FaithWorld

Indonesia’s Islamist party: hijabs, uniforms and a Hitler tweet

Jakarta’s Ritz Carlton hotel this weekend was a sea of brightly coloured Islamic headscarves and the crisp white uniforms of the Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the third biggest party in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s cabinet. PKS held their national congress at the luxury hotel

, the site of a deadly July 2009 bomb attack perpetrated by Islamist militants,

and the topic on everyone’s lips was how to broaden the party’s appeal and shake off their image as hardliners.

CORRECTION: This post originally identified this Ritz Carlton as the site of the 2009 bombing, which occured at a different Ritz Carlton location.

pks 1It’s a reputation the party earned by pushing conservative policies such as Indonesia’s anti-pornography law and supporting the introduction of stoning for adulterers in semi-autonomous region of Aceh, where sharia law is practiced. (Photo: Sharia police check women caught wearing tight pants in Aceh province May 26, 2010/Junaidi Hanafiah)

But a tough moral line has not proved a great vote winner in majority Muslim Indonesia, where most people practice a very moderate form of Islam that incorporates pre-Islamic traditional beliefs. PKS increased its vote only slightly in the 2009 election and all other Islam-based parties actually lost votes.

Indonesian Islamist PKS party aims for broader support

pksIndonesia’s Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) is holding its second national congress in Jakarta this week where it will discuss key policies.  The Islamist party is the third-biggest in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s coalition, and lifted its share of the vote in the 2009 elections when most Islam-based parties lost support.

The PKS believes religious values should be reflected in social policy to address what it sees as Indonesia’s moral crisis. Its former president, Communications and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring, has campaigned hard for tighter Internet controls to ban what he describes as “negative” content on the web, and last year said natural disasters such as earthquakes were linked to immoral television shows.

(Photo: PKS supporters hold pro-Palestinian rally in Jakarta on 20 March 2010/Supri)

Islamic finance seeks young scholars to lead growth, improve products

islamic bankWith Islamic finance a $1 trillion industry globally and expected by ratings agency Moody’s to reach $5 trillion in time, students of sharia have more opportunities than ever before to take their skills beyond the mosque doors and into the boardroom.

Reflecting the change in times, many current scholars now prefer to call themselves sharia advisors or technicians to suggest that their duties are more professional rather than simply clerical. (Photo: Dubai Islamic Bank, January 28, 2008/Jumana El Heloueh)

Professionally, it can be a lucrative endeavor. Scholars working on Islamic finance deals are paid consulting fees, depending not only on the services provided but also the seniority and fame of the scholar.

Kenya PM blasts judges for barring Islamic courts from constitution

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President Mwai Kibaki (C), Prime Minister Raila Odinga (L) and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka (R) release pigeons for peace at a Nairobi rally for the constitution referendum on May 15, 2010/Thomas Mukoya

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has attacked the country’s judiciary as an obstacle to reform after its high court  ruled it would be discriminatory to entrench kadhi courts — Islamic courts that rule on the basis of sharia — in Kenya’s constitution. The ruling came three months before Kenyans vote in a referendum on a proposed new constitution, seen as an important step towards ensuring that post-election violence which shook east Africa’s largest economy in 2008 is not repeated.

Opposition to the Muslim courts brought together Christian clergy and some politicians to oppose the proposed constitution. The kadhis’ courts deal with matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance among Muslims.

Skirts replace jeans as Indonesia’s Aceh enforces sharia

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A sharia police officer escorts women caught wearing tight pants during a street raid in Aceh province on May 26, 2010/Junaidi Hanafiah

In a bid to implement Islamic law to the letter, Indonesia’s West Aceh district on Thursday started giving away long, loose skirts to cover up Acehnese women caught wearing tight jeans. The westernmost province of Aceh on Sumatra is the sole upholder of sharia law in the predominantly Muslim, but secular Indonesia. The previous local parliament passed a controversial law in September allowing adulterers to be stoned to death.

Wilayatul Hisbah, the Aceh sharia police who began this year conducting raids on unmarried couples caught together as well as gamblers and drinkers, on Thursday set up road blocks to search cars and buses for women wearing tight trousers.

Sharia boards face scrutiny amid financial crisis

bank sharia

A teller at Bank Syariah Mandiri in Jakarta February 17, 2010/Supri

Sharia boards face increased scrutiny and criticism as high-profile corporate defaults and cautionary comments from respected scholars cast a harsh light on the fast growth of financial products touted as Islamic.

Experts say rapid growth in the industry, which some estimates value at around $1 trillion, has put more pressure on scholars to sign off on increasingly complicated structures, wrapped in sharia packaging.

“In areas that have to do with capital guarantees, fixed income and derivatives … 40 to 50 percent of what’s being sent out is form over substance,” said Jawad Ali, managing partner at Dubai-based law firm King & Spalding.  “Mistakes do happen when a sharia board focuses on the instrument being presented … and there is little scrutiny on how the structures are being implemented.”

Malaysia canes women for having sex out of wedlock

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Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, due to be caned for drinking beer, 24 Aug 2009/Zainal Abd Halim

Malaysian authorities have caned three women under Islamic laws for the first time in the Southeast Asian country, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has said. The sentences were carried out on February 9 after a religious court found them guilty of having sex out of wedlock. Two of the women were whipped six times.

Hishammuddin’s comments signal that the mostly Muslim country is now prepared to flog Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a mother of two, for drinking beer, despite the international criticism that the case has garnered.

Islamic finance’s reputation as “safe” is a myth: Qatar regulator

saudi-bankers

Traders at the Saudi Investment Bank in Riyadh, 8 Oct 2008/Fahad Shadeed

It’s a myth to assume Islamic finance products are safer than conventional products and underlying risks should be studied more carefully, Qatar’s top regulator said at the Davos World Economic Forum meeting on Wednesday. Despite being billed as a safer alternative to traditional banking because assets must underpin deals, Islamic bondholders have found they may not have any more legal safeguards than conventional counterparts in the event of default.

Such issues were highlighted after sukuk — or Islamic bonds — had the first ever defaults last year.  Sukuk, one of the flagship products in the $1 trillion Islamic finance industry, are structured as profit-sharing or rental agreements and returns are derived from underlying assets because Islamic laws prohibits paying or earning interest.

“There is some assumption that some of it is cosmetically more comforting, but when so many Islamic instruments are now trying to mimic the effect of conventional products, you need to examine if they carry the same risk profile,” Philip Thorpe, chief executive of Qatar Financial Center Regulatory Authority, told Reuters.

Muslim revival brings polygamy, camels to Chechnya

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Main mosque in Grozny, capital of Chechnya, 17 May 2008/Said Tsarnayev

Adam, 52, keeps his three wives in different towns to stop them squabbling, but the white-bearded Chechen adds he might soon take a fourth.  “Chechnya is Muslim, so this is our right as men. They (the wives) spend time together, but do not always see eye to eye,” said the soft-spoken pensioner, who only gave his first name.

Though polygamy is illegal in Russia, the southern Muslim region of Chechnya encourages the practice, arguing it is allowed by sharia law and the Koran, Islam’s holiest book.

Hardline Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov is vying with insurgents for authority in a land ravaged by two secessionist wars with Moscow. Each side is claiming Islam as its flag of legitimacy, each reviles the other as criminal and blasphemous.

Table Talk: French halal restaurants try gourmet cuisine

foie gras

A cook dices foie gras, 8 June 2009/Karoly Arvai

In a stylishly decorated restaurant in the heart of Paris, tucked between Bastille and Place de la Nation, Sophia Tabet is perusing a typical French menu, including foie gras, beef fillet and duck confit. But unlike other French eateries, this one offers no wine list, and all food is prepared strictly in accordance with Islamic sharia law.

“We all eat halal food. It’s nice to have a change, to be able to eat French gastronomy that’s halal,” said Tabet, 29, a customer adviser at a large financial services company.

Tabet is on a girls’ night out with work colleagues at Les Enfants Terribles, one of a new breed of up-market halal restaurants that have sprung up in and around Paris, catering to a growing population of young Muslim professionals. Another new halal eatery is Le Wok Saint Germain, a chic Thai restaurant run by Frenchman Dhieb Lagnab.