By Enik Maslahah *

I remember when my fellow members of Fatayat NU Yogyakarta participating in the interfaith prayer cultural event, in Kotagede, Yogyakarta (9/2013) were protested by a group of people. They reasoned that the non-Muslim group must not enter Kotagede area and that the event was considered to be the practice of religious syncretism. If the event continued, they said, there would be a bunch of people to disperse it.

For the sake of security, Gerakan Pemuda (Youth Movement) Ansor of Kotagede Yogyakarta and Sekber Keistimewaan (Joint Secretariat for the Special Region) as the organizers prepared 375 Banser (Multipurpose Ansor Front) members placed in front of the Mataram mosque to prevent attackers (100 people) from entering the venue. The police were also already on guard in the streets. The situation was tense, dreadful, and frightening. Women of various religions failed to perform dances, hymns, etc. on the cultural stage for fear of commotion, destruction, and violence. 

The above case seems peculiar, contrary to the slogan of Yogyakarta, the city of tolerance. In this city, there are many different ethnic groups and religions/beliefs found living side by side. The people are known to be very friendly, gentle, polite, and tolerant. However, in the last few years, terror, intimidation, acts of violence, assault, misguidance, and intolerance have been rampant in Yogyakarta.

Tolerance in Yogyakarta is slowly and surely starting to erode, due to identity politics that discriminate against women emerging in educational, economic, social, political and cultural institutions. Public schools require female students to put on a headscarf. Supermarkets accept employees only from the Muslim community and are obliged to wear a headscarf for women. The boarding house area says “only accept Muslim tenants”. The complex of Muslim housings arranges for female residents to wear a headscarf if they leave their house, even if they only throw trash in front of the house. In 2010, the MUI (The Council of Indonesian Ulama) Yogyakarta cast a discourse that Yogyakarta is the Medina foyer. 

Then the questions arise, what is the connection between this phenomenon and the fundamentalist movement in Islam, and how does it affect women’s lives? What alternatives can be offered to protect women?

The characteristics of Fundamentalism and the Elements of Violence

I refer to Moghissi’s idea about the characteristics of fundamentalism. First, anti-modernity, retrospective, and denying the idea of universal human progress. They are very persistent in maintaining the tradition, ancient Arab clothing is believed to be Islamic clothing. The control of women is deemed to be “Islamic identity”. Second, anti-democracy, developing an exclusive attitude, focused on Muslims, while non-Muslims are considered second-class citizens (ahl-dzimmi). Third, Antifeminism, which is disagreeing with movements or ideologies that develop equal gender relations. Feminism is considered not from the Islamic tradition and contrary to the Koran.

Obviously, the above case is an example of the behavior of the fundamentalist movement, which develops an intolerant, discriminatory, and exclusive attitude, self-righteousness, hatred, and violence.

Islamic fundamentalism views women as weak beings who have no power. The highest authority is in the hands of men. This view is based on misogynist hadiths and textual understanding of the Quranic verses. Consequently, it gives rise to the concept of qiwamah (leadership) and wilayah (guardianship) which was unfair for women such as polygamy, male are the leaders for women, absolute wife obedience, permission for husbands to beat wives, child marriage, forced sexual relations toward wives, restrictions on women’s activities, and so on.

The above is interpreted by fundamentalists as a form of “protection for women”. The meaning of “protection for women” is built on the basis of views that see women as mere objects that need to be protected. Therefore, the behavior and the body of women must always be monitored and restricted.

The Alternative: Protection for Women

There are several alternatives offered to dispel discrimination and violence against women promoted by fundamentalism in Indonesia. First, reinterpreting the religious texts that have been understood to discriminate against women, and bringing up the narratives and texts on equality and justice that have been neglected or hidden. Second, massive socialization of the results of the interpretation that have a fair perspective for women. Third, working with religious organizations to conduct critical education to achieve a collective critical awareness in order to provide protection for women. Fourth, encouraging the government to remain consistent with the state ideology and the constitution (Pancasila and The 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia) so that the spirit of nationalism is always maintained to avoid Islamization of the public policies, which violates constitutional rights and ultimately harms women. {} 

* A participant of Women’s Ulama Education (PUP) Rahima, Batch 4 in Yogyakarta.


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