The religious habit at school Controversy and Indonesian philosophical vacuum

The popularity of a recent image deploring the wearing of conservative clothing, especially the headscarf, by girls in Indonesian public schools has shed light on philosophical tensions in society and politics, with no easy answers.

This year in particular, there has been controversy over the compulsory wearing of Muslim dress, including the jilbab (headgear or scarf), by girls in Indonesian public schools. This was reflected in social or entertainment media, but also provoked government backlash and mainstream media debate. The evolution of this controversy has laid bare the nature of the ideological balances of Indonesian society. These imbalances also underpin national policies.

The latest wave of this controversy escalated when a photograph from a lifestyle magazine went viral expressing the desire of mothers with daughters in public schools that their daughters not be forced to wear the jilbab. This image was of Indonesian girls at school in the 1980s without head coverings and wearing short-sleeved rather than long-sleeved skirts and tops.

The proliferation of Indonesian public schools where girls are required to wear religious (or conservative) clothing covering the head, neck and chest, with long skirts and long-sleeved tops in accordance with conservative Muslim dress codes, in some cases even if the individuals are not Muslims, certainly indicates that major changes have taken place.

It is not only this photo that has aggravated the controversy. Parents have also complained to members of local parliaments that their daughters’ teachers have pressured them to wear a jilbab. This happened in Jakarta and elsewhere like Bantul and Yogjakarta. In most cases, it is unclear if there is a formal requirement for girls to wear religious clothing or if there is repeated informal public pressure or humiliation from school authorities and teachers , for example by interviewing girls not wearing religious clothing in front of their classmates. .

Since Indonesia’s decentralization following the Habibie administration in the late 1990s and early 2000s, school regulation is now a local responsibility of Indonesia’s 514 local districts (kabupaten) and municipalities. In some cases, school uniforms sold by schools included religious clothing and head coverings. This can be seen as another form of pressure from local authorities.

The central government, through repeated statements, has emphasized that the official policy is that there is no obligation for girls to wear the jilbab. This is in line with Ministerial Regulation No. 45 of 2014 on school uniforms, which states that women’s Muslim religious attire may be worn “due to personal (individual) beliefs”. This regulation is widely interpreted, as summarized below by the local authorities of Madiun, East Java, to mean:

Essentially, schools should not issue regulations or encourage students to use certain religion-specific clothing designs as school uniforms. Schools should also not ban (the) if participants wear school uniforms with some religious specificity [item of] clothing according to the wishes of the parents, guardians and students concerned.

In February 2021, three ministers – the Minister of Education and Culture, the Minister of Interior and the Minister of Religion – issued an official letter from three ministers stating that local governments or schools should not requiring or prohibiting students from wearing religious uniforms. Essentially, it left the choice up to each student. However, Education Minister Nadiem Makarim said it would be difficult to enforce such practices. On October 13, a new ministerial regulation was published, essentially reaffirming that schools risked punishment if they forced girls to wear religious clothing if it was not their wish (or that of their parents).

There is among some members of society, represented perhaps by what is called “civil society” and within liberal Islamic circles, a feeling for a more progressive social situation, but no developed global worldview that presents itself as an alternative to socially conservative religious worldviews.

Minister Makarim perhaps sees difficulties due to the decentralization of school regulations across Indonesia and the relative strengths and weaknesses of different ideological responses to the jilbab question. The clearest answer came, of course, from religious organizations. The large Islamic organization Muhammadiyah claims that Muslim girls are obliged to cover their aura (parts of the female body that must be covered). For Muhammadiyah, such clothing is religiously obligatory and should be encouraged but not imposed on people.

Figures from the Ulama Council of Indonesia (MUI) expressed similar sentiments. Such statements encourage teachers and schools to put pressure on girls. An additional source of pressure is the link between the teaching of “character” in schools and religion. All this is apparently formally separated, but there is a close connection between the two issues during the process of training higher education teachers in Indonesian universities. There is certainly a strong emphasis on such a link in the guidelines of the Ministry of Religion. Some regional MUI branches have, while agreeing that non-Muslims should not be forced to wear Muslim clothing, have felt that Muslim girls should.

However, Nahdatul Ulama (NU) voices have been more liberal, with some NU members even saying that not only non-Muslims should wear poor Muslim dress, but it is not compulsory for Muslim girls or women. to do.

To understand the dynamics of this ideological controversy, we must go back to this photograph. Mothers of teenage girls today use their childhood photographs alongside expressions of hope that their children can enjoy the same freedoms they had in the 1980s – during the New Order. These are the same mothers who complain to teachers about the pressure exerted on their daughters. Such a complaint also came from a mother who herself wears a jilbab but respects her daughter’s wish not to.

It is impossible to say how widespread these sentiments are, but this tendency is not accompanied by any secular or religiously liberal philosophical vision. Ironically, although the New Order government generously funded religious organizations, its social practice – if one can use that term – was distinctly secular. From Ali Murtopo’s “25 years of accelerated modernization” forged in 1973, to strongly defended family planning and the relaxation of regulations on girls’ school uniforms: all this is part of a secular framework. However, the New Order’s dogmatic adherence to an interpretation of official state ideologyPanza Sila (the five principles), which emphasized conformity and obedience, in turn blocked any major development of liberal, secular or religious thought.

In Indonesia today, the desire to return to a more socially free atmosphere translates into the tension between mere sentiment and deeply held religious ideologies. This is also the situation in national politics. There is among some members of society, represented perhaps by what is called “civil society” and within liberal Islamic circles, a feeling for a more progressive social situation, but no developed global worldview that presents itself as a viable alternative to socially conservative religious worldviews.

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