New Indonesian Style

by Ayşe Eroğlu


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Editor’s Note:
The author wishes to inform us that her text, while composed and slightly adjusted to our prose style, is based on a conversation with a sister resembling Ummu Maryam and makes use of other accounts of real-life experiences.

Ummu, you have told me last time that it is less important for you to discuss what we are wearing as muslimah, that it’s a topic of little importance compared to those which have most to do with Allah. But you left for salah and did not log in again while I was around, so I have to send you this long message. You will understand better if you read it entirely.

Islam involves our entire life and way of being, the things we do. And, as you should have been aware, many consider that what a muslimah wears is an important decision. It is to please Allah and it is to represent that we are muslimah, we know who we are. This niqab is not just a piece of cloth, it means what we are, Subhan'Allah.

Now you understand why it is so important for me and other sisters to draw attention to the importance of proper hijab, of wearing the niqab. We were both born in countries with little respect for our traditions, we are different only in how far our need for modesty goes... or how far our husbands go to preserve our modesty!

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We (my husband and I) can hardly tell you how grateful we are to Allah for having the opportunity to discuss with other sisters from around the world and see how each of them – often in conditions different from ours – observes modesty. Many sisters do not think much about the ways of modesty that are current in their regions, they take for granted what is accepted – and that is why I understand your reaction when I mentioned that burqa is the ideal wear for us. It is our conclusion after reading about the history of veils throughout Islam (in which the burqa was anticipated by the Persian ru-band and chador outfit) and after talking to various sisters who are not from Afghanistan or Pakistan, but have adopted the burqa, Masha’Allah!

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In Malaysia and Indonesia, as you may have seen, there are many sisters who wear the half niqab in bright, varied colors. But it seems that, under the influence of Saudi style, black and dark colors are becoming popular among the sisters of the last few generations. Masha’Allah – I also consider black to be the best solution, but not many sisters realize that black is not the only encouraged color and that, for many centuries, it simply was the easiest to use in those harsh conditions.

Alhamdulillah I had the chance to have on-line conversations with some of these modest young sisters, some younger than me! And here comes the part you may find strange, ukhti – some (surprisingly many!) of them have in common a cloth which covers every inch of their skin, a cloth which conceals their face to the world, but through which they can still see (without being seen), a strange cloth with the equally strange name “zentai”!...

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Who are these sisters who literally look like pearls of Islam? I have tried to research as much as I can this topic, ukhti, although it is very hard to ask in these matters sisters I don’t know very well. Turns out most of them had their husbands working in Japan (the land of everything that is strange, huhuhu) or Singapore (with an apparently very active zentai community), where some still live. It was their husbands’ decision to wear the zentai, they say.

That is how we found out about this enveloping suit of Japanese origin – used for so many clearly not Islamic, even devilish purposes - that, in the hands of some muslimah, turned out to be an unlikely instrument in attaining modesty! As we have been quietly trying for many years to find more ways in which I could observe modesty – with the help of sisters such as yourself, Alhamdulillah –, zentai turned out to be a solution for me too, as I find it a lot more practical and safe than what I used to wear over my awrah.

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The gloves so many sisters like us wear are tight – and so are the stockings that are so common today, even combined with proper loose pants. They should be opaque, although just one layer often reveals a trace of skin in the daylight. But even I was just as amazed as you probably are (reading this now) – sisters wearing tight full-body suits under their garments! Despite the appearance, they managed to get used to it relatively soon, in spite of the heat. (Maybe it wouldn’t be suitable in all environments.)

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A problem I know all too well is when niqab detaches itself (I use knot, not velcro) or gloves not staying on properly, not long enough… Very practical then to wear a one-piece cloth that solves these problems. A kind of “second skin” – which is why some prefer to stay in it for as long as possible and only pull up the niqab and drop the outer gloves for salah. There are disagreements in this matter: while zentai is part of the purdah, it doesn’t seem recommendable for shalat. Yet awrah is to be protected during the shalat as well, if all the parts of the body are considered awrah. If observing purdah, zentai may be acceptable.

My husband says that he always found it logical for a niqabi to cover her eyes, as she also covers her hands and feet. Masha’Allah – purdah is tradition and being “faceless” like this (in the sense that gloves don’t reveal the identity of the hands) is a form of following it. I have tried in other ways to achieve this kind of modesty, among them being the facescarf (maybe a bit more convenient for other sisters). We have chosen now the zentai, thanks to these Indo, Malay, Singaporean sisters…This is what I wanted to tell you and you may not reveal publicly, ukhti, as this kind of wear is considered by some too “strict”. There are so many definitions of “modesty”…

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Masha’Allah – it is in these photos (some of which I’ve sent you attached here) that I’ve come to understand better what it means to be “pearl of Islam”! Ukhti, this is just a proposal – wearing such an attire for Allah is mustahabb, of course. As you have told me of your intention to observe purdah, I hope this proved helpful to you and your husband. Allahu akbar!

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