Apriadi Gunawan and Hotli Simanjuntak, Banda Aceh – The Bireuen regency administration in Aceh province has issued a circular asking coffee shops, cafes and restaurants to ensure that male and female customers who are not married or related to one another do not sit at the same table together.
The circular is meant to serve as a guideline for business owners to abide by sharia, which prohibits khalwat (physical displays of affection between unmarried couples).
"The circular was meant to keep the relationship between men and women in Bireuen in line with sharia rather than oppress them, so they won't get caught violating qanun jinayat [Islamic criminal code]," Bireuen sharia agency head Jufliwan told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
The circular has 13 points, including a restriction for food sellers to serve women after 9 p.m., except if she arrives with a spouses or relative.
Jufliwan added that people were still caught violating the circular, which was first issued in late 2016 and had been revised twice. "However, we can't punish them as this is only a suggestion, not a regulation that carries a punishment."
However, the Bireuen administration plans to propose to the provincial council to turn the circular into a bylaw that carries legal penalties if needed.
Local activists have expressed concerns about the circular, saying that some of the points were discriminatory toward women.
"We are concerned that some parties could interpret the circular according to their own wishes," said Aceh Arabiyani, a local women's activist.
The administration, she added, must ensure that the circular would not discourage the public from visiting coffee shops because of possible raids. "Can the big buses that pass through Bireuen still enjoy its culinary offerings at night?"
Aceh is the only region in the country with the authority to implement sharia as mandated by a 1999 law on Aceh's status as a special region, coupled with the 2001 law on special autonomy for Aceh and Papua.
In 2009, Aceh's legislative councillors enacted their first fully pledged qanun jinayat. The law was later revised in 2014 and came into effect in October 2015.
While Aceh's lawmakers believe sharia is legal, human rights activists argue that its bylaws should not contradict the 1945 Constitution and national laws, as a number of provisions might be considered discriminatory. (kuk/ahw)