Contesting Interpretations

«Необязательно видеть весь путь.
Просто поверьте и сделайте первый шаг». Мартин Лютер Кинг

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Virtually all of the young women I interviewed—veiled or not—are keenly aware of the moral ambiguities of modern urban life. Nonetheless, there is a category of Javanese women who consistently indicate that they view the act of veiling in noticeably less self-conscious terms. In particular, women in my sample from the National Islamic University, most of whom are graduates of Islamic boarding schools (pesantren), often have a surprisingly different attitude toward veiling than young women who come from less religious or secular backgrounds. A higher proportion of UIN students are from traditionalist Muslim families with ties to Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, the thirty-five million strong Nahdlatul Ulama (Feillard 1995). Raised in deeply pious (santri) Muslim families, women from these families are far more likely than their counterparts at the nondenominational Gadjah Mada University to have undergone rigorous religious socialization in their early years. Rather than being associated with a conversion-like experience in young adulthood, wearing the veil (typically the less enveloping version, the kerudung) for these women was a normalized feature of early childhood. In contrast to their veiled counterparts from secular school backgrounds, most of these women report that they never had to make an anxiously self-aware decision to veil. Equally important, their commitment to veiling is colored by fewer political overtones than is the case for, so to speak, born-again women raised in nominally Islamic (abangan) families. The latter tend to see veiling as part of a religious transformation, resulting from a lengthy process of deliberation and turmoil, sometimes political, sometimes personal, and often both. In contrast, for Muslim women from traditionalist backgrounds, veiling is an important but largely taken-for-granted element of their religious upbringing and community. A small but vocal minority among the students in this group not only question the motivations of many who have recently chosen to veil, but have also begun to question the meaning and necessity of veiling itself. In public meetings and student publications, these neo-traditionalist activists have begun asking whether the stricter forms of veiling promoted by militant student groups represent an effort to impose “Arab culture” on Indonesian women who already have their own more authentic tradition of veiling and modesty. A few even question whether it is necessary for Muslim women to veil at all. In this regard, it is interesting that the most assertively feminist of young Muslim women in Yogyakarta consistently come not from the campus of the secular Gadjah Mada University, but from the National Islamic University, where the great majority of students are from staunchly Muslim backgrounds.

 

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