Head Scarf Emerges As Indonesia Political Symbol

July 2, 2009

Author: Norimitsu Onishi

Source: The New York Times


The three parties competing in Indonesia’s presidential election next week have plastered this city with campaign billboards and posters depicting, predictably, their presidential and vice presidential choices looking self-confident.

But one party, Golkar, has also put up posters of the candidates’ wives next to their husbands, posing demurely and wearing Muslim head scarves known here as jilbabs. The wives recently went on a jilbab shopping spree in one of Jakarta’s largest markets, and published a book together titled “Devout Wives of Future Leaders.”

Most polls suggest that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of the Democratic Party will be re-elected in next Wednesday’s vote, after running a smooth campaign based on his economic policies and a popular anticorruption drive. Despite television debates, the personality-driven campaigns have focused little on differences over policies or ideas, except regarding the wearing of the jilbab.

It is perhaps not surprising that the jilbab, the Islamic style of dress in which a woman covers her head and neck, has become an issue in a presidential campaign this year. Jilbab sales have been booming for three years across a country where women have traditionally gone unveiled, and where the meaning of wearing the jilbab — or not wearing one — remains fluid. The issue also cuts to a central, unresolved debate in Indonesia’s decade-old democracy: the role of Islam in politics.