The Jakarta Post
Four Aceh women sit outside a mosque after performing Dhuhur ritual prayers in Baiturahman mosque, Nanggroe Aceh Darusallam, Wednesday, May 25. (The Jakarta Post/Wienda Parwitasari)
Indonesia’s westernmost province is famously known as Mecca’s Verandah and a place that strictly imposes Islamic moral law, known as Sharia. Indonesia’s secular central government granted the province the right to implement a version of Sharia in 2016 as part of peace deal to end a separatist war.
Despite controversy and serious concerns from human rights activists regarding gender inequality, the province enforced the law in 2014 after approving the Islamic criminal code of Qanun Jinayat, which obliges all people in Aceh, including non-Muslims, to abide by the official moral standards. Some of the rules included in the bylaw include the enforcement of body-covering clothes for Muslim women, and caning as a punishment for a variety of crimes, including sexual acts considered immoral.
However, don’t let the province's strict laws stop you from visiting Aceh as a tourist. Here are the basic things you must know so you are prepared for your Aceh trip.
Since 98 percent of Aceh residents are Muslim, most of the women you'll see there cover their heads. But if you’re a traveling non-Muslim, Aceh Sharia Police will give you an exception, as long as you’re a foreigner and able to show your identity as proof that you’re a non-Muslim.
This exception also applies to Aceh’s Chinese and non-Muslim residents. Female Muslim tourists who don’t wear a hijab are also allowed, as long as they wear modest clothing. Muslim residents who don’t have their heads covered will have their hair forcibly cut by officials.
(Read also: 5 traditional must-try culinary delights of Aceh)
Save your hot pants for Bali and instead wear long loose trousers in the Islamic province. Wearing long pants is allowed by Sharia, as long as they are not fitted or jeans, because these types of trousers are considered too tight as they can reveal a women’s body shape.
This particular aspect of Sharia came into effect in 2009.
Banda Aceh city has implemented a curfew that doesn’t allow businesses like restaurants or cafes to serve women after 11 p.m. in order to decrease sexual harassment. In addition, officials also hold raids to check whether residents are complying with the official moral standards or not, including checking if women are wearing appropriate clothes.
In the province, religious police officers often stop vehicles, including motorbikes. If you are stopped by a patrol or raid, just show your ID to prove that you’re a foreigner visiting the province.
Visiting Baiturrahman mosque
A visit to this historical and religious landmark is a must. As well as its amazing colonial-style architecture, the mosque was the only building that survived the tsunami that struck the city in 2006.
If you visit the mosque, wear appropriate all-covering Muslim clothing. Don’t wear fitted pants or jeans. But don’t worry if you don’t have any, the mosque officials will provide you with a tunic to cover up your body. (asw)