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By Ben Rogers

Martin Parsons, and Rashad Ali and Haras Rafiq, have done us a great service in their articles on sharia and Islamism last week. These have been issues which I have written about regularly on this site, and I found myself in broad agreement with Martin Parsons, Rashad Ali and Haras Rafiq.

This week, I read a shocking new report, on the impact of legislative sharia on human rights and women's rights in Aceh, Indonesia. The report, Policing Morality: Abuses in the Application of Sharia in Aceh, Indonesia, is published by Human Rights Watch, and offers a wake-up call to the effects of full legislative Sharia.

In the first of his three articles on this site, Martin Parsons observes that: "Non-violent Islamist groups have the same ultimate long term aims as violent Islamists – the imposition of sharia in Britain and elsewhere." I agree completely. He adds: "In broad terms it is not their strategic aims that differ, but merely their tactics. Non-violent Islamists have long recognised that Britain is unlikely to become an Islamic state overnight, so they have concentrated on pursuing a gradual Islamisation process." In that process, key figures such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chief Justice and the heads of major banks have slept-walked into becoming the Islamists' allies.

Rashad Ali and Haras Rafiq, however, provide a vital amendment to Parsons' analysis, by reminding us that there are several different interpretations of sharia. Broadly speaking, we can differentiate between two categories of sharia: personal, private, devotional, religious sharia, and legislative, judicial, punitive and polical sharia.


The former – relating to religious requirements for forms of prayer, worship, fasting, alms-giving, pilgrimage, and personal dress (provided they are not legally imposed and that failure to uphold them is not penalised) is of no concern to non-Muslims or to the State. Just as I would not wish others, let alone non-Christians or the State, to tell me how I should or should not pray as a Christian, the religious practices and personal devotion of Muslims is of no concern to me – and indeed, I profoundly respect their piety and faithfulness. It is the legislative side of sharia, and its effects on human rights, that bothers me. And the effects as shown in Aceh, detailed by Human Rights Watch, are chilling.

The Human Rights Watch report begins with this case example:

My mom came to get me [from the Sharia police office] at 7 a.m. I was crying. The head lecturer at my campus, Doni, was there to lecture me. A Sharia police officer told him that I had been caught [on an isolated road on a motorcycle with my boyfriend]. He told my mom and me that I should be buried and stoned to death. I said, “Sir, I was only trying to look for a shortcut, and I should be stoned for that? What about the officers who raped me last night?”

Five Sharia-inspired criminal laws in Aceh have wrought havoc and destroyed lives. In particular, one prohibiting unmarried individiuals of opposite sexes from being together unsupervised, and another imposing public dress requirements, violate Indonesia's constitution as well as international human rights laws. People of the opposite sex found to be together in an isolated place can be caned and fined over $1,000, even if they are simply sitting and talking. The law is brutally enforced, often by vigilante groups with no legal mandate, as Human Rights Watch describes here:

One woman, Rohani, described a 2009 incident in which her 17-year-old daughter Sri’s boyfriend Budi came to her home to talk with Sri late in the evening. Rohani and her younger daughter were also at home. When Budi tried to leave the house an hour later, members of the community apprehended him believing he had committed “seclusion.” They beat him and took him to the local meunasah (prayer space), where around 50 men continued to beat him and burned him with cigarettes while other men summoned Rohani and Sri to join them.

The suffering does not end with physical punishment. Those accused of crimes under these laws are severely stigmatised by their societies.

Homosexuals are subjected to public lashing, and adulterers liable to be executed by stoning. A religious police force similar to Saudi Arabia's monitors the dress code, and threatens those who fail to comply with detention or lashing. Young women and girls are forced to undergo virginity exams. Perhaps most shockingly, in several cases women who have been arrested by the religious police, who are supposedly enforcing moral virtues, have been tortured and gang-raped by them.

In the utmost hypocrisy, these sharia laws are enforced extremely selectively: those who are well-connected are treated as above the law.

Anyone who thinks that some form of legislative sharia is acceptable in the UK, even if only related to civil cases or commercial disputes, should read Human Rights Watch's report, Policing Morality. I suggest the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chief Justice and leading bankers would do well to read it. While the UK is a long way from public floggings and canings, virginity tests and vigilante enforcement of sharia law, there are some communities in our midst where such things or similar are already occurring. Do we really want to legalise such behaviour, and see the rights of women, progressive Muslims and non-Muslims so blatantly violated? Do we really want to create a parallel legal system, a religious apartheid?

Rashad Ali and Haras Rafiq are absolutely right in emphasising the need to focus on integrating our communities, based upon Britain's shared values and history – which includes respect for religious freedom, women's rights and basic human rights. They are right that we need to understand radical ideology and its ideological, political and theological underpinnings, and grasp the nature of its institutions, movements and preachers. And they are completely right in arguing that:

"We should and need to be clear not only about what we're against, but what we're for. We believe in the right of people to exercise political., social and religious freedom. This is what differentiates us from Islamist fascists".

The vast majority of the people of Indonesia support its tradition of pluralism, inter-faith harmony and religious freedom, a tradition challenged by rising extremism and Sharia-inspired legislation. Let us learn the lessons from Aceh of the consequences of full, legislative sharia and resist its advance here at home.

18 comments for: Ben Rogers: Learning the lessons of Sharia from Aceh, Indonesia

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