Indonesia, once a country of diversity, is now becoming a place for one-way Islam.
Although Indonesia, “the world’s largest Muslim country” with an 87% Muslim population, was once considered a moderate Muslim country, day by day it has been leaning more and more towards conservative Islam and Sharia laws. Initiated in 2009, bylaws in the light of Sharia rulings were implemented that conflict with the values of human rights, and are creating a difficult land for minorities to live in.
Indonesian Aceh province authorities recently launched an initiative, despite opposition from human rights activists, to ban women from straddling motorcycles when riding behind a man. Suaidi Yahia, mayor of Lhokseumawe, the second large city of the province, said to the Associated Press, “It is improper for women to sit astride. We implement Islamic law here.” He later said, “women sitting on motorbikes must not sit astride: it will provoke the male drivers.” Instead, they allow women to sit sidesaddle, which is dangerous on a motorcycle.
The objectives of the local authorities were apparently to prevent “showing a woman’s curves;” it is against Islamic teachings, Yahia went on to say, unless it is an emergency. In a notice distributed to the government offices and villages of northern Aceh, they added that women are not allowed to hold onto the driver.
Last year, the mayor of Tasikmalaya in West Java proposed to veil all women, including non-Muslims. Mayor Syarif Hidayat vowed to implement Sharia law, to repay Muslim leaders who backed his election victory. The President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is serving his second term, also relies on the support of Muslim political parties.
Sharia law is spreading throughout all of the provinces of Indonesia; citizens are enacting their own variations of Islamic laws, and applying then to non-Muslims as well.
Although Western leaders have praised Indonesia as a model of “Muslim democracy,” as Muslims become more intolerant of its Christian minority, the increased Islamization of Indonesia renders these Christians more vulnerable. A few days ago, six Catholic schools in East Java finally gave in to a local ordinance that requires all Muslim students to be able to read and write Koranic verses, and said it will provide Islamic lessons for their Muslim students.
The head of the Ministry Office of Religious Affairs, Imam Mukhlis, told the Jakarta Post that the six schools had finally agreed to provide Islamic teachers for their Muslim students. Earlier the Blitar City Administration of East Java threatened to close down the six Catholic schools for their refusal to provide Islamic lessons to their Muslim students. In 2006, President Susilo tightened criteria for building a house of worship. More than 400 churches have been closed since he took office in 2004. The notorious Bali terrorist attack, as well as restrictions on hotels, bars, embassies, have all derived from these decade-long efforts of Islamization. By 2010, Indonesia had over 150 religiously motivated regulations restricting minorities’ rights.
It is not only governmental initiatives that are disrupting the lives of Christians, Shiite Muslims, Bahais, Ahmadiyyans, Sufis and atheists. Individuals and groups have been engaging in terroristic attacks against non-Sunni Muslims. In August 2011, Muslim militants burned down three Christian churches on Sumatra. In an attack, in west Java in February 2011, three Ahmadiyyans were killed. A cameraman recorded the scene, posted on YouTube. In September 2010, Islamist militants burned down two churches, and stabbed an elderly Christian as he tried to defend the third site.
Western leaders need to understand that Indonesia, under its current government, can no longer be labeled a Muslim country that is risk-free for religious minorities. Even though, after exceptional international pressure, Indonesia’s government cracked down on an the Al Qaeda affiliated group Jemaah Islamiyah, it has not yet even tried to apprehend other Islamist militants committing crimes against religious minorities. Indonesia, once a country of diversity, is now becoming a place for one-way Islam.