Jakarta – A suggestion proposed by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's minister to ban the niqab in government offices has triggered mixed responses among officials and politicians amid the country's apparent fight against radicalism.
While some supported the plan to ban the niqab in government compounds, others disapproved of it and demanding that the government not intervene in the dress decisions of Muslim women.
The idea of the ban was first put on the table by Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi, who said Wednesday that his office was studying the plan and might recommend a regulation on the ban, CNNIndonesia.com reported, though he has since backtracked on his statement.
"There might be further measures, but we are not banning the niqab, but we are banning it from government offices for security reasons, especially after what happened to Pak Wiranto," Fachrul said as reported by CNNIndonesia.com, referring to a recent attack against former coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister Wiranto.
Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, a House of Representatives member from the National Awakening Party (PKB), said in response to the plan that the government must refrain from telling people how to dress.
"It's better for the government to take care of more substantial things. There are also many people who use the niqab and they have moderate views, not radical," Yaqut said on Thursday.
Yandri Susanto, a lawmaker from the National Mandate Party (PAN), criticized Fachrul's statement, which he dubbed a faulty generalization, saying that it would be better for the minister to focus on handling existing problems
"So far there is no exact correlation between attire and radicalism; there is no study and no conclusion yet. Even people who use trousers like millennials can carry out shootings, such as what happened in New Zealand," Yandri said, referring to the Christchurch mosque shootings in March.
The use of the niqab among Muslim women in the Muslim-majority country has stirred debate in society, particularly since wearing a full-face veil has never been considered mainstream Islamic practice in Indonesia.
Debate over whether Muslim women are required to cover their faces has left Muslim scholars divided. While the majority of them believe doing so is unnecessary, rights activists have asserted that wearing the niqab is a part of religious freedom and should therefore be protected.
Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister Tjahjo Kumolo, however, said that banning the use of the niqab in government offices was fine so long as all employees abided by the regulations applied at their respective offices.
"Each institutional head has regulations. At my office, for instance, my employees should follow the regulations, such as wearing white shirts on Monday and Tuesday, wearing batik on Thursday," he said.
When asked whether the niqab constituted a part of religion freedom, Tjahjo said, "They are allowed to wear [niqab], but in their own houses. If they are employees, [they] must [abide] by the rules."
Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy concurred with Tjahjo, with tempo.co quoting him as saying that the use of the niqab could be better regulated as it was disruptive to tasks related to public services.
However, when asked for confirmation on Thursday afternoon, Fachrul denied having ever said that his office was studying the plan.
"If someone wants to issue the regulation to ban [niqab] for security concerns, go ahead, but the Religious Affairs Ministry will not issue a ban," he said. (afr)