Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Tolerance Is Not Acceptance

Banda Aceh, Indonesia is a strict Muslim area. While it has a police force, it is also ruled by Sharia law, which is a body of Islamic law. It is based on the Koran, the Islamic holy book. For lots of info check out Wikipedia.

Being an outsider to this area that has been closed off from most of the rest of the world for 30 years due to civil war, there are certain rules we must abide by in order to live here peacefully.

Sharia law can be interpreted differently depending on the country, it's mores and muslim sect.

Here are the main points for us to live our lives by day to day in Banda: (Thanks to USAID and CRS for their excellent presentation of materials to us lowly Internationals)

  • Sharia law includes both written and unwritten laws. While Muslims are subject to the law, non-Muslims must at least respect the law.
  • It is important that we as visitors to the area respect the law since community acceptance is the key to avoiding problems - Sharia police are not the only ones patrolling - 95% of the cases are initiated by the community, since the communities have been empowered to take enforcement of sharia into their own hands.
  • Muslims are prohibited from drinking, buying, selling, or even being around alcohol. While the written law does not apply to non-Mulslims, we have to be careful not to drink it, get drnk or flaunt it in public. Being discreet means right down to the way in which it is disposed of. If a Muslim friend is with you while you are drinking, it is possible you can put them into jeopardy.
  • Interaction between genders is tricky since it isn't written as clearly, and depending on the situation can be applied to both Muslims and non-Muslims. It is important to be aware of creating misperceptions. Office hours should be considered, such as how smart is it to allow male and female workers to be in the office after hours, and where staff stay when travelling. Hotels are regularly raided by Sharia police and it's usually the hotel staff who tip them off. Sometimes it's smarter to request different floors for different genders. Many NGOs have 'guest houses' for their workers where everyone has their own bedroom, but share living quarters. Recently in Melaboh, a guest house was raided and a Javanese woman an Acehnese man were 'arrested' and given a month to get married.
  • Dressing properly is very important. Even men have been arrested for wearing 'too short of shorts' and two female NGO workers were removed from a conference due to their 'inappropriate dress.' (If I go out to fulfill my ESRI work obligations out and about the town you better believe the only thing exposed are my toes. I'm a tunic wearing maniac. I don't even feel comfortable wearing tank tops anymore. What has become of my southern California wear my bathing suit all summer and a pair of flip flops self????)

Well, hope this gives you a nice picture of life here in Banda. Cheers. Next,.. a lesson on grenades!

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