The increasing Shariah influence in Indonesia

The calls for Sharia law are getting louder. Its implementation risks creating empowering ISIS and promoting religious intolerance.


In Aceh Indonesia, every night well-disciplined troops in green uniforms roam the streets. They are the Sharia police. They approach young couples sitting together, questioning them to ensure they are married. Sometimes they approach groups of men. If they find any of them gambling, they arrest them. Those arrested end up in front of an “executioner” and are publicly caned.

Aceh is the only province in Indonesia which follows Sharia law. But as Islamic groups gain traction, more Indonesians want Sharia rolled out nationally. 39% of the population now favour imposing Sharia law in some form.  But implementing Sharia law could have dangerous implications.

The nature of the law promotes intolerance

The brand of Sharia the public are campaigning for in Java and Lombok is Salafi. The Salafi brand of Sharia comes from Saudi Arabia. It is very conservative in nature and has been linked to rising intolerance.

The Salafi interpretation of Sharia promotes anti-Shiite sentiment. Shiite Muslims do not conform to the narrow interpretation of Islam Salafi endorses.

There are around 2.5 million Shiite Muslims in Indonesia. They account for roughly 1% of the Indonesian population. The national census does not differentiate between Sunni and Shiite. The exact figure is unknown.

Only 24% of the Indonesian population accepts Shiites as Muslims. In Java, Shiite Muslims have been the target of attacks. In 2012, the Indonesian Ulema Council issued a fatwa against Shiites. Shifting to a Salafi interpretation of Sharia law would marginalise the Shiite population. It would give hard-line Islamic groups more power and fuel anti-Shiite sentiment.

This is already occurring. 89% of Indonesians believe non-Sunni minorities should not be accommodated in Indonesia. What was celebrated as a country of tolerance is slipping into a destructive mode of thought.

Some of the groups calling for Sharia law have ties to ISIS and Al-Qaeda

 Most Indonesian Muslims have a negative opinion of ISIS. However, some of the groups calling for Sharia law do not.

Source: Pew Research Centre

The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) was involved in the protests to convict Ahok in 2016. The group wants Sharia instated. Its spokesman, Munarman, appeared at a ceremony where men swear allegiance to ISIS.

The Jemaah Islamiyah group has strong linked to ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Senior figure Syamsudin Uba has publicly praised the ISIS caliphate.

Indonesia must move away from traditional interpretations of Islamic law

The traditional interpretations of Sharia that FPI calls for must be discounted. The Salafi interpretation gaining traction in Java and Lombok threatens Indonesia’s tolerance.

A traditional interpretation would fuel anti-Shiite sentiment. It would give legitimacy to ultra-conservative, ISIS-linked Islamic groups.

ISIS is shoring up its power in Southeast Asia. Following the Battle for Marawi last year, the group is actively targeting the region. Establishing Sharia law at the heart of ASEAN would provide a boost for ISIS at this dangerous time.