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Baasyir believes that any human-created lawmaking body—a house of congress, a court of law—is an insult to the sovereignty of God. "Allah has sent a manual on how to treat human beings," he says. "That manual is the Koran." There's no need, in his view, for any other code. "Islam and democracy," he concludes, "cannot coexist." Now that Suharto is out of power and centralized rule has been weakened, local districts can decide for themselves whether to institute sharia-based regulations. Where this has been done, Baasyir says, everything is better. Much better. "Go see for yourself," he says.

The province of Aceh, on the western prow of the Indonesian archipelago, is now perhaps best known for suffering a direct strike from the December 2004 tsunami, which killed more than 160,000 Indonesians. But for centuries, the Aceh region has been recognized as one of the most devout Muslim areas in all of Asia. Aceh's unofficial slogan is that it is the "veranda of Mecca," and many of its residents seem to sit on this porch with their backs to the rest of Indonesia, embracing an Islam closer to that which exists across the ocean on the Arabian Peninsula. Here, more than anywhere else in the islands, people observe a strict Islamic code of conduct. In 1999 the national government paved the way for Aceh to become the nation's first province to establish sharia as criminal law.

Devi Faradila is a fashionable, 35-year-old mother of two and a parliamentarian in Aceh Province. At the time of my visit, she was the leader of the all-women's unit of the Banda Aceh Sharia Patrol, a municipal force in charge of monitoring compliance with local rules in the province's capital. On a typical Friday—a day, according to Aceh law, when all Muslim men must attend mosque—Faradila readied her unit for duty, breaking up a Ping-Pong game in the station house, wagging her finger at a couple of text messaging officers.

Faradila and 13 patrollers donned black baseball caps to complete their uniforms—black shoes, black slacks, black blouses, and lime green head scarves—and piled into a pickup equipped with loudspeakers. Faradila, in the driver's seat, pulled on leather gloves, added a fresh coat of lipstick, and put on mirrored sunglasses. Her deputy hopped in beside her. The rest of the women sat in the bed of the pickup.

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