A recent law passed on June 30th brought some light to West Sumatra region of Indonesia because it contains an article that acknowledges three special characteristics of the province. One of them is that the culture and customs of Minangkabau, the region’s native ethnic group and by far its largest tribe, “are based on philosophical values, adat basandi syara’, syara’ basandi Kitabullah … which shows the religious character and the height of the customs of the people of West Sumatra”.
The phrase adat basandi syara’, syara’ basandi Kitabullah translates to “Minangkabau customary rules are based on Sharia, and Sharia is founded upon Al-Quran”, meaning that whatever the Sharia says, the customary rules will follow.
This led to some concern to the human rights activists who fear the recognition that the province’s customs are based on Islamic law could expand Islamic conservatism in Indonesia. However, Guspardi Gaus, member of the parliament’s Commission II that deliberated the provincial laws with the government, assured that the new law would not “deny the rights” of religious minority groups in the province. He stated that other groups would not be denied their rights “because we also have Christians in the Mentawai, we have Batak, Javanese, and Sundanese tribes”. He added: “We are a pluralist society” and that the application of the philosophical values “will still be in line with the [state-ideology] Pancasila and the republic”.
Of the province’s 5.5 million people, about 130,000 are non-Muslims, including a community in the Mentawai Islands whose residents are largely Christians.
Gaus states, “There was never any religious or ethnic tensions in West Sumatra, there was never any limitations [to minorities’ rights], it is considered a safe region in Indonesia. Something bad never happened, caused by ethnic and religious differences, so why is West Sumatra now under the spotlight?”
He said people who claimed that Sharia-inspired laws were not aligned with the country’s pluralism principle are “Islamophobic”.
“It’s as if Islamic Sharia goes against our constitution and Pancasila, just because we have Shari’a law does not mean that we will establish an Islamic country. We are a republic, and this is final,” he said.