I’ve come for a visit at my friend’s house in between meals, planning not to stay for long. I don’t want to bother my friend who I know has a party to go to later. Her house is tiny and I worry about the curtain my son is turning into a sword and the tissue holder my daughter thinks is a toy.
But I’ve been here in Indonesia long enough to know that relationships matter more than appointments. Kids’ smiles are more important than things. And I, as a guest in an Indonesian’s home, will be treated as royalty.
My friend brings us a meal, despite the fact that this is a sudden visit. It’s hot and yummy and homemade and I wonder for the millionth time how these Asian women do it. How do they shine in their hospitality from their simple homes? How do the women I’ve come to “help” end up serving me so well?
We chat about the struggles of Indonesian Muslim women while we eat together. And I look forward to sharing some of her answers in upcoming posts. But before I show you the realities, I want to dispel the misconceptions many outsiders think about Muslim women, from my own understandings and experiences.
While it’s possible some of those beliefs may hold true in other parts of the world, often times our differences sit more in the misunderstandings than in the truth. So, I will answer them from the perspective of women in Indonesia—at least the ones I know.
Misconception #1: They hate Americans.
I moved to Indonesia convinced that I should hide my passport, call myself a Canadian and never talk politics. Though I’m sure there are fanatics in this country who do, in fact, hate Americans, I don’t know any.
Instead I’m treated like a celebrity, my kids’ pictures snapped dozens of times whenever I’m out. Though I still think it’s good to avoid discussing politics, the few times I have, my respectful answers were met with openness. Indonesians do an amazing job of respecting others’ beliefs.
Misconception #2: Muslim women have no rights.
For the past several years, Indonesia has had a democratic government. Several years ago, a woman was president. And women in most places in Indonesia don’t HAVE to wear a veil. They can own land. They can vote. They are doctors, teachers, lawyers, etc.
Misconception #3: Muslim women are Muslim because men make them.
While Islam and many Indonesian ethnic groups are intimately tied, and to deny the religion of the culture is to choose often to become an outsider, Indonesian Muslim women tend to be more religious than men—according to my experience.
Certainly, there are exceptions, even in my own circle of friends. But many women tend to be the ones who are more diligent in their practices, the ones who teach their children their beliefs, and the ones who wish often that their husbands were more dedicated to God.
Misconception #4: The veil is a sign of oppression.
In most parts of Indonesia, women have the freedom to veil or not to veil. It seems to be a sort of rite of passage. When a young woman feels like she’s ready to take her faith seriously, she may begin to wear the head covering in public and adopt a more conservative dress (long pants, long-sleeved shirts).
Some women, though, consider themselves strong Muslims and reserve the head covering for special occasions only. But either way, it seems to be considered a way to be modest and serious about their beliefs, not a sign of oppression for Indonesian women.
Misconception #5: They are terrorists.
By and large, Indonesians are NOT terrorists. They hate it when the terrorists use Islam to blow up both westerners and Indonesian (as often happens). They practice their religion in a generous, peaceful, loving way, oftentimes outshining my own attempts at hospitality, giving to the poor, caring for the sick, reaching out to neighbors, taking care of orphans, and always, always, always, welcoming an outsider like me into their homes and lives.
Next time we'll delve into some of the issues Indonesian women face.