The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the most prominent Islamic clerical organization in the country, has issued a fatwa calling for the death penalty to be imposed for the crime of having gay sex.
The edict was issued earlier this month to “remind” the public that homosexuality is a “deviant sexual behavior” that the society should not tolerate, as it puts a “stain on the dignity of Indonesia.”
As Hasanuddin A.F., the head of the MUI’s fatwa commission, said, as quoted by the Jakarta Globe:
It doesn’t matter that they love each other…The law still prohibits it. In Islamic law, it’s a sexual act that must be heavily punished. It would be bad if the government allows same-sex marriage.
The fatwa is particularly worrisome given how influential MUI is in Indonesia, which is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. The organization was founded under Suharto’s New Order in 1975, and has since been the umbrella organization for Muslim clerics in the country. So when they tell believers in Indonesia that a certain group of people shouldn’t have the full protection of the law behind them, it carries quite a bit of weight. Prior fatwas issued by the MUI have been used to justify violence against the Ahmadiyah community, a sect of Islam branded as heretical by the MUI.
And given the already-high rate of violence against religious minorities in the country, the active incitement to religiously-motivated violence against the homosexuals, coming from the country’s most prominent religious body, has put Indonesia’s LGBT community on notice.
On paper, Indonesia is typically considered one of the world’s more progressive majority-Muslim countries. Its constitution officially grants its citizens freedom of religion (provided that you subscribe to one of the six religions recognized by the government) and, while same-sex marriage is prohibited, homosexuality is only officially criminalized in a few localities.
The country is also frequently held up as an example of how wrong critics of Islam are when they say that the religion is used to make life worse for those who don’t adhere to its principles. After all, only 16 percent of Indonesia’s Muslims believe that the death penalty should be assigned to apostates.
That’s low in comparison to, say, Egypt, where a 2013 Pew poll showed that 88% of Egyptian Muslims endorsed killing those who leave the faith, but it’s still awfully high. High enough to be cause for legitimate concern for Indonesians whose lifestyle doesn’t square with the one outlined for them by the country’s religious leaders.
And, apparently, high enough to make it politically risky to condemn theologically-justified calls to violence, as the Indonesian government has not yet come out against the MUI’s persecutory instruction.
Shame on them if they don’t. If they won’t stand up for sexual minorities in their own country on an issue as simple as “Should these people be alive?” then they deserve embarrassment on a global level.
It’s incumbent upon governments and ordinary citizens around the world to, in the face of edicts such as these, remind Indonesia that this isn’t how modern societies operate. When a religious body can openly advocate for the persecution and killing of a group of people, and expect to be taken seriously, it doesn’t prevent a “stain on the dignity” of their country; it creates one.