BANDA ACEH, Indonesia -- Imagine a place where adulterers are stoned to death and for engaging in premarital sex you receive one hundred lashes. In one Islamic province of Indonesia, hundreds of Muslims patrol the streets to guard against these and other so-called vices.
CBN News recently had the chance to go on patrol with men and women from the Islamic religious police.
Like clockwork they begin to assemble. Men on one side. Women on the other end. Everything must be perfect. The shirt, the pants, the shoes, the blouse, the headscarf. Nothing can be left to chance.
It's 9 a.m. on Wednesday and the chief is ready to address his squadron.
"Today we are going to conduct an operation in the area of discipline," Haji Marjuki, chief of sharia told the squadron assembled. "We need to make sure that the public knows how to apply the Islamic Sharia Law."
On Patrol with Islamic Police
Meet the men and women of Wilayatul Hisbah, which in Indonesia means "control team." They're part of a special police unit that enforces Islamic law, known as sharia. Their headquarters is in the Acehnese provincial capital of Banda Aceh.
Marjuki recently gave CBN News an exclusive look at how his men and women enforce the moral codes of the city. The destination this morning -- a major intersection a couple of miles out of town.
"We'll be looking for women wearing tight outfits, unmarried couples, things like this," said Sharia Officer Hendra Sabri, while riding in the back of a police pickup truck. The province of Aceh started implementing Islamic law in 2001.
Armed with only the Koran and a religious conviction, the men and women patrol day and night trying to keep the streets clean of sin.
"Those who break the law should be scared, if you don't break the law, you have nothing to worry about," Sabri told CBN News.
Aceh is not alone. Across the world's largest Muslim populated country, dozens of local governments have adopted Islamic laws.
"And it's not just the responsibility of the sharia police to enforce these laws," Marjuki said. "Every citizen in this province is also a member of our force, making sure that everyone is adhering to these laws."
Keeping Streets Clean of Sin
The group arrives at their destination. Within minutes, the desks and chairs are set up. The signs go up, the roadblock erected. The spotters are deployed with the task of stopping potential offenders.
It doesn't take long before the first offender is tagged. Thirty-two-year-old Yanti was on her way to work. Yanti is told why she's being stopped. A female officer then escorts her to a desk where her ID card, phone number, address, and other details are logged.
A few minutes later, Yanti pays a visit to Hamdani Hadi, the resident Islamic scholar on duty for this operation. Hadi spends time explaining what the Koran instructs about how a woman should dress in public.
"Women must be covered from head to toe," an adamant Hadi said while preparing to examine the first violator. "Even the palm of their hand should not been seen. They can't wear clothing that is tight or show the curve of the body."
"When we find someone who has broken this law, we will issue a warning and instruct them on how to dress better in the future," he added.
Violators are given three warnings. The fourth infraction lands the perpetrator behind bars.
"And it's not just dress code violations," Rhamat Nasoori said. Nosoori is in charge of the prison back at the police station. "If we catch you drinking alcohol, committing adultery, or other vices, you'll end up in here, too."
Stoning Adulterers, Homosexuals
Last year, the provincial government passed a bill allowing adulterers, homosexuals and other religious offenders to be put to death by stoning. The bill has yet to be signed into law.
"They told me that my outfit was too tight and that I should have worn something less provocative," a frightened 32-year-old Yanti said. "I really felt scared. I actually feel guilty for what I'm wearing. I'll make sure it doesn't happen again."
There are some 2,500 men and women who patrol the cities and villages of Aceh. These people see themselves as the moral and spiritual guardians of the province.
Twenty-seven-year-old Deti Juliati joined the sharia police force a couple of years ago. She believes her role is critical to ensuring that women live a wholesome life and avoid situations that can bring unwanted attention.
"When women wear outfits that are inappropriate, it can turn men on," said Juliati in a quiet voice, trying not to attract attention to her comments. "Men are mesmerized by the curve of a woman's body and that can be fatal. People can end up doing the wrong things."
Juliati sees young girls like Febrianita, who was also stopped because of her outfit, as vulnerable to minds opened to un-Islamic thoughts and deeds.
"I've never been stopped before," Febrianita said. "But I had this feeling this morning when I left home that perhaps my pants were too tight or that my top was a little too flashy. I'll be more careful next time."
Rebelling Against Islam
But opinions about the laws and the role of the religious police are divided in this city. There is growing frustration with Islam. Many young people continue to push for religious moderation.
In part 2 of this series, CBN News focuses on the growing frustration Indonesians have with Islam and why so many are embracing Christianity in record numbers.