The country’s highest Islamic authority has come under fire for bans on vote abstention, smoking and yoga.
Indulging in sin?: A man enjoys his cigarette in front of a mirror at a roadside food stall in Jakarta on Sunday. The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued several edicts that same day, among others, partially banning smoking and certain aspects of yoga,including religious rituals. JP/J. ADIGUNA
Edicts on the bans were issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) during its two-day national meeting in Padangpanjang, West Sumatra, which ended on Sunday.
Some 700 clerics from the council agreed Muslims were forbidden to abstain from voting in elections if “qualified” candidates existed.
“Islam obliges Muslims to elect their leaders if the latter meet certain criteria,” Gusrizal Gazahar, MUI West Sumatra head, said after the meeting.
The criteria include "being Muslim, honest, brilliant and ready to fight for the people", the council added.
It also forbade smoking by children and pregnant women, and smoking in public places.
Outside these conditions, smoking was still deemed makruh (blameworthy) for Muslims, it said.
Muslims are also banned from practicing certain aspects of yoga that contained Hindu elements such as chanting and meditation, it said.
But Muslims can continue to perform yoga for purely health reasons, the council added.
Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s biggest Islamic organization, slammed the edicts as “excessive”.
NU deputy head Masdar F. Mas’udi said the MUI should not have dragged religion into the three matters.
Yoga, as it is practiced in Indonesia, he said, was a pastime and must not be seen in the context of religious worship.
To discourage people from smoking, he added, the MUI should not use “Islamic law” as a tool.
“What's important is to inform the public of the bad effects of smoking and urge the government to enforce policies to discourage smoking,” Masdar told The Jakarta Post.
He also said the MUI should “not bring in God and threaten people with hell” if it wanted to encourage Muslims to vote.
Political expert Syamsuddin Haris agreed the MUI should not force people to vote, saying it was their democratic right to vote or not.
“It’s absolutely pointless. A religious body shouldn’t dictate political behavior,” he told tempointeraktif.com, adding the edict would have little impact.
Muslim scholar Azyumardi Azra also slammed the ban on yoga as “excessive” and “counterproductive”.
However, he lauded the edicts against vote abstention and smoking, saying the former was “positive” in strengthening democracy and elected administrations.
Azyumardi, an assistant to Vice President Jusuf Kalla, said the MUI had “compromised” and taken “accommodating” measures to partly forbid smoking, considering the fact the tobacco industry employed so many workers and contributed much to the country’s economy.
MUI edicts issued on Jan. 25, 2009
1. A ban on aspects of yoga that contain Hindu elements.
2. A ban on vote abstention if “qualified” candidates exist.
3. A ban on smoking by children and pregnant women, and in public places.
4. A ban on abortion unless the mother is a rape victim, the pregnancy endangers her life, or the fetus is aged less than 5 weeks.
5. A ban on vasectomy because the process is "irreversible".
6. A ban on marriage with minors, based on a 1974 law that forbids men under 19 and women under 16 years old from marrying.