In Indonesia's Aceh province, which is governed under sharia law, a recent incident involving a late-night music performance has stirred debate over the way Islamic norms are enforced.
Hundreds of fans were swaying to the beat of a Dangdut performance in Karang Anyar, a village near Langsa in eastern Aceh late on August 25th. Suddenly, six men came on stage. One was Ibrahim Latif, the head of Islamic Sharia in Langsa. The others were members of the Sharia police, Wilayatul Hisbah (WH).
Ibrahim ordered the music stopped because, he said, the Langsa city government forbids late-night performances. The time was 11:45pm.
According to Ibrahim, the music fans were in no mood to comply. Dozens of audience members scrambled onto the stage, and the lights went out. The angry fans allegedly started to beat and kick the Sharia police. The performers – three female singers and a keyboardist – quickly left the stage.
"I got two fists in the face. Several members of WH were also beaten and kicked by Dangdut fans who were drunk. We just tried to dodge the blows. We could not fight back because there were so many," Ibrahim told Khabar Southeast Asia.
"When we left the location, they were still chasing and throwing stones at us. Thank goodness nobody was injured," he said. Several hours earlier, Sharia police broke up another concert in a different village without incident, he said.
"The music was OK, but the singers wore very tight clothes. Additionally, audience members were drinking alcohol. This clearly violates the Sharia qanun in Aceh," Ibrahim said.
Langsa residents respond
Some, however, are disputing Ibrahim’s version of events.
"The keyboard performance wasn't about being rowdy or getting drunk, like they say. The musical performance was part of a series of events celebrating Indonesia's 68th Independence Day," said Sukri Asma, a young resident of Langsa.
"The Sharia police are always very arrogant towards regular people. Ibrahim often does things that people don't like when he is correcting people suspecting of violating Sharia law," argued Nurfajri, 23.
"Last year, he accused a girl of being a slut because she was sitting on Merdeka Field in Langsa with her friends after dark. A few days later, that child killed herself when Ibrahim's accusation was published in the local media," she said.
Fahmi, 35, said Langsa residents often enjoy Dangdut, especially during weddings and around Independence Day.
"I can't understand why it's being forbidden. If it's true some people were drunk, deal with them, then. Dangdut music is not banned under Sharia Law in Aceh. If you can't put on a Dangdut show, why don't they just clearly say so?"
Meanwhile, Karang Anyar Village Chief Ahmad Tukiran is denying that the sharia police came under attack.
"Ibrahim and several members of the WH took the stage. They asked for the Dangdut group to stop. Then a number of village officials also took to the stage. Shortly thereafter, keyboard music stopped and the crowd immediately dispersed," he told Khabar.
"So, there was no assault and beating of Ibrahim and the WH. Logically, if [they were] attacked by a crowd as Mr. Ibrahim says, there must be someone in the hospital. In fact, they are all in good health," he added.
Ibrahim, however, insists his account is true. He says that similar incidents have happened before, and that local authorities turn a blind eye.
"I'm hesitant to report the incident because I'm not sure there will be any follow-up. In 2012, WH members were struck with bottles while on duty, but there were no repercussions," he said.
Change in tactics urged
Aceh politicians and community leaders, meanwhile, say the case demonstrates the need for better public awareness concerning sharia law as well as more sensitive behaviour on the part of enforcers.
"In Langsa, there [have been] several cases of raids where WH appeared to act arrogantly. We should use a persuasive approach, so people will accept it," said Destika Gilang Lestari, co-ordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).
Police, she said, should conduct a probe into the alleged attack. "We should not allow vigilante actions," she said.
The government needs to do a better job explaining the importance of Sharia law to Acehnese, according to Aceh House of Representatives (DPRA) member Moharriadi Syafar.
"The vigor of Islamic law in Aceh must be constantly increased so there are no further violations. Actually, conducting raids is part of raising awareness," he told Khabar.
Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Aceh Chairman Tengku Faisal Ali that the attacks prove government must immediately ratify the stricter Qanun Jinayah (QJ), which lay out very clearly what Muslims are allowed or not allowed to do.
"So far, the Qanun in Aceh is very weak. If QJ is not legalized, I'm afraid it will be even harder to enforce Islamic law," said Faisal, who is also vice chairman of the Consultative Assembly of Ulema of Aceh.