Monday, September 17, 2007

Moderate Indonesia

The dark ages advance in Indonesia.

Catholic students forced to wear the Islamic veil

The increasing numbers of local laws inspired by Sharia (perda syariat) , are threatening the religious freedom of non Muslims, forced to wear Islamic clothes. Political and religious leaders have long highlighted the problem, but so far, no concrete steps have been taken to resolve the issue.

The latest episode reported by a Catholic family in Padang north Sumatra is worrying: Stefanus Prayog Ismu Rahardi has 3 children, 2 of whom attend state school; recently the teachers asked them to wear the Islamic veil or in Indonesian; jilbab. “It’s the first time that it has happened – says the father – and my daughters are scared, I tried to make them see the veil as a simple accessory, but they clearly understand that the problem goes well beyond aesthetics, they feel they are now in an environment that is hostile to their religion”.

The case is not an isolated one in the majority Muslim state. Since 2002 over 19 states have implemented the so-called perda syariat, norms which should however only apply to Muslim citizens. A Catholics student at a public school SMU Negeri II - Pesisir Selatan district – tells that this institute introduced the veil in 2005 and she herself has been forced to wear it. “Teachers pressured me into conforming – she says – now people see me on the streets and think that I have converted to Islam”.

Boniface Bakti Siregar, from Padang-based Catholic Affairs in the Ministry for Religious Affairs says that such perda has caused serious psychological impact to non-Muslim students. “They have no choice to stay at this state-run schools, since there are no both catholic and protestant schools in those districts which are located very far from the provincial capital of Padang”.

Following the move to regional autonomy, 22 regencies and municipalities in Indonesia have adopted laws inspired by Sharia: some have criminalized behaviour forbidden by Islamic law, such as adultery, prostitution, gambling, alcoholism and they restrict women’s freedom. Over 55 members of parliament sought to highlight the non-constitutional aspects of this problem last year, but the Minister for the Interior placed all responsibilities at the door of regional governors. In the country the strong intellectual influence of Muslim religious leaders are concentrated on trying to contains fanaticism and Islamic extremism.