This Winter Quarter at Northwestern I’ll be teaching a course on Islam and politics in the contemporary world. Much of the course will focus on three cases: Egypt, Indonesia, and Nigeria. As I prepare for the course I’ve been paying much closer attention to news out of Indonesia. Nigeria and Indonesia are very different countries, and existing regional shari’a projects in the two countries are also different, but this:
A city in the Indonesian province of Aceh which follows Sharia has ordered female passengers not to straddle motorbikes behind male drivers.
Suaidi Yahya, mayor of Lhokseumawe, says it aims to save people’s “morals and behaviours”.
Leaflets have been sent out to government offices and residents to inform them about the regulation.
Aceh is the only Indonesian province that follows Sharia.
Under the new regulation, the mayor says that women passengers are only allowed to sit “side-saddle” because straddling the bike seat violates Islamic values.
reminded me a little of this (2005):
Motorbike taxi riders and religious marshals have clashed in the northern Nigerian state of Kano over a ban that stops women travelling on the bikes.
In accordance with Sharia law, men and women are not allowed to travel together on public transport.
Women have ignored the ban, being implemented this week, saying there are not enough transport alternatives.
A few scholars have mentioned to me their view that the “shari’a project” in northern Nigeria is/was aimed partly or even primarily at controlling women’s bodies in public space. I think there is much more to movements for shari’a implementation or re-implementation, but I do see why those scholars think that way. And I do not think these motorbike laws should be seen as the product of isolated officials’ eccentric thinking. The question of proper gender roles in public transportation is an issue that has provoked real debate in parts of northern Nigeria, and it seems in Aceh too. In that context, it’s interesting to think about the various things motorbikes can symbolize.
“When you see a woman straddle, she looks like a man. But if she sits side-saddle, she looks like a woman,” Suaidi said.
Finally, I think these laws and debates point to how broad the scope of shari’a implementation projects can be. Sometimes the international media gives us an image of shari’a as wholly concerned with cutting off thieves’ hands and stoning adulteresses. But on a day-to-day level in modern states that are working to practice a form of shari’a, the concerns are often quite different, and sometimes surprisingly mundane.