Richard C. Paddock
rider’s eyes were visible from behind her black face veil. With a bow in her
left hand and an arrow in her right, she cantered her horse toward a target,
aimed quickly and let fly. The arrow struck home with a resounding pop.
Idhanur, who like many Indonesians uses one name, is a 31-year-old teacher at
an Islamic school in East Java who says that firing arrows from horseback while
wearing her conservative veil, or niqab, improves her chances of going to
is part of a growing, peaceful movement of Muslim women who believe they can
receive rewards from God through Islamic activities like wearing a niqab and
practicing sports that the Prophet Muhammad is thought to have enjoyed.
say it offers protection from prying eyes and harassment by men in a country
where unwanted sexual advances are common.
Idhanur, who teaches at Al Fatah Islamic Boarding School of Temboro, part of
the revivalist Tablighi Jamaat movement, has an answer for Indonesians who fear
that conservative Islamic dress is a troubling step toward extremism and the
marginalization of women.
though we are wearing a niqab like this, it doesn’t mean that we become weak
Muslim women,” Ms. Idhanur said after dismounting. “We can become strong Muslim
women by participating in archery and horseback riding.”
clerics, such as Indonesia’s vice president, Ma’ruf Amin, have gained a more
prominent role in public life. And local governments have enacted more than 600
measures imposing elements of Shariah, or Islamic law, including requiring
women to wear hijabs — a catchall for head scarves — to hide their hair.
minority of Muslims have embraced extremist views and some have carried out
deadly bombings, including the 2018 Surabaya church attack that killed a dozen
bystanders. One suicide bomber was a woman, prompting many Indonesians to be
wary of women who wear niqabs, a more conservative face veil where the only
opening is a slit for the eyes.
that the niqab is associated with terrorism prompted Indonesia’s religious
affairs minister, Fachrul Razi, a former army general, to call for a ban on
employees’ and visitors’ wearing niqabs in government buildings.
that some government workers are being attracted to extremist thought and sees
the niqab as a sign of radicalization. His regulation has yet to be adopted. A
2018 ban on niqabs at a university in Central Java lasted only a week before
opposition compelled the university to rescind it.
Jones, a leading expert on terrorism in Southeast Asia, said it was important to
distinguish between radical Islamists who pose a threat and followers of
conservative Islamic groups who promote a traditional Islamic lifestyle, such
as the proselytizing Tablighi Jamaat sect.
their dress, they are often confused with extremists,” said Ms. Jones, director
of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict. “But they are
against violence. It’s a great example of a movement where dress can be totally
the male-dominated Al Fatah school, where women and girls as young as 5 are
required to wear the niqab, thousands of mainly urban, middle-class women have
made that choice for themselves.
way is Indadari Mindrayanti, a clothing designer, who founded the Niqab Squad
four years ago to promote wearing the veil. It now has nearly 6,000 members
with chapters across Indonesia and in Malaysia and Taiwan.
want to go to heaven, and so we sacrifice,” Ms. Indadari explained at a Niqab
Squad equestrian and archery event near Jakarta. “Part of our sacrifice is not
showing our beauty and covering our body in an Islamic way.”
followers of a movement known as Hijrah, which embraces self-improvement
through adopting a traditional Islamic lifestyle.
peaceful, born-again movement, named Hijrah after the Prophet Muhammad’s
seventh-century exodus to the city of Medina, is propelled today by social
media, where popular actors, actresses and other celebrities post about joining
Quran study groups and becoming more religious in their daily lives.
Tablighi Jamaat, the squad aims to popularize the face veil but the groups are
Indadari designs a line of fashionable niqabs and other Islamic clothing for
women, often with distinctive white-polka-dot trim.
that when she encounters people who seem afraid of her, she counters their
fears by acting overly friendly.
my family was afraid,” she recalled. “They said, ‘People will think you are a
terrorist. They will think that you are joining a deviant sect.’ But as time
goes by, they understand. I explain that all the wives of the Prophet wore a
of Indonesia’s born-again Islamic movement is evident in the hot, dusty town of
Temboro, about 330 miles east of Jakarta.
Fatah school, with eight campuses and 25,000 students from first grade through
university, dominates the town.
let out, the streets are filled with thousands of young people in traditional
Islamic garb — men and boys in high-cuffed trousers or loosefitting robes and
women and girls in shapeless gowns, head scarves and niqabs.
often called Indonesia’s Medina, after the city in Saudi Arabia where Muhammad
is entombed. One school mosque is modeled after Medina’s famous green-domed
mosque. The town shuts down five times a day at prayer time.
implement Islam in our daily lives,” said Ainul Hadi, a doctor who moved to
Temboro in 1996 and has seen Islam’s influence grow. “People can feel the
atmosphere of Medina here.”
Fatah, the height of academic achievement is memorizing the Quran. The most
successful students become teachers and open schools themselves.
disdains contemporary dress and vaccines. But there are some concessions to
wear glasses over their niqabs and sneakers on their feet. Cellphones abound
and motorbikes are popular with both women and men.
Aisyah Tajuddin, 25, wearing a niqab is not enough. She also wears black gloves
and a black mesh over her eyes, so that every inch is covered.
that being exposed to men in public could lead to unwanted male attention and
that having even her eyes visible made her uncomfortable.
more freedom in this,” she said.
She is not
alone. Many young women at Al Fatah wear the mesh and it doesn’t prevent them
from hopping on their motorbikes and driving around.
Fatah’s elementary school for girls, students begin wearing the niqab at 5.
recent day, the school’s 660 students, all wearing niqabs, formed circles on
the playground and joined half-heartedly in singing “If You’re Happy And You
Know It” in Arabic as the song blasted over loudspeakers at ear-splitting
in class, they turned to the serious work of studying Muhammad’s life in Arabic
and memorizing the Quran.
Idhanur, the rider and archer, first came to Al Fatah when she was 13 and began
wearing a niqab then. She hasn’t stopped since.
started here, it was really rare to see women and girls wearing a niqab,” she
said. “But now there are many of us.”
Headline: The ‘Niqab Squad’ Wants Women To Be Seen Differently
Source: The New York Times