Hours after the stabbing of Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto by a suspected homegrown terrorist, in Pandeglang, Banten on Oct. 10, I posted on my Facebook account, like many others, “wishing Pak Wiranto prompt recovery, and may his family be given strength to get through the incident.” Many others did the same.
I attached a picture of Wiranto’s family during a funeral of his grandson in November 2018 which went viral on social media for its exposure of his daughter, Lia Wiranto, who wore a niqab (full-face veil) and her husband, who sat next to her, wearing a white turban. At that time the image led to speculations that some members of Wiranto’s family had joined a radical group.
Thus even while in mourning the chief security minister, who has to deal with radicalism and terrorism himself, wrote a public letter to defend his family, saying he had instilled nationalism in his family and had encouraged them to learn about religion, both to equip themselves in the afterlife and for the benefit of others.
Only a couple of minutes after I posted my hopes for Wiranto’s recovery, a Facebook friend shared my post, saying that the picture made him wonder, “why did the one who stabbed [Wiranto] have a picture [with him] together one year ago?”
I was disgusted and responded immediately: “No. He was not the one who stabbed [Wiranto]”, to rectify the information so that it would not lead to further misunderstanding, especially for those reading it.
Now it was my turn to wonder why my friend could assume such a thing, even though the answer was obvious -- because both Wiranto’s son-in-law and the attacker were wearing “Muslim” attire. I do not blame my friend for making such comment as today such clothes – the niqab, turban and above ankle trousers for men -- are often associated with terrorists.
There have been a number of incidents of discrimination against women wearing niqab. At least six female celebrities, as listed by the Tribunnews on May 18, 2018, have been bullied or even lost their jobs as the price for wearing niqab, including the actress Peggy Melati Sukma and Nuri Maulida.
Some other countries have gone the extra mile to outlaw the wearing of niqab citing security concerns, such as France which imposed a total public ban since 2011. This year the Netherlands partial ban on niqab became effective in schools, hospitals and on public transport, despite critics saying it amounts to state-sponsored religious discrimination and limits on freedom of expression.
In March 2018, the Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University (UIN) of Yogyakarta was in the spotlight after the rectorate wanted to hold a coaching program for female students wearing niqab, which was mistakenly understood as a ban on wearing niqab on campus. Yet following public pressure especially from the conservative religious mass organizations, the plan was later halted with the university saying it wanted to protect "conducive academic space."
Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Syaifudin in May 2018 urged the public to respect women wearing a niqab as part of their religious belief. In Islam, the schools of thought within Islamic jurisprudence or mazhab vary on the subject of full-faced veils.
The country's largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) notes that even the Syafi’i school, adopted by most NU members, is divided on stating that the niqab is either obligatory, sunnah (subject to reward but not punished if ignored) or even that Muslim women should not wear it. The Maliki school considers the full veil makruh (disliked or offensive) while the Hanafi school believes that young Muslim women are forbidden to show their face to men. Therefore, within the NU itself, there are different perspectives on niqab, so the Muslim individual should decide which teaching to follow.
Further, women wearing niqab and men with beards, turbans, and above ankle-length trousers raise concerns whether they have been radicalized. There is indeed a presumption that those who follow the hijrah (repentance) movement, which usually starts with changing the way the followers dress into more “Islamic” way, have a bigger chance to be infiltrated by radical ideologies. There might be a few cases, but there are no grounds for generalization.
In March 2018, a video circulated of a woman wearing a niqab with her many dogs. Suhesti, the resident of South Tangerang, Banten, said she has 11 dogs -- while many Indonesian Muslims don’t even dare to pet dogs, as their saliva is considered impure. The video confused many -- is Suhesti radicalized? The assumption here is that a “real Muslim” wouldn’t go near dogs let alone an extremist.
As a graduate from an Islamic university, I have friends who wear a niqab, apparently following the currently trendy hijrah movement to be “more Islamic”. Yet, we still mingle together and sometimes hang out at cafes. One said: “I don’t care what people say, the clothing only covers my body as instructed by the Quran. It has clearly nothing to do with being radical.”
This illustrates that people may be too focused on something – clothing – and stretching it too far to supposedly extremist views of the person wearing it. I’m a Muslim but I wouldn’t sport a beard or adopt such a style. However, I know a few people who dress like that in the belief it helps them to be better Muslims, while as Wiranto said, they still share a sense of nationalism.
From a fashion perspective, I’m reminded of a quote from one of my favorite movies, The Devil Wears Prada. Doug, a friend of the main character Andrea Sachs said: “Fashion is not only about utility. An accessory is merely a piece of iconography used to express individual identity.”
So, if some Muslims want to dress up in a certain way according to their belief, why is it so hard for us to understand that such attire has actually nothing to do with extremism?
Information Service Supervisor at Jakarta-based security consulting firm Pegasus BRMS, and volunteer in projects on counter extremist narratives under the Center for Study of Religion and Culture, Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN), Jakarta.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.