A Muslim scholar is among those expressing doubt that the prohibition will make women safer.
A planned regulation banning female passengers from straddling motorcycles in Lhokseumawe, Aceh has sparked criticism from Indonesians, including a leading Muslim scholar who says it does not reflect the spirit of Sharia law.
Suaidi Yahya, the mayor of Aceh’s second largest city, said earlier this month he would issue the regulation because “it’s improper for women to sit astride. We implement Islamic law here.”
“Women sitting on motorbikes must not sit astride because it will provoke the male driver. It’s also to protect women from an undesirable condition,” Suaidi told AFP on January 2nd.
He said women could face forward in an emergency situation, or if they are driving, as long as they are dressed “in a Muslim way”.
His administration has started distributing handouts throughout the municipality to inform residents of the new policy before the plan is legally implemented in a few months, he said.
Unsafe for riders?
The plan has sparked widespread criticism from Indonesians who say it is unsafe.
Cut Fitriani, 34, an Acehnese woman who moved from Aceh to Jakarta in the last two years, told Khabar that the Lhoksumawe administration has demonstrated ignorance of safe driving principals.
“I don’t see that the regulation is very Islamic. Instead, it puts women in a dangerous situation. I believe that drivers will have difficulty keeping their balance,” she said.
Jusri Pulubuhu, a founder of Jakarta Defensive Driving Consulting (JDDC), told Khabar his group strongly suggests that motorcycle passengers sit facing forward.
“When you are driving a motorcycle, you have to know how to keep it stable and balanced,” Jusri said.
“When a motorcycle passenger is sidesaddle, it would be difficult for the passenger to find a safe position because her two legs would not be within the handlebar area,” he added.
“One of the safety requirements of driving a motorcycle is that any object or passenger must stay within the handlebar area.”
Siti Musdah Mulia, chairwoman of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP), argued that the regulation has nothing to do with Sharia Islam and it puts female passenger in danger.
Further, she argued that the bylaw is incompatible with the spirit of Sharia.
“A regulation must give a protection to the citizen, instead of putting the citizen in danger. Even during the prophet period, the prophet’s wife was sitting forward-facing while they were riding a camel,” she said.
“Therefore, I do not think that there is a theological reason for this regulation,” she added,
By implementing Sharia Islam, the local government must improve the welfare of its citizens. That is what being an Islamic society means, Siti told Khabar.
Central government review
Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi said the central government will review the planned bylaw, and could annul it.
“[It will be reviewed] whether the bylaw is too much or [whether] it is to maintain the tradition,” he told reporters January 7th in Bogor, outside Jakarta.
“If it is to maintain the tradition, it is alright. [But] it should be studied first [to find out] what is the purpose of the regulation,” he said, adding, it would take up to one month to evaluate the bylaw, and that his office had not yet received a copy of it.