Viewpoint: Blasphemous
bras, heretical heels,
yoga and me

Yesterday morning I woke up early as usual and got ready for my early morning meditational yoga. It's something I've been doing since 1981, clearing my mind and reinvigorating myself for the day ahead. It's like getting your cell phone recharged, as simple as that.

But then I remembered reading that the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) is thinking of issuing a fatwa declaring yoga haram (forbidden), inspired by the Malaysian National Fatwa Council which has declared yoga haram because it "goes against the teachings of Islam". Well, Malaysia is our sister country and they've done us the honor of imitating so many Indonesian things -- batik, songs, language, even food! It's understandable we should reciprocate.

Being from a West Javanese Muslim family, I naturally felt I should heed our revered clerics who, after all, have studied the holy scriptures closely. In the past I would have turned to my near-fanatical grandmother for religious advice, but since she has long departed, God rest her soul, the MUI mullahs would have to do.

So, okay, I thought, I'd best skip my meditation. I donned shorts, T-shirt and sneakers and stepped out of the house for my morning walk instead. Then I remembered I was wearing a bra. Another fatwa, yikes!

I usually wear a BH --booby holder as Indonesians call it -- during my walks because I don't want to scandalize the neighborhood: it's cold in the morning, and without a bra, my T-shirt makes it clear that my highbeams are on. And what's more, my house is only a few hundred meters from Jakarta's border with the district of Tangerang, whose bylaws have imposed criminal sanctions on women who do not cover up the aurat, those parts of our bodies that need to be covered to prevent men from getting horny (I mean, it makes sense that it's our fault, right?).

OK, fine, so what's the problem with me modestly donning my sports bra? Answer: Now there's also a fatwa against bras! Bras? Why on earth would bras be considered blasphemous? Well, the reasoning of our revered clerics is that bras fool men into thinking that a woman's breasts are bigger than they really are, so it's a kind of fraud. I stood in my driveway, frozen by indecision. Bra on or off?

I couldn't help thinking that these bra-fatwa-issuing clerics obviously haven't had much to do with boobies. Just like birds and bananas, there are a myriad of varieties of female mammary glands and their oh-so-controversial cleavages. Bras therefore come in all sizes; some enlarge, others reduce. And for size D and K women, their bra is a necessary form of support to prevent backache -- bra company Bravissimo (http://www.bravissimo.com/about/default.aspx) has certainly cupitalized on that notion.

And what about male bras for men who suffer from gynecomastia? (Big word for big breasts: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male_bra.) Or the sagging breasts of older women? I heard the story of a woman who, married 50 years, suggested to her husband they reenact their first breakfast as a married couple. Stripped to the buff, they sat down at the table. "You know, honey," she said breathlessly, "my boobs are as hot for you today as they were 50 years ago!" "I'm not surprised," he replied, "one's in your coffee and the other's in your oatmeal!"

Now, would the mullahs have the heart to slap a bra ban on this hot-nipple grandma?

But back to my exercise dilemma. Bra on or off? How about off in Jakarta and on in Tangerang? In frustration, I rushed back inside before the lingerie police nabbed me, and told my helper Yayah about the bra ban.

"Yayah," I said, "the kyai (preachers) say it's haram to wear bras, so from now on, I want you to make sure you keep yours off." Yayah is a middle-aged, generously proportioned woman, and I shuddered at the thought of her mopping the floor braless (although maybe she might get the job done faster now with her two helpers?).

Normally pleasant and mild-mannered, Yayah scowled and shook her head vigorously. Lips quivering, she clutched her breasts tightly. "This time I'm not going to follow your orders,bu", she said, and ran to her room and shut the door. Oh dear, now I'd upset my dear faithful Yayah!

Seeing it was nearly time for me to leave for a meeting in town and my driver had the day off, I showered, dressed, and pulled on a pair of heels before grabbing the car keys and heading for the door again. Then I remembered two more new fatwas, one banning women from wearing high heels -- they are deceitful like the bra trick -- and the other banning woman from driving.

Oh no! What's a good Muslim girl to do? I SMS-ed the person I was meeting and canceled, pleading sick. Then I hung up the car keys, kicked off my high heels and walked barefoot and braless to Yayah's room.

With a soft tap on her door, I asked, "Yayah, can I join you?" At least we could commiserate together in our collective confusion, I thought.

The growing conservatism among hardline Muslims in Malaysia, Indonesia and other parts of the world suggests some Muslim leaders want to halt modernity, even turn it back. And if they can't make the world get in line with their regressive fantasies, then they want to destroy it. They share this with their more extreme terrorist brothers (and a few suicidal sisters), as we have seen again and again in recent years, most recently in Mumbai.

It starts with a few ridiculous fatwas. Do we want it to end in more mindless, tragic massacres? Surely it is past time for all Indonesians who believe Islam can be a religion of the modern world to start saying no to this nonsense while it is still a laughing matter.

Bra-very is what we need, to fight destructive and divisive fanaticism and fundamentalism!

The writer is the author of Sex, Power and Nation.

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