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October 14 2009 | INDONESIA


Religious leaders oppose bylaw on stoning of adulterers

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Union of Catholic Asian News

INDONESIA: Religious leaders oppose bylaw on stoning of adulterers

Jakarta - The recent passing of a bylaw by Aceh's provincial legislative council to stone adulterers to death is continuing to meet widespread opposition, including from religious leaders.

Amidhan, head of the national Islamic scholars' council, told UCA News, "Although Aceh, with its special autonomy, has the right to introduce Shari'a-based regulations, the province's legislative body doesn't have the right to introduce such a harsh punishment, such as stoning someone to death.

"The regional bylaw must recognize and respect human rights, and must not be in conflict with national laws and the state's 1945 Constitution," said the head of the Indonesian Ulema Council.

Aceh's legislative council passed the qanun (law) on jinayat (crimes) on Sept. 14 despite opposition from local rights groups and the Aceh provincial government.

Under the new bylaw, married Muslims and non-Muslims committing adultery can be stoned to death, while individuals engaging in sexual activities out of wedlock can be caned up to 100 times.

It also criminalizes homosexuality, pedophilia, rape and public displays of affection by couples.

The Aceh governor has so far refused to sign the bylaw, but if within one month, he, or any other party, does not ask for a judicial review, the bylaw will automatically take effect around Oct. 14.

Local media has reported Aceh's Deputy Governor Muhammad Nazar saying that his government will ask for a judicial review from the Supreme Court.

National Home Affairs Minister Mardiyanto also lent his voice to the row, saying on Sept. 16, "If the governor refuses to sign the bylaw, it means that there is something wrong with it" from the point of view of national law.

According to Mardiyanto, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights is examining the bylaw. "Aceh is part of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia," he told the press. He added that the central government will ask for a judicial review from the Supreme Court if it finds the bylaw in conflict with national laws.

Other groups have also expressed objections, but have not as yet said they will ask the Supreme Court to take action.

Amidhan said he was surprised to learn of the death sentence stipulated in the bylaw. "There is a need to have a deterrent first, like caning. You do not immediately impose death by stoning," he said.

Other religious figures have also voiced objections. "I do not agree with the regulation that legalizes stoning to death because it is against human dignity," said Father Sebastianus Eka from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Church of Banda Aceh.

Crosier Father Serafin Danny Sanusi, executive secretary of the Indonesian bishops' Commission for Justice and Peace said he is against the death penalty because human beings are God's creations and a person's death should not be decided by another human being.

"Such a bylaw will not settle the problem and will not deter people," he asserted, saying that the country has capital punishment, which however, still "does not deter people" from committing crimes.

"The regulation is related to a moral problem, so the solution needs a moral and not a legal solution," he stressed. "In this matter, religious leaders must play their role."

The priest expressed hope that the national government will revoke the death penalty in the country as it is against human rights. He said he also hopes that the central and regional governments will not introduce laws related to human morality. "Let religious leaders deal with moral matters," he said.


Jakarta Post


Questioning stoning to death as a punishment for adultery

Allowing adulterers to be stoned to death is not just improper but is generally perceived as uncivilized nowadays. Stoning is neither in line with the Indonesian legal system, nor with the spirit of how the Prophet Muhammad dealt with adulterers.

During the time of the Prophet, an adulterer came to the Prophet and confessed he had committed adultery and asked to be punished by death. The Prophet turned his head and refused to listen.

Since the act of adultery had been accomplished in secret, and thus public order and morality had not suffered, the matter concerned only the culprit, who, for his soul and conscience, had simply to beg the Lord’s forgiveness.

The man, however, earnestly renewed his confession and his request, so as to prove his sincerity toward God and to deter others from committing the same sin; and again, the prophet turned his head.

The same thing happened for the third time, but when the culprit repeated his words a fourth time, the prophet asked him if he had become insane, or had really admitted to being guilty of the deed.

First by refusing to listen, then by questioning the fact, the prophet prompted him to retract his request, but the man insisted so, that, in the end his demand had to be met.

At the moment of execution, however, the man regretted his declaration of guilt and ran away; the punishment squad ran after him and killed him.

The Prophet then pronounced his famous sentence: “would that you had left him alive: he would have repented, and God would have been merciful to him.”  

This story indicates that, at the time of the Prophet, a sinful act like adultery, if conducted in secret, could be categorized as a private matter. Thus violators were encouraged to repent and ask God for forgiveness.

It also indicates that punishment, in the case of adultery, of one hundred lashes for unmarried people or stoning to death for a married person, is optional and can be changed to another form of punishment. As part of the unitary system of Indonesia, local regulations in Aceh should not contradict higher law.

It is right that many Muslims, not only in Aceh but also in other part of Indonesia, still uphold the conservative understanding of sharia law (fiqh). A survey conducted by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI) in 2006 with 2000 respondents from various backgrounds showed that 45 percent of them agreed that adultery should be punished by stoning to death (rajam).

Supporters of this kind of punishment often argue that rajam is God’s law and, therefore, it must be better than human law. This argument has at least two weaknesses. First, stoning is not directly mentioned in the Koran; there is no single verse in the Koran that speaks of stoning as a form of punishment.

Second, not all punishments mentioned in the Koran were supposed to be applied textually, literally and eternally. There were many kinds of Islamic teaching that were adopted from local, or Arabic, culture at that time.

Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, in his book The Second Message of Islam, among others, said that jihad in the sense of war, slavery, discrimination between men and women, polygamy, divorce and hijab (segregation of men and women) was not genuine Islamic teaching.

Fazlur Rahman, a noted scholar from Pakistan who has significant influence on Indonesian scholars such as Nurcholish Madjid and Syafii Ma’arif, never said the Koran was entirely the word of God, but that it was wholly the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Koran was a divine response, through the memory and the mind of the Prophet toward the Arab socio-moral situation at that time, especially the problems of Mecca as a trading society.

Therefore, the spirit of the Koran is the moral spirit, which stresses monotheism and social justice.

Moral norms are eternal, that is what is called God’s laws (hukum Allah). “The eternity of the Koran’s specific legal content was laid on   its moral principles not in literally wordily norms,” Rahman added.

Many Muslims do not realize that respecting human rights is the basic principle of Islamic teaching.

George Maqdisi, in his book The Rise of Humanism in Islam said: Islamic civilization arose out of the notion of the urgency of respecting humanity and humanism, a notion that believes in human dignity as natural or fitrah.

It means there is no contradiction between human rights and Islam. Islam encourages human rights and human rights that are applied in Muslim society will increase Muslims’ dignity. Khaled Abou El-Fadl, a professor in Islamic law from UCLA, said that: People who argue that they have to prioritize God’s rights over human rights are ignorant about the classical fiqh literature of the previous ulema.

Those ulema stated that human rights must be prioritized over God’s right (‘haqqul insân muqaddam ‘ala haqqil Ilâh), because Allah was well capable of defending His rights in the hereafter, while humans had to defend their own rights.

A book written in the third century of Hejra mentioned that when there was a contradiction between laws, the more humanistic one (‘arfaq bin nâs) should be chosen.

When Aceh Deputy Governor Muhammad Nazar says, “It is final that the Aceh administration will not enforce stoning for Islamic sharia law violators. In Islam, the law must protect its citizens’ human rights,” he actually has sufficient backing from Islamic history and authoritative references

The Acehnese are still able to apply sharia law in their daily lives but they should adopt an inclusive, contextual model instead of an exclusive, formalistic and textual model of sharia application.

Nurrohman, Bandung (The writer is a lecturer on sharia law implementation policy (Fiqh Siyasah) at Sunan Gunung Djati State Islamic University, Bandung.  He has conducted research on sharia law application in Aceh.)


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