‘Majority Muslim’ Versus Islamic Nations, Part 1: Borderline Cases

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The mainstream media likes to claim President Trump’s executive order on immigration suspends visas from six or seven “Muslim-majority” countries, but as I pointed out in a previous column , all of them are Muslim countries , period.

All seven nations name Islam as their official state religion and base their legal code to some degree on Islamic sharia law. That includes Iraq, dropped from the second version of Trump’s order, whose post-Saddam Hussein government was nursed into existence with extensive financial and political assistance from the United States.

How many true “Muslim-majority” nations in the world? In other words, how many countries have a majority of Muslim citizens but do not designate Islam as the official state religion, and keep their legal systems completely free of sharia influence?

This exploration should begin with acknowledging that precise demographic data is hard to come by for nations where Muslims comprise roughly half the population. Most efforts to list the world’s Muslim-majority nations point to a 2010 Pew Research study called “The Future of the Global Muslim Population,” whose data is now seven years old.

Demographic shifts and the shortage of reliable data can make it difficult to say whether some countries hovering around the 50-percent mark currently have Muslim majorities. Reference.com, for example, cites Nigeria as a borderline case because Pew’s 2010 data had the population at 47.9 percent Muslim, but many sources list it as a Muslim-majority nation.

Three of the toughest borderline cases are Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey.

Indonesia: Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. Indonesia has about 207 million Muslim inhabitants, with a total population of 250 million, making it over 80 percent Muslim.

Indonesia is routinely cited as an example of harmonious secular government, the textbook example of a Muslim-majority nation that is not officially Muslim by law. Indonesia’s constitution, which dates back to 1945, does not specify a state religion or make special provisions for sharia law. Indonesia does require a certain faith for its president, but it is not Islam – it is a unique school of philosophy called Pancasila. As Australia recently learned, Indonesia is very serious about the importance of Pancasila.

And yet, the UK Daily Mail reported on Indonesia’s “masked sharia law enforcers” on Monday, including photographs of a man and woman receiving 25 lashes in public for violating Islamic law by “spending time with somebody who is not their husband or wife.” A woman took 100 lashes with a cane recently for sex outside of marriage, according to the report.

Gambling, drinking alcohol, women failing to wear headscarves, and homosexuality are also punished with beatings in Aceh province, which the Daily Mail explains is “the only province in the country which implements sharia law in full,” following a 2001 grant of autonomy from the central government in Jakarta.

“Over the past decade, the central government has devolved more power to regional authorities to increase autonomy and speed up development,” the Daily Mail adds. “Engaging in homosexual acts is not a crime under Indonesia’s national criminal code but remains taboo in many conservative parts of the country with the world’s largest Muslim population.”

In April 2016, the first non-Muslim was beaten in public for violating sharia law in Aceh, by selling alcohol. The victim was a 60-year-old Christian woman.

Aceh is not the lone island of sharia law in Indonesia. In a January article, the New York Times cited a recent study that found “more than 442 Shariah-based ordinances have been passed throughout the nation since 1999, when Jakarta gave provinces and districts substantial powers to make their own laws.” The regulations cover matters such as “female attire, the mixing of the sexes, and alcohol.”

According to the NYT, local officials view the spread of sharia law across Indonesia as a “point of pride,” and see Aceh as a model to be emulated. The head of Aceh’s Department of Sharia is described as a “moderate” who thinks Aceh’s version of Islamic law is “softer” than Saudi Arabia’s because it welcomes “alternative schools of Islamic thought” and accepts “the role of female leaders.” Women’s rights activists supported the female mayor of Aceh as a progressive reformer, but she promptly slapped a curfew on women once she got in office and went about “personally dispersing events deemed to contradict sharia,” such as a beauty contest.

The Times article closes with an Islamist preacher declaring that Aceh is a “model for the entire Indonesian nation” and must “become the locomotive for the movement to apply Shariah law throughout Indonesia.”

The Christian governor of Jakarta – the first non-Muslim to hold that position in the last half-century – is currently on trial for blasphemy beca