Foreign Policy Blogs

Islamic Law in Context

On Monday, BBC News reported from Aceh province in Indonesia that a new law was passed to make adultery punishable by stoning to death. According to the BBC report, “Sharia law was partially introduced in Aceh in 2001, as part of a government offer to pacify separatist rebels.” Now, the regional parliament for Aceh has passed sharia compliant criminal laws. Al Jazeera has reported that the sharia law on stoning adulterers was adopted after pressure from Islamic groups. The Jakarta Globe, thereafter, also reported that human rights activists in the country are protesting the adoption of the law because they believe the law “undermines the secular basis of Indonesia’s law.”

The central government might, though, might actually strike down the law – particularly after all the negative international coverage. Another article in the Jakarta Globe analyzes the peculiarity of the central government’s situation:

“The central government has been walking a fine line between enabling Aceh to exercise self-government as part of a 2006 autonomy law and ensuring the independently minded province remains under national control.”

Earlier this year, Pakistan also permitted Sharia law regionally as part of a peace deal with the Taliban in the North West Frontier Province. It is a particularly interesting question to analyze how within a single country “parallel systems of justice lead to social fragmentation.” In the case of Pakistan, the concessions made to the Taliban actually led to further conflict and did not prevent the occurrence of massive military confrontation.

Meanwhile, at the beginning of September, there were many reports about Lubna Hussein, a journalist who was found guilty of violating Sudan’s decency laws for wearing pants. Jeffrey Gettleman reported for the New York Times that “Sudan is partly governed by Islamic law, which calls for women to dress modestly.” Gettleman then references Sudan’s penal code which says that acts violating public morality or indecent clothing can lead to fines or lashes. What was particularly interesting about Hussein’s case is that she was arrested with 12 other women. I always find the absence of information about the group as a whole unusual. Hussein probably attracted more attention and managed to get publicity because she was willing to do time in jail instead of paying the 200 dollar fine, and she was a previous employee of the United Nations office in Sudan.

Finally, we also have another highly publicized case of religious authorities in Malaysia deciding to cane a Muslim woman for drinking alcohol. A Reuters article reports that an analyst with the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies has said that “there is a general push toward the implementation of sharia laws.”



Karin Esposito

Karin Esposito is blogging on religion and politics from her base in Central Asia. Currently, she is the Project Manager for the Tajikistan Dialogue Project in Dushanbe. The Project is run through the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies with the support of PDIV of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The aim of the project is to establish practical mechanisms for co-existence and peaceful conflict resolution between Islamic and secular representatives in Tajikistan. After receiving a Juris Doctorate from Boston University School of Law in 2007, she worked in Tajikistan for the Bureau of Human Rights and later as a Visting Professor of Politics and Law at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics, and Strategic Research (KIMEP). Ms. Esposito also holds a Master's in Contemporary Iranian Politics (2007) from the School of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran and a Master's in International Relations (2003) from the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (GIIDS) in Switzerland.

Areas of Focus:
Islam; Christianity; Secularism;


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