Niqab ban debate shows Jokowi’s tough stance on Islamic hard-liners

 Indonesian president risks alienating nonviolent groups, experts warn

ERWIDA MAULIA, Nikkei staff writer
December 16, 2019

The niqab is not common in Indonesia, but is worn by women who belong to the country’s more conservative Muslim groups. © Reuters

JAKARTA — Just a week after he was named Indonesia’s new religious affairs minister, retired army general Fachrul Razi sparked a controversy by suggesting a ban on the niqab — a face veil for women — and men’s cropped pants in government offices.

The garments are typically worn by members of deeply conservative Muslim groups. They are common in the Middle East but not in Indonesia — which, despite being the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, is a secular democracy.

In recent years, however, conservative garb has become a more frequent sight in public places. This coincides with growing concerns over Islamist groups holding more sway in the Southeast Asian country’s political sphere, as well as rising cases of intolerance, such as the forced disbandment of minority religious congregations by local residents in some regions.

There has also been talk of hard-line conservative groups infiltrating government offices and state-owned enterprises. A 2017 survey found that nearly half of 100 mosques within the compounds of government offices and SOEs in Jakarta spread intolerant views, while at least 17 showed signs of “high radicalism.”

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has tasked Razi with navigating this political minefield. And the new minister has charged right in.

In one public speech, Razi linked conservative attire with a campaign to establish an Islamic caliphate — a taboo idea in the past, but one that now has more outspoken proponents.
“There are rules for civil servants,” Razi said in Jakarta on Oct. 31, in the tone of a military commander. “If you’re in the army and wear cropped pants, [that means] you don’t follow the rules. You should quit!”

He continued: “Those who support the caliphate means supporting a nation within the nation of Indonesia. But [civil servants] are paid by the state of Indonesia. Can you respect Indonesia? If you can’t, quit the military. Quit being civil servants. Quit the SOEs!”

Critics were quick to slam him for inaccurately linking conservatism with radicalism.

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Categories: Asia, Indonesia, Islam

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