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Photo by Emily Shahrzad Rahravan, Indonesia Semester.

Hijabs in Indonesia

I like to describe myself as an ardent feminist. I would also like to describe myself as someone who has deep respect for others’ personal beliefs and societal customs. Modesty in Islam is something that crosses these two (at times conflicting) beliefs systems. I suppose in my mind, while I can completely understand a custom (whether in dress, dietary restriction etc) that is equally applied to both genders, I tend to struggle when a rule is imposed on only one. This becomes especially prevalent when religious customs become not a choice, but a rule imposed on a people by their government. Perhaps it is because as a historian (and feminist), I have come to understand the struggle that women across the world, from every faith, country, and creed, have endured for centuries, and how hard women have had to work to get on equal ground with men over the last few decades. But the article about head scarves made me take a step back and scratch my head a bit. In it, the author describes the fact that Indonesian women did not historically use the hijab (something I was not aware of) and the recent rise in popularity cannot be determined by religion alone. In fact, most seemed to argue that it has more to do with fashion than religion. My confusion stems from the fact that this movement does not seem to be religiously motivated, and yet it has become politicized as such in the most recent election. Painting some as ‘more devout muslims,’ and therefore more suitable political candidates, simply because their wives choose to wear the hijab, seems concerning. Especially when in conjunction with the article on ‘Jilboobs,’ where people are shaming women for having their natural curves be visible and are therefore branded ‘immodest.’ As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am far from an expert on Islam, but as the author of the second article states, there is scripture that describes modesty for women, but there are also passages which put responsibility on men to control their gazes.


On this trip, I hope to try to understand the motive behind the rise in the head scarf for women throughout the nation. Perhaps in Jakarta it is for fashion, whereas in a different area it is for religion. I think that understanding why some women are choosing to wear the hijab would help me understand the potential danger or harmlessness of Islam entering the political sphere, and ultimately help me understand the essential question of the article; the role of Islam in politics.