• Questioning the Claim of an Eternally Just Law: An Overview of the Aceh Qanun

    All right, it has been a while since my last post. I guess I can blame my excessive office workload (made a whopping 64 billable hours last week or more than 12 billable hours a business day) and the Id Mubarak holidays for this blogging non-productive period, eh?

    In today's post, we will discuss a very interesting issue that has been debated for centuries without ever being finally resolved, even until today. Yes, we are talking about the validity of the claim that there is an eternally just law in this world that can be applied in whatever situation and condition, an everlasting law that will prevail over any other laws.

    Now, is this claim valid, i.e. do we, humans, have this kind of law? Sorry to say, but my quick reply would be no. In my opinion, there is no such thing as an eternally just law, because those that are being called just as of now could turn into unjust the next minute. As long as we don't have a single, complete, and universally acceptable definition of the term "justice," we should say goodbye to the concept of an eternally just law.

    However, I am not surprised if many people would disagree with my opinion. We could easily spotted these guys when we are dealing with those who believe in the existence of a perfect God's law that holds supremacy over all kind of man-made laws. Usually, such people also believe that the implementation of the God's law would solve any problem in the society because such law is made by the wisdom and grace of the God that surpass humans' limited capabilities.

    There are many variations of laws that could fall under the category of God-made laws, however it is safe to assume that all religious laws could be considered as God laws (of course in this case, the deity to which we call it God will depend on the respective religions). Among these religious laws, I have no doubt that the Islamic law holds the foremost position due to: (i) its huge coverage (almost all aspects of life, private and public, are being governed by the Islamic laws), (ii) its well-established legal system (though the Islamic legal system does not have a single and united codification of laws which is applicable in each part of this world, it has established a generally acceptable legal sources and methods of legal reasoning), and the most important thing (iii) its wide use in various parts of the world (with modifications here and there).

    Islamic law is indeed interesting. The fact that there are so many ways in implementing this law and the controversies that surround such implementation amuses me. How could this happen? Similar with other types of religious laws, the implementation of Islamic law often falls under the same trap of too much regulating the citizen's private life. Something that I believe is no longer acceptable in this modern world. In addition, as most devoted believers take as granted that the entire body of the Islamic law is derived from God itself, whether through the Koran or through the Sunnah (words, acts, and silent approvals from the Prophet), the Islamic law faces the chronic problem of inflexibility as these people claim that the provisions of the Islamic law cannot be changed in any condition whatsoever (subject to any waiver that is specifically provided under the Islamic law (rukshah)).

    I could agree with the unchanging part if we're talking about the Ibadah aspect of Islamic law, i.e. any acts made as an implementation of the relationship between men and God, such as prayer, (shalat), fasting, and hajj. You can't change the basic rules that there are 5 obligatory shalat times in one day, or that mandatory fasting should be conducted in the Ramadan months. But, it is difficult for me to comprehend if we are also saying that any rules of Islamic law related to the Muamalah aspect, i.e. any private acts of men or any acts made between men, including trading, business, marriage, inheritance, etc, should also be fixed for eternity. The implementation of this kind of law should be made in accordance with the situation and condition of the respective era.

    For me, rather than trying to made up the benefit or secret wisdom of this Muamalah related laws, it would be better to deeply analyze whether such laws are still viable for use. That would be more effective. You would be surprised to see how many books and articles were made to support the rule that daughters can only receive half of the sons' share in receiving inheritance, or why women is better staying at home and don't work. And that is not including the various ridiculous reasons contained within those books and articles. To add the problem, those who are trying to make a proper review of these rules will be most likely deemed as unfaithful, unbelievers whose faith in God should be questioned.

    This brings us to the issue of the Aceh's Qanun. It is truly unfortunate that the Aceh's Qanun, as a part of Islamic law implementation in Indonesia, cannot outshine its counterparts by creating new development that can show some good quality of creativity. Instead, it stays with the mainstream and therefore brings unnecessary problems.

    The Aceh's Qanun is basically a new regulation issued by the Regional Government of Aceh which deals with the penalization of certain acts that are being considered as a crime under the Islamic laws (the one which is specifically adopted by the Regional Government of Aceh since there is no single codification of Islamic laws in this world. See above). For ease of reference, let us call this new regulation as Qanun.

    As stated above, the stipulation of this Qanun is very unfortunate and it really saddens me. Here we are in the 21st century, and yet, we are still clinging to the past, again and again trying to bring personal life choices into the public room. As you will see further below, except for rape, sexual harassment, and gambling, this Qanun mainly deals with humans' private actions. The Qanun makers also show a liking to the use of Arabic terms as all of the criminalized actions are named in Arabic (which is quite odd since the Qanun is intended for Indonesians).

    These are the criminalized actions in the Qanun: (i) drinking alcoholic beverages, (ii) gambling, (iii) male and female being in a closed/hidden room without any marriage relationship and they are not prohibited from marrying each other (khalwat) (please note that these people don't have to do anything to be punished. Simply being together in a closed room would be sufficient to punish them); (iv) male and female making out (including holding hands together, kissing and hugging) without having a marriage relationship (ikhtilath); (v) male and female having sex outside of a marriage relationship (adultery/zina); (vi) performing male-to-male sex, a.k.a gay sex (liwath); (vii) performing female-to-female sex, a.k.a lesbian sex (musahaqah), (viii) harassing sexually, (ix) raping, and (x) accusing other people of performing adultery without having the minimum 4 witnesses as a valid evidence (qadzaf).

    The sanctions for these criminal actions include among others caning, prison, fines in the form of gold and stoning/death penalty for a married person that conduct adultery. Now, I wouldn't discuss why this Qanun can exist under the Indonesian legal system. If you're interested with that subject, I suggest that you should see this nice post here. Instead, I would like to focus on the backgrounds used by the Aceh Regional Government to issue this Qanun including all of its provisions.

    In the elucidation of the Qanun, the Qanun makers claim that the Qanun was made as a response to the need of the Aceh's people to implement the Islamic law in their society since Islamic law has been considered as an inseparable part of the Aceh's culture. Further, they also claim that the Qanun was established on four basic principles which include: (i) the rules shall be derived from the Koran and the Sunnah; (ii) the interpretation of such rules shall be made in accordance with the local needs of Aceh people and in the context of Indonesian legal system; (iii) the implementation of such rules shall be made by taking into consideration the future progress and the needs of the 21st century's Indonesian people who are still in the process of development (which cover modern issues such as protection of human rights, gender equality, and technology development); and (iv) the implementation of such rules shall also be guided by the Islamic legal principles of using the best opinions from various schools (mazhab) and finding and developing better provisions.

    Comparing to the reality of this Qanun, I must admit that the above principles sound very bombastic, if not misleading (especially for the third principle). I don't see any aspect, even the slightest one, that can be used to say that this Qanun has been made in accordance with the above principles. Well, maybe the Qanun corresponds with the first principle, but surely the makers are not paying any attention to the other three principles.

    And to complete the irony, the Qanun makers were also hoping in the Qanun's elucidation that the implementation of this Qanun (in accordance with the above principles) can reflect a law that could bring justice and prosperity to the entire society (rahmatan lil alamin). Nice try and keep dreaming sirs.

    Come on, how can we say that a law that permits a married person to be killed by stoning due to adultery can be considered as a law that brings prosperity? I can agree if the state would like to punish this kind of person (and by the way, we do have this kind of provision in our Penal Code), but killing the person? That's outrageous.

    What make it worse is the fact that the Qanun does not provide any clear mechanism for evidencing the adultery, whereas in the classic Islamic law, an adultery case can only be validly proofed if there are 4 witness who clearly see such act, i.e. a penis is being inserted into a vagina. In fact, it is so hard to implement this rule, that the only known case where a person is being stoned for conducting adultery is a case where a pregnant woman came to the prophet and acknowledged that she has conducted an adultery. The prophet himself has ordered this woman to go home since there is no clear evidence that she has indeed conducted an adultery (even though she is pregnant). But the woman insisted and after more than 2 years of begging to be stoned, she actually got what she wanted, which only happen after she gave birth and taken care her child for some time.

    Why do we still insist of using this rule? On a bigger scale, why do we even consider to use the rules that were established a long time ago and might not be relevant anymore in this era. Maybe, it would be effective in the past to control the society by fear. It is not a secret that 1,400 years ago the arab people were living in a barbaric era. Of course they would need to have a law that can impose fear to them and make them obey such law. But now?

    I would even dare to say that this law is inefficient! Why bother to find people who are being together in a closed room or are making out somewhere and then punish them? Are we trying to deplete our resources to finance these useless acts? Or assuming that an adultery case is validly evidenced, should we stone the convicted to death? Who will bear responsibility for the family left behind? The state by using the money of the tax payer??? This is utterly ridiculous and the Qanun simply doesn't meet the test of a law that can bring global prosperity to the society, well, unless the Qanun makers believe that the prosperity will come since God will bless Aceh and Indonesia for implementing the Qanun. Again, keep dreaming sirs. The real fact is clear, this Qanun brings unnecessary costs and fear to the society.

    I believe that this is the right time for us to bring an end to the claim of an eternally just law. In this modern era, a law or a policy should be made in accordance with the people needs and should be implemented in the most effective and efficient way. A good law shall prevail without much hesitation, but a bad law can only prevail by using force which would be costly. For Islamic law, it would be useful if we start to review the current rules and determine whether such rules would still be applicable. We need to remember that since Koran or Sunnah cannot be changed forever, the law contained within should be flexible and it is our task to make a better interpretation. When man-made laws are wrong, we can always amend them, but we can't amend the content of the Koran and/or Sunnah. The content will always be the same but the implementation should depend on the actual condition. Only by making it flexible that we can ensure the survivability of the Islamic law, or else, I fear that in the future, the Islamic law shall only be regarded as a part of the forgotten history.

    Rob Baiton said...


    Thanks for the mention :D

    It is appreciated.

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