Religious Freedom Implications of Sharia Implementation in Aceh, Indonesia

46 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2011

See all articles by Asma Uddin

Asma Uddin

Columbus School of Law (Catholic University of America)

Date Written: March 7, 2011


On Monday, September 14, 2009, the provincial legislature in Aceh, Indonesia passed Sharia regulations imposing stringent criminal punishments for various sexual offenses, such as adultery and fornication. Sharia, literally meaning “way to a watering place,” is a set of divine principles that regulate a Muslim’s relationship with God and man by providing social, moral, religious, and legal guidance. It is implemented through fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence, which is the science of interpreting religious texts in order to deduce legal rulings. The Acehnese Sharia regulations are the latest manifestations of a process of formal implementation of Sharia that began in 2002 in Aceh. Given the gravity of the associated punishments, the regulations have caught national and international attention, with human rights activists across the world decrying the severity of the corporal punishments imposed by the regulations. Much less frequently scrutinized are the regulations’ implications for other human rights – such as religious freedom.

This paper analyzes these regulations’ religious freedom implications for both Muslims and non-Muslims. Part I begins with an introduction to the religious freedom climate in Indonesia, including an overview of international and domestic religious freedom law and the extent to which Indonesia conforms to that law. Part II focuses on Aceh: its history and special character, including its semi-autonomy from the national government, and the process of Sharia implementation in the region. Finally, Part III analyzes Acehnese Sharia regulations in relation to international and domestic religious freedom law and explores the connection between the national state of religious freedom and the religious freedom problems unique to Aceh. Part III also raises broader questions of whether Sharia can ever be translated into positive law without implicating religious freedom. This paper concludes that Sharia regulations, insofar as they require the implementation of one interpretation of Islam to the exclusion of other interpretations, pose serious intra-Muslim religious freedom problems, particularly in the context of the modern nation-state, which lacks the types of checks on executive power that existed in classical Islam. Sharia implementation in the modern framework leads to the politicization of Islam; instead of the state serving Islam, Islam is manipulated to serve the state.

Keywords: Sharia, Indonesia, Islam, Religious Freedom

Suggested Citation

Uddin, Asma, Religious Freedom Implications of Sharia Implementation in Aceh, Indonesia (March 7, 2011). University of St. Thomas Law Journal, Vol. 7, No. 3, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Asma Uddin (Contact Author)

Columbus School of Law (Catholic University of America) ( email )

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