‘Jilboobs’ Raise Clerical Hackles in Indonesia

Could it be that the “jilboob,” a slangy term used by some to describe Indonesian women who pair their modest Muslim headscarfs with tight jeans and sexy blouses, could be on her way out? If the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) has its way, that will be the case.

The jilboob, or sometimes “jilbabe,” gets her name because in Indonesia the full-body burka seen in Afghanistan or the abaya in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, is rarely adopted. Rather than using a black tent to hide a woman from society’s prying eyes, observant Indonesian Muslims prefer the jilbab – or hijab in Malaysia. The scarf usually covers the hair and neck but leaves the rest of the wearer’s wardrobe up for grabs.

The devout might combine the jilbab with modest long dresses and blouses, but many women use the “jilbab and jeans” look to maintain their sex appeal while giving in to whatever pressure or devotion motivates them to cover their hair – often family insistence or to please husbands who want a religious spouse.

Some websites in Jakarta call the sexy jilbab look, the “jilboob,” because it often consists of make-up, jeans a tight shirt and high heels. There is a Facebook page devoted to discussing the pros and cons of the jilboob look and plenty of web sites and twitter feeds  -- #jilbabseksi is one -- that show off selfies of young women in their jilbabs, some of which leave little to the imagination. Many stores and boutiques cater to making the “Muslim look” sexy. Women are even seen wearing the head covering with a miniskirt on occasion.

The clerics, who have little real power despite nominally being Islam’s ruling body in Indonesia, have had enough. MUI issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, on Thursday and said there will be no more jilbabes and jilboobs henceforth. It is unlikely to be taken seriously; the MUI has previous banned all manner of things, from gyrating dangdut dancers to western movies, only to be blithely ignored.

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“The MUI already has a fatwa against pornography. But that means that you should not show the shape of the body by wearing a jilbab with tight clothing,” the MUI vice chairman, Ma’ruf Amin told local media. “The MUI strictly forbids it. We respect those who are already wearing the jilbab. But for those already wearing the jilbab, it should not be vulgar.”

It’s hard to say how much effect the fatwa will have on Indonesia’s Muslim women, many of whom simply ignore Islamic dress altogether. Despite the fact, however, Indonesia, as with many places with large Muslim populations, has grown decidedly more outwardly observant in the last decade or so. Jilbabs used to be rare in Jakarta, for existence; they are now commonplace. It is also paradoxically common to see jilbab-wearing women frequenting nightclubs and sometimes drinking alcohol.

Women often say they are cajoled by their mothers and relatives into wearing the jilbab, but find ways to get around it. Some wear the scarf at work or on weekends when visiting mom and discard it other times.

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“I do what I want,” said Azizah, who sports a jilbab and jeans at home to please her mother but takes it off when she goes out clubbing with friends. “It is up to me to look how I want. Does God really care?”

Such attitudes are a welcome reminder that Indonesia is a secular country not an Islamic republic and that panels like the MUI can issue edicts but they have little power to enforce them.