind a large rock on the beach were not so lucky.
"Are you married?” roared a burly officer, wearing a khaki uniform and sporting a thick moustache, as he approached the cringing couple who shook their heads.
"This is unacceptable in Aceh, we have syariah laws here. Go along now, go home,” he said, after examining their identity cards.
Because small violations earn usually no more than a reprimand, it is not uncommon to spot women without headscarves, or couples together in cafes or other public places.
Nevertheless Aceh, an autonomous region on the western edge of the scattered Indonesian archipelago, remains an anomaly in a country where most of the 240 million people practise a moderate form of Islam.
Alcohol is freely sold in the rest of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, but it is banned in Aceh. In some of the province’s regions, women are forbidden from wearing tight trousers.
Gamblers and imbibers are publicly caned. Debate still churns in Aceh over whether adulterers should continue to be publicly flogged, or stoned to death.
In elections yesterday to pick a governor and 17 district heads and deputies, voters will decide whether they want leaders who advocate stricter syariah laws. (...)