Aceh. Meet Ramli Mansur, a 46-year-old leader of the Aceh Party, whose members are mostly drawn from the ranks of former combatants of the disbanded Free Aceh Movement. Ramli made headlines earlier this year by sponsoring a controversial Islamic bylaw that banned Muslim women from wearing tight pants.
Aceh first implemented Shariah bylaws after gaining greater control over its judiciary and legislative process when former President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s administration granted the separatist province special autonomy in 2001.
Today, Shariah officers scour Aceh’s streets on the lookout for violators of Islamic offences, which include women not wearing head scarves, gambling, the sale and consumption of alcohol, and “illicit relations” between men and women.
However, Ramli felt more was needed, leading the head of West Aceh district to introduce the pants bylaw in May.
Despite facing sizeable opposition to the law, Ramli defends his agenda by saying that the bylaw is needed to teach Muslim women how to dress properly.
Bahtiar Effendy, a political expert from Jakarta’s Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic State University, says this type of “incompetent leadership” is a growing problem in the archipelago.
“It’s not just him — many of our local and national leaders are basically incompetent, which is why they come up with foolish policies,” he said.
The Jakarta Globe asked the chief architect of the ban, Ramli Mansur, about why he thinks Sharia law is important for Aceh and its people. Below are excerpts from the interview:
How did you come up with this idea for the bylaw?
Many women asked me how they should dress to abide by Islamic law.
To answer that, I organized a national seminar attended by many professors. The problem occurred because the 2001 Autonomous Regions Law didn’t give specific details on a dress code.
Before this bylaw, there was hardly any difference between Meulaboh [the capital of West Aceh district] and Medan or Jakarta.
There should be a distinctive difference between a place that implements Shariah law and one that doesn’t. This is about pride. We asked the central government to give us Shariah law, but we failed to implement it thoroughly.
How is that more urgent than bigger issues such as health and education?
It has nothing to do with those issues. This is about the thorough implementation of Shariah law. You sin when you allow people to see the contours of your body.
As a leader, I think about those issues too [health and education] but religion is far bigger than those issues. If people follow their religion they will gain peace.
Your kind of question is characteristic of rebellious people with short-term views. You’re considered an apostate if you hate Islam.
People don’t hate Islam, they just dislike your bylaw.
But that’s Islamic law. If you’re against it, you’re blaspheming. The law gives you guidance for your own safety. If you choose to be a Muslim then you have to follow the law.
The opposition to it is supported by Zionism, a devious form of infiltration by foreigners under the guise of freedom of expression.
People don’t follow their religion anymore in this country.
If you think the bylaw is too harsh, then you should get out [of Islam].
You think if people obey this bylaw then prosperity will automatically follow?
This law doesn’t waste public money, it just ordains how they must dress. In fact, it’s cheaper to make a skirt than pants.
It’s also stated in the Koran that if a woman imitates a man [by wearing pants], then she will spend 500 years in solitude before she ever gets to heaven.
The same goes for men. For instance, men are forbidden from wearing earrings. If you do that, you’ve challenged Allah.
It’s my obligation as a leader to help the people so they won’t suffer in the afterlife.
Besides, when women don’t dress according to Shariah law, they’re asking to get raped.
It’s a fact that men go wild when they see a woman’s breasts and thighs. It arouses them.
Isn’t that the man’s problem to contend with?
This bylaw is about blind faith, so let’s not bring reason into it. The law is firm. People are so used to freedom they find religion difficult. Again, if you question it, then you’re an apostate.
Do you realize that the Acehnese anticolonial heroine Cut Nyak Dhien wore pants?
Yes, and in the bylaw she’s excused on the grounds that the pants were Islamic war clothing. It’s difficult to wear those kinds of pants today. They were designed for guerilla warfare.
You’re not worried this kind of policy will hurt your bid for re-election?
I hope to get re-elected, but that’s up to the people, of course. I’d rather take this risk then go to hell later.
If a leader doesn’t apply this kind of bylaw, there will be protests from clerics. I’m sure 70 percent of residents support this bylaw. I’ll work on the 30 percent later.