Indonesia: The ‘Niqab Squad’ Wants Women to be Seen Differently

Of note. More on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, albeit peaceful:

Only the rider’s eyes were visible from behind her black face veil. With a bow in her left hand and an arrow in her right, she cantered her horse toward a target, aimed quickly and let fly. The arrow struck home with a resounding pop.

The rider, Idhanur, who like many Indonesians uses one name, is a 31-year-old teacher at an Islamic school in East Java who says that firing arrows from horseback while wearing her conservative veil, or niqab, improves her chances of going to heaven.

Ms. Idhanur is part of a growing, peaceful movement of Muslim women who believe they can receive rewards from God through Islamic activities like wearing a niqab and practicing sports that the Prophet Muhammad is thought to have enjoyed.

Many also say it offers protection from prying eyes and harassment by men in a country where unwanted sexual advances are common.

Ms. Idhanur, who teaches at Al Fatah Islamic Boarding School of Temboro, part of the revivalist Tablighi Jamaat movement, has an answer for Indonesians who fear that conservative Islamic dress is a troubling step toward extremism and the marginalization of women.

“Even though we are wearing a niqab like this, it doesn’t mean that we become weak Muslim women,” Ms. Idhanur said after dismounting. “We can become strong Muslim women by participating in archery and horseback riding.”

Indonesia, a democracy that has the world’s largest Muslim population, is officially secular and has long been known for tolerance. But in the 22 years since the dictator Suharto was ousted, the country has turned increasingly toward a more conservative Islam.

Conservative clerics, such as Indonesia’s vice president, Ma’ruf Amin, have gained a more prominent role in public life. And local governments have enacted more than 600 measures imposing elements of Shariah, or Islamic law, including requiring women to wear hijabs — a catchall for head scarves — to hide their hair.

A small minority of Muslims have embraced extremist views and some have carried out deadly bombings, including the 2018 Surabaya church attack that killed a dozen bystanders. One suicide bomber was a woman, prompting many Indonesians to be wary of women who wear niqabs, a more conservative face veil where the only opening is a slit for the eyes.

Concern that the niqab is associated with terrorism prompted Indonesia’s religious affairs minister, Fachrul Razi, a former army general, to call for a ban on employees’ and visitors’ wearing niqabs in government buildings.

He fears that some government workers are being attracted to extremist thought and sees the niqab as a sign of radicalization. His regulation has yet to be adopted. A 2018 ban on niqabs at a university in Central Java lasted only a week before opposition compelled the university to rescind it.

But Sidney Jones, a leading expert on terrorism in Southeast Asia, said it was important to distinguish between radical Islamists who pose a threat and followers of conservative Islamic groups who promote a traditional Islamic lifestyle, such as the proselytizing Tablighi Jamaat sect.

Source: The ‘Niqab Squad’ Wants Women to Be Seen DifferentlyThe ‘Niqab Squad’ Wants Women to Be Seen DifferentlyA movement of Indonesian women promotes the niqab veil as a way to get closer to heaven and avoid sexual harassment. Others fear it reflects growing extremism.A movement of Indonesian women promotes the niqab veil as a way to get closer to heaven and avoid sexual harassment. Others fear it reflects growing extremism.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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