Mon, 21 Aug 2000

Gus Dur concerned over demands for 'syariah'

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid expressed on Saturday concern over demands by some Muslim-based groups for the inclusion of syariah (Islamic law) into the 1945 Constitution, saying it only weakens the nation's unity.

In a meeting with National Awakening Party (PKB) leaders at Bina Graha presidential office, the President described the attempts to promote syariah into the Constitution as a campaign to formalize religion in state affairs.

The President apparently refrained from commenting on the issue until the Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) ended on Friday.

His comments were revealed during a meeting with PKB senior executives on Saturday.

PKB chairman Matori Abdul Djalil said the President was concerned that such an inclusion in the constitutional amendments would trigger unrest in the country.

Matori said the President felt the nation could only remain strong and united if pluralism and respect of differences were upheld.

"The promotion of syariah is not a new issue for the nation. It has been voiced for a long time. Therefore this issue needs our mutual attention to enable us to get a satisfactory solution, because otherwise it will disrupt our unity and cohesion," said Matori during the meeting at Bina Graha presidential office.

Abdurrahman received the PKB executives as the chairman of the party's law-making body, the Syuro council.

During the MPR's Annual Session last week, the United Development Party (PPP) and Crescent Star Party pressed for the inclusion of an obligation for Muslims to abide by Islamic law in the amendments to the Constitution.

Major political parties, including Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), however, opposed the proposal.

"The proposition to include syariah in Article 29 of the Constitution is an effort to formalize religion. However this attempt will only trigger restlessness," Matori quoted the President as saying.

Matori said the President plans to set up a special body to study sensitive and strategic issues in society and to find the best solution for the problem.

"The President explained to us that he may form a kind of national security council in the near future, where we can discuss crucial matters," said Matori without elaborating further.

An Assembly member from the Crescent Star Party, Hartono Mardjono, regretted that objection to including Islamic law in constitutional amendments mainly came from Muslim legislators.

"That the proposal was not adopted is attributed to the fact that the majority of opposing parties were Muslim," Hartono announced after installing executives of the Indonesian Islamic Youth Movement (GPII) here on Sunday.

He suggested that Muslims continue to promote the Jakarta Chapter, the clause which obligates Muslims to comply with syariah.

He also promised to continue the struggle to make the Assembly insert the clause in the Constitution.

"The most important thing now is to promote the idea to all Muslim people. With wider public support, the proposal will not be rejected in the future," he said.

Hartono, however, recommended that Muslims start to apply Islamic law in their daily lives as proof that it is possible to apply syariah in the country. (jun/prb)