Clothing police in Muslim Indonesia: for women, no jeans or short skirts

Indonesia is a country with 200 million Muslims, some of them relatively moderate in their religious practices, some conservative. And in a district within Aceh province, some are really, really  conservative, instituting aspects of Shariah law (such as stoning for adultery).

The latest law to be passed for the pleasure of Allah is no blue jeans or short skirts for women. Allah, it is believed by some, does not like these things. Here’s the result of the new law, according to AP:

During raids Thursday, Islamic police caught 18 women traveling on motorbikes who were wearing traditional headscarves but were also dressed in jeans. Each woman was given a long skirt and her pants were confiscated. They were released from police custody after giving their identities and receiving advice from Islamic preachers.

“I am not wearing sexy outfits, but they caught me like a terrorist only because of my jeans,” said Imma, a 40-year-old housewife who uses only one name. She argued that wearing jeans is more comfortable when she travels by motorbike.

Motorbikes are commonly used by both men and women in Indonesia.

“The rule applies only to Muslim residents in West Aceh,” Mansur told The Associated Press. “We don’t enforce it for non-Muslims, but are asking them to respect us.”

He said any shopkeepers caught violating restrictions on selling short skirts and jeans would face a revocation of their business licenses.

Polling shows that the majority of Indonesians oppose such clothing restrictions, but, as in the United States, you have religious right-wing activists who manage to win elections, and then use their democratically achieved power to get such freedom-restricting laws passed.

Why is it, if conservative and fundamentalist forms of Islam are intellectually compelling, that they have to use force to win compliance with them? Obviously, such “victories” for conservative and fundamentalist Islam are not signs of strength, but of reactive weakness in the advance of modernity.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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