02 October 2010
More Canings in Aceh...
Being a Muslim and living in Aceh means that you live under the tenets of Sharia Law. You can either like it or leave it. Leave it means literally leaving and moving to a province that has yet to implement the Sharia code.
I am not Muslim, so as far as I can tell the law does not apply to me. This means that there is a dual standard of law enforcement in Aceh; one for Muslims and one for non-Muslims. However, Muslims do not get the option of choosing which law they wish to live under. By default as a consequence of opting for the type of regional autonomy they have, they have opted to live under Sharia Law. That is the nature of the democracy they have chosen.
This is a story of two young women eking out a living running a roadside food stall. Murni and Rukiah, 27 and 22 respectively, were caught selling cooked rice during daylight hours during Ramadan (the fasting month). This led to them being arrested, charged, convicted, and ultimately to this day where they were to be caned; three strokes and two strokes respectively.
This is what happens in Greater Aceh (Aceh Besar). So, on Friday, just after the completion of Friday prayers, Murni and Rukiah made their way solemnly to the caning platform outside the Al-Munawwarah Mosque in Jantho to receive their punishment. Interestingly, or perhaps not so interesting, is that caning is very much a bloodsport. It draws big crowds. Perhaps this says something about us as human beings that we do not mind taking time out to watch other people's sufferings. It reminds me not only of hangings in the movies about the wild west that I used to watch as a kid, but also the way that people slow down as they drive past an accident.
Selling food during Ramadan is a clear breach of the provisions of Regional Regulation (Qanun) No. 11 of 2002. The punishment for selling food attracts a maximum punishment of six lashes of the cane. There are also financial penalties and jail time if the court so decides to impose those sentences. Essentially, the Qanun says that Muslims cannot sell food to other Muslims who should be fasting.
This is problematic on a number of levels that you have to regulate the way people practice their faith with national or domestic laws. I always figured that God's law was somewhat higher than the laws of men and women. I also have a problem with men and women imposing the laws of God. Now, if God made these laws then she (or he) must be responsible for the enforcement of those laws. After all, that is the purpose of the judgment day, right? God sits in judgment of each and every one of us for the sins we have committed against her and then decides which journey we make.
If my understanding is correct, then where do men in robes sitting in supposed religious courts get off meting out the punishment of God on his fellow servants?
I would also add, if a sin was committed here it was not in the selling of the rice but in the purchasing and eating of it. The women were not committing any crime from cooking in daylight hours or even selling food in daylight hours. I wonder if the Qanun requires that Muslims selling food during Ramadan are required to ask for and see the ID cards of all people who buy food from them?
But, to finish, I return to an earlier point, the sins of men and women against their respective Gods is a sin between them and their God, particularly when it relates to selling or eating food. We are not talking about a murder or a rape or even corruption on a grand scale, we are talking about a few scoops of rice. If I am not mistaken the Koran makes some exceptions with respect to fasting, including those that cannot fast being able to make that day up somewhere else (I suspect my Muslim readers will be setting me straight on this perception).
Maybe, I just do not see caning as a meaningful deterrent in any case, just like the death penalty is no deterrent to serious crime. Or maybe I really cannot get my head around why in a country like Indonesia one would want to cane another for selling food, even during Ramadan.