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Jakarta pressured over Islamic law
August 7, 2002 Posted: 9:32 PM EDT (0132 GMT)
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Religious fundamentalists are pressuring the Indonesian government to incorporate traditional Islamic law as part of the nation’s constitution, holding a series of rallies outside the parliament in Jakarta.
Indonesia’s lawmakers are currently considering amendments to the country’s 1945 constitution which enshrines a secular government and religious tolerance.
The vast majority of Indonesia’s 210 million people are Muslims, but most practise a far more moderate version of the faith than their Middle Eastern counterparts.
Shariah law — which calls for strict interpretation of Islamic texts and recommends adulterers be stoned to death and thieves have their hands amputated — is confined to just one province in this sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago.
But some Islamic political groups have seized on the issue to exert political pressure on the Indonesian government and score political points against more moderate nationalist party groups.
More than 5,000 marched on the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) building — the country’s highest lawmaking group — on Saturday and again on Monday, demanding the constitution be changed to include a clause that calls on Indonesians to adhere to Islamic law.
That clause was dropped from the constitution in 1945 because of opposition from Christian and Buddhist communities in the eastern reaches of the republic and the desire to create a pluralistic society.
Chanting “There is no God but Allah,” the crowd held up banners saying, “We long for Shariah law,” the Associated Press reports.
“We want to save Indonesia with Shariah law,” said Ismail Yusanto, a spokesman of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia or the Indonesian Liberation party.
“For more than 50 year’s of independence, we have seen secularist leaders destroy the country,” Yusanto said.
Claiming membership of tens of thousands, Hizbut Tahrir says it is not militant and vows to run in the 2004 general election to grab seats in parliament, AP says.
The Islam Defenders Front (FPI) on Monday mobilized its thousands of its supporters outside the assembly building as well.
Chairman Habib Moh Rizieq Shihab told the official Antara news agency the front demanded the 1945 stipulation on the Islamic law be included in any constitutional amendment.
Leaders of other militant Muslim groups also took part, including Jafar Umar Thalib of the hardline Laskar Jihad organization, and Abu Bakar Bashir, a Muslim cleric whom Singapore and Malaysia accuse of terrorism links, Reuters reports.
Bashir has denied the allegations, while Thalib is on trial on charges of inciting hatred against the government. He has denied any wrongdoing.
The protestors say Shariah law will “improve the morality” of Indonesia which has been badly rocked in recent years by the Asian economic crisis and the collapse of the Suharto regime.
The People’s Assembly has been considering constitutional amendments since 1999, with the latest session schedule to conclude on August 12.
“I fear it’s all a farce based upon the short-term interests of certain political parties,” historian Anhar Gonggong told English language newspaper the Jakarta post on Monday.
He said he doubted that the parties were actually thinking of implementing Shariah law as they knew it was not favored by the majority of Indonesians.
There are also signs the call for Shariah law is being used as a weapon to attack Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, whom many believe to be a passive and ineffectual leader.
“We are led by a president who does not know anything, is always silent and only uses her father’s name,” said Noval Dunggio, leader of the Front Hizbullah, told Reuters.
“If this year they can’t pass Shariah law, we will keep on pushing for it and her resignation.”
Megawati is the daughter of founding president Sukarno and marked her first year in power on July 23.
But there are also fears that Muslim vigilante groups who favor Shariah law will increase in numbers and become more extremist.
So far activity has been confined to small militant groups who have regularly raided gambling halls and shops selling alcohol, which they consider un-Islamic.
Jakarta last year allowed Shariah to be used in Aceh as part of an autonomy package designed to defuse independence demands in the staunchly Muslim province on the tip of Sumatra island.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation.