Concerns Over ‘Steps Toward Islamic State’ in Indonesia

The nation is quietly being pushed closer toward an Islamic state, Christian politicians and religious groups warned on Sunday, pointing to attempts this month to push through a bill requiring halal product labeling. The legislation could be passed by the House of Representatives as soon as next week, despite opposition from the Christian-based Prosperous Peace Party (PDS) and minority religious groups who say it is discriminatory. The House and central government are being accused of rushing discussion on the bill in the hope of endorsing it on Sept. 15. Critics claim the bill, like the Anti-Pornography Law passed almost a year ago, is a ploy by conservative Islamic groups to introduce elements of Shariah law within secular Indonesia. The House, they say, is being pressured to endorse the legislation before its term expires at the end of September. Hasrul Azwar, chairman of the House committee deliberating the bill, said on Sunday that he expected it to be completed within two weeks. “There is no pressure. The bill has been scheduled to be finished by the end of this month,” he said. The bill states that all packaged food, drinks, medicine and cosmetics produced and sold in Indonesia must be certified as halal or not by an independent body and then labeled accordingly. Hasrul said the central government wanted the classifying body formed under the Ministry of Religious Affairs, while several parties have demanded an independent body with representatives from the central government and the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI). “Those matters are still being debated. Even [yesterday] we worked on it,” he said. The PDS has said that determining what is halal — permissible under Islam — is a religious issue and shouldn’t be stipulated by the state. Some members of the business community said the labeling system would be expensive and that small businesses could suffer. Lawmaker Badriyah Fayumi of the Islamic-based National Awakening Party (PKB) said non-Muslim communities should not feel threatened by the bill. “The state is obliged to facilitate its citizens in practicing their [version of] Shariah. The halal matter is very much one of principle for Muslims,” she said. She said a halal law would provide a stronger legal basis to impose sanctions on companies that lied about the contents of their products. “The bill will stipulate sanctions if there is forgery or mixing halal and non-halal foods,” Badriyah said, adding that this could result in fines of up to Rp 4 million ($400). Husna Zahir, chairwoman of the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI), said she was concerned that the issue of classifying products as halal had distracted attention from the real debate. “This ongoing problem must not divert the government’s focus from product safety, because what we need is an effective system capable of making sure that all products distributed in the markets are safe and halal to consume,” she said.

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