May 27, 2010 / 7:49 AM / in 7 years

Skirts galore in Indonesia's Aceh for modesty's sake

MEULABOH, Indonesia (Reuters Life!) - In a bid to implement Islamic law to the letter, Indonesia's West Aceh district on Thursday started giving away long, loose skirts to cover up Acehnese women caught wearing tight jeans.

The westernmost province of Aceh on Sumatra is the sole upholder of sharia law in the predominantly Muslim, but secular Indonesia. The previous local parliament passed a controversial law in September allowing adulterers to be stoned to death.

Wilayatul Hisbah, the Aceh sharia police who began this year conducting raids on unmarried couples caught together as well as gamblers and drinkers, on Thursday set up road blocks to search cars and buses for women wearing tight trousers.

Offenders were taken away to a security post and their details recorded. They were briefed on sharia law and instructed to put on one of the 20,000 long skirts the local government ordered from tailors in Jakarta. Offenders were also asked to sign an agreement not to repeat the offence.

West Aceh Regent Ramli Mansyur said the regulation was introduced because he was "embarrassed that the fashion in Aceh has become too open."

The sharia police will spend several months educating locals about the new law. After August, offenders could face a week in jail, Mansyur said.

Although most women were obliging to the clothing swap, some were not too happy.

Imah, 40, a housewife, was enraged when the sharia police stopped her while she was riding a motorbike and asked her to change into a skirt.

"I know I am wearing jeans, but I have a long top, and I don't look like a man, and my jeans are loose," she told the officers, while trying to put on a skirt she had prepared in her bag on top of her jeans.

"Are jeans forbidden by religion?" she said. "I think we can't judge someone's heart from the clothes she wears, because even if she is wearing covered clothes, is it a guarantee that she is a devout Muslim? Look at the mosques, they are empty," she said.

Aceh, on the far western tip of the Indonesian archipelago, is sometimes referred to as the "verandah of Mecca" because the staunchly Muslim province was one of the first parts of the country to turn to Islam. (Writing by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Sunanda Creagh)

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