Musings on Indonesia
With the successful Sisterhood event still fresh in her mind, Dina Toki-o shares her observations on fashion, gender roles and culture in Indonesia.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, as part of Dian Pelangi’s Sisterhood event. It was my first time visiting Southeast Asia, so I was a tad bit nervous.
I’d expected Jakarta to be similar to Cairo: plenty of people from all walks of life, traffic, hot weather, dirty streets, beggars and loud people! To my delight, the only similarities Jakarta had to Cairo were the time-consuming traffic jams and the number of street beggars. Having said that, there is a huge difference in their begging techniques. In Cairo you’re more likely to be attacked. In Jakarta you get a little song played for you in exchange for some money or food!
The streets of Jakarta are filled with billboards and huge advertisements on buildings. I saw hijabi models everywhere – hijab this, hijab that – in complete support of the headscarf. They love it over there! In Cairo, everyone tries too hard to be Western; the billboards are filled with typical American-looking blonde poster girls. The wealthier a person is in Egypt, the more he or she tends to dislike the hijab. The hijab is even banned in some establishments in Cairo. At other places you may be allowed inside only if you’re wearing what they call the Spanish-style hijab, which is slightly more revealing and ‘sexier’ than your usual styles.
Indonesians seem to be a lot calmer in general, no matter their situation or background. I don’t think I can recall witnessing even one argument between anyone, anywhere! Nor do I recall hearing anyone shout. In fact, the only remotely loud sound I heard was the squealing of the excited and cheerful audience at the two-day event!
During the first three days of my stay I met countless girls from all around Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and a handful from Australia! The hotel was filled with a sea of some of the most elegant and beautiful girls I have ever come across, the majority of whom were in full hijab. By ‘full hijab’ I mean covered from head to toe, with not one inch of neck, forearm, or a strand of lost hair flying out. Nothing. The girls are so careful to keep each and every part covered and pinned all over to ensure nothing moves out of place. Yet they do it in the most elaborate, eye-catching patterns and styles I’ve ever seen. To me, this was amazing. It seems that in Indonesia the women and girls don’t let the hijab stop them from doing anything – other than the obvious boundaries, of course, which I’m sure you can figure out yourselves!
Husbands took snapshots of their wives’ ‘outfit of the day’ for their blogs, and then took care of the kids while their wives enjoyed the Sisterhood events. This is how men should be: supportive of their wives
I was amidst actresses, singers, models, TV presenters, hosts, countless boutique owners and fellow designers, all adorned with the hijab. I’ve never experienced such support of wearing the hijab and hijab fashion, anywhere. As you can imagine, my mind was buzzing with ideas and filled with inspiration during my stay! What’s more, it seems that the majority of the girls there were married, and brought their husbands along to accompany them to the event. Bear in mind, this event was for girls only. The husbands travelled all that way to support their wives in their interest of hijabi fashion and style, with some travelling from very far away. I found this amazing and so supportive. The corridors were filled with couples. Husbands took snapshots of their wives’ ‘outfit of the day’ for their blogs, and then took care of the kids while their wives enjoyed the Sisterhood events.
I know I shouldn’t be surprised. This is how men should be: supportive of their wives (and vice versa). But as a hijabi from the UK, I can’t say there are many Muslim men here who would be supportive of their hijabi wives taking part in fashion, singing, acting or presenting. They may be supportive of their wives being a doctor, teacher or pharmacist – yes, there are plenty of men who’d love for their wives to have such a profession. But presenting or designing? Not so much. It’s a completely different culture here. From what I’ve experienced, whether Arab or Asian, it would be very hard to find a husband who’d be happy about his wife performing on stage, her performance being aired on national television, or his wife to model or host a show.
I think when it comes down to it, Muslims in the UK have their priorities set differently to those in Southeast Asia. What I found in Indonesia is that no one judges the other. They don’t have hang-ups about Islam; they enjoy each aspect of it. The girls don’t bitch about each other, and everyone embraces you with a smile, even if they don’t know you. If there is any Islamic advice given to one another, it’s done with the most genuine care and in the friendliest way – nowhere near as patronising as I’ve experienced in Cairo or the UK. Here in London, if you happen to look good that day, no doubt you’ll pass a fellow hijabi who’ll look you up and down and sneer out of jealousy or disgust because your style of hijab is ‘haram’. It’s as though it’s their way or no way at all. Of course there are nice hijabis here too; I’m talking about general attitudes. In Indonesia people are open to ideas and welcome them, and it shows in the diversity of styles you’ll see there.
I myself have experienced a huge amount of hatred and nasty comments aimed at me and what I do, because it’s so ‘haram’ and I’m ‘ruining the youth’. One of my videos can result in a huge debate amongst YouTube and Facebook ‘sheikhs’. My little week-long trip to Indonesia, however, resulted in not even one negative comment, alhamdulillah. All in all, I’d say I’m living on the wrong side of the world!
Jakarta Hijabi Communities Unite for Hijab Donation Event in Global Snapshots
From Sketches to the Streets: Indah Nada in Aquila's Picks
Junior Jaunts in Travel
‘Honour’ Killings in Global Snapshots
Creative Ways to Bust Boredom in C’est La Vie
Hundreds March in Cairo Against Sexual Violence in Global Snapshots