CAIRO - A bylaw that forces Muslim women in the Indonesian city of Tasikmalaya to take on hijab is inviting a storm of criticism, with opponents denouncing the drive as a violation of human rights.
Opinions on clothing are relative, Ismail Hasani, a researcher at Setara Institute, an NGO that focuses on human rights issues, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday, June 5.
Even among people of the Islamic faith, there are radically different interpretations on how a Muslim should dress. As such, the way people dress is in the domains of morality.
It is not something the law should enforce.
A bylaw is being drafted by the local council of Tasikmalaya, in West Java, to obligate all Muslim women, including visitors, to wear hijab.
Tasikmalaya city secretary Tio Indra Setiadi said preparations for the regulation would be finished soon.
We are finalizing a city regulation so that [the 2009 Ordinance on Islamic-based Values of Community Life] can come into effect as soon as possible, he said.
Hopefully, it will be finalized this month so it can be immediately promulgated.
Supporters argue that the bylaw aims to fight the negative impact of globalization.
It proscribes 15 offenses, including corruption, prostitution, adultery, homosexuality, drug use and trafficking, alcohol consumption, pornography and thuggery.
"This bylaw is intended mainly to educate people to live in accordance with Islamic teachings," Setiadi said.
He noted that a special team would be set up like Aceh's Shari`ah police to enforce the bylaw.
"People intending to report violations of the bylaw will face difficulties if we don't have an apparatus to enforce it," he said.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one's affiliations.
But opponents denounce the bylaw as an unconstitutional discrimination against women.
Local council members should oppose this kind of regulation, Eva Kusuma Sundari, a lawmaker from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), told The Jakarta Post.
I also urge President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi to curb the local politicians who are challenging our Constitution.
Echoing a similar opinion, Ismail, the Setara Institute researcher, says that the bylaw was at odds with basic constitutional laws that guarantee freedom of religious expression.
He referred to Law No. 32/2004 on regional governance as one way to challenge regional laws that may conflict with human rights.
This law, he says, stipulates that the Home Ministry has 30 days after a regional law is released to evaluate whether or not that law conflicts with the constitution or central government laws.
If they do violate any of these, a presidential order can be sent to cancel such laws.
But after 30 days, if the government doesn't take any action, those who feel that their rights are being violated by certain laws can go to the Supreme Court to demand a judicial review for the laws in question, Ismail said.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, another researcher at the Setara Institute, accused the central government of not shouldering its responsibility in reporting the bylaw to the Constitutional Court.
The central government has the right to evaluate bylaws, especially those that could potentially violate the country's higher and more respected values like human rights, he said.
He blamed the government's reluctance on the lack of political will.
Everything is viewed through political binoculars, he said.Therefore, anything that can bring a political benefit, like implementing a Shari`ah bylaw, should be at least be left alone.