by. Musdah Mulia

Known as a feminist, Dr. Musdah Mulia who leads the Institute of Religious and Woman Studies has a strong opinion about various matters, not only regarding woman, but also other social matters. She criticized several regional regulations made without the involvement of women. She argues that regional regulation is very discriminative towards women and “not sensitive toward woman’s aspiration.” The following interview was conducted by Ulil Abshar-Abdalla from Liberal Islam Network.

What is the implication of Islamic sharia enforcement upon woman?

Firstly I want to affirm that whatever regulation is, wherever it is, this question should be aroused: does it involve women or not? Here, we can see whether it carry consequences for the woman’s life or not, since in fact, various regulations were instituted without involving woman. We have to pay attention to the fact that women compose 50% of society. Many regional regulations are not sensitive of women’s aspirations or interests.

Have you seen any proposals involving woman?

Unfortunately I haven’t. The government usually says: “It has been discussed in DPR (Indonesian legislative assembly)”. We see that woman make up less than 2% out of the total number of DPR members in provinces or regencies. Even in Aceh, only one woman is involved. How can women’s aspirations be represented if there is only a single female member of DPRD.

Are there any articles of regional regulation which directly harm woman?

Firstly, laws of anti-maksiat (immoral deeds).  Definition of maksiat explained here is gambling, zina (illicit sex), prostitution, and so on. It excludes the category of rape, despite the fact that it occurrs everywhere. That’s why I think the regional regulation should be broadened: what is meant by maksiat.

Secondly, why should regulation be focused upon woman? For instance to prevent maksiat, woman are forbidden to go out at night. In several regions curfew has been put into effect from 9 PM-4 AM, or from 10 PM-4 AM. The problem is this: why it is focused on women whereas statistically the males are the main actors in maksiat. To me it’s unfair. The regulation is gender biased.

What is another crucial aspect?

It’s about clothing. In several regional regulations, woman have to wear Islamic jilbab (headscarf). I don’t know what its source is.

Where is the crucial point here?

The crucial point is that I agree that woman Muslims should wear headscarf. But if it is forced, it is not Islamic anymore, since to me all compulsions are against the essence of Islamic teaching. Religion should be performed voluntarily, not by force. When there is regulation, there is force.

Had we return to the legal base of our state, our state is not a Muslim country.  If it is affirmed that Islamic sharia should be enforced, I think the legal base of our state is debatable.

Back to the matter of curfew, are you with it?

It doesn’t matter if it is for protection. But the reason differs in the debates. For instance in West Sumatra one said: “the curfew for woman is to prevent prostitution.” I say: if actually prostitution can be prevented, practically, they will not be wandering around. And it happens not only in the night, but also in the day. So it is illogical. Moreover it is women that are banned. To eliminate prostitution, women are raided by the police. If it is men who were raided, the result will be amazing. I think it is important.

So it is because woman’s voice is not accommodated in regional regulation?

Yes, the government’s approaches in handling prostitution are very much biased and discriminative; why is it always directed towards woman. Yet, there are several factors behind prostitution. I’m not pro prostitution, and I think it differs. But I want to say that government should see reality that prostitution occurred not only because of woman, but there are many factors; economical, structural, and many things surrounding this matter. Therefore if we want to eliminate prostitution, retribution should not be effective merely upon woman, but also upon the customer, the taxi driver. The root of the problem should be taken care of.

How do you see religious doctrine in classical books?

Classical books also vary. But most of view in those classical books also discredit woman. I want to say that ulema (muslim scholars) coincidentally discredit woman in their interpretation due to the cultural and the socio-historical background. For instance woman have to wear Islamic outfit because the conditions are very patriarchal.

Secondly, woman should not perform any activity in public area, since the situation was not conducive. But when the culture changes and experiences a very progressive process, such views must be changed.

Back to the matter of Islamic sharia, is there any guarantee if sharia enforced then everything will be solved?

The matter is this: what is called as Islamic sharia? It must be defined. Since what is meant by Islamic sharia is fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). Fiqh is very interpretable. There are two matters regarding Islamic sharia: sharia in the wide meaning, or in the narrow meaning. Islamic sharia in the wide meaning is mentioned in Alquran and sunnah, while sharia in the narrow meaning is fiqh views. Our understanding seems to be influenced by the narrow Islamic view.

So, which kind of interpretation must be taken?

If there are many opinions, we can take all of them. The problem is that government shouldn’t determine whether this opinion is right and that opinion is wrong. Hence, what is meant by opinion here is an interpretation of teaching, interpretation of sharia. Regarding interpretation, nobody claim that his opinion is absolutely right.

Back to the matter of the headscarf, you are wearing one, but why are you objecting?

I object if the headscarf is imposed on everyone. There is no freedom to choose, since in Islam itself there are many opinions regarding jilbab/headscarf. One says that jilbab is like what I am wearing, other says that it should cover the whole bodies, except the eyes. One says that Islamic outfit is only covering some parts of body. Wearing skirt down to the knee is according to Islamic teaching, since it is considered covering the principle parts of body.

Will you give illustration about the real Islamic outfit?

There is no precise criterion, but its basic principles are to not tempt and to not disturb people. And it is interpretable. Therefore I think it is impossible for government to enforce an opinion, a type of outfit. Based on regional regulation of Cianjur, the Mayor of Cianjur forces his employees to wear Islamic outfit; headscarf for women and koko shirt for men. A friend of mine has satirized this saying that it is all about having to buy the Islamic shirt in the Mayor’s shop --

My last point is that whatever regulation is maintained in each region, woman should be involved and should be accommodated in those regulations, because to me the essence of regional autonomy is how to involve social participation as much as possible. And when we are talking about society, don’t forget that half of them are woman.