Re: Head coverings

Ronald and Katryne Lukens Bull (
Fri, 04 Oct 1996 15:30:07 -0700

GEBUH wrote:
> Actually Yousuf the question was why do so many religions require head
> coverings- the author didn't specify women.
> Salaam
> GEBUHFrom my ethnographic research in Islamic Indonesia, headcovering, while
not universally practiced, applies to both men and women. Pious men
will always cover their head, and both men and women are required to do
so for prayer. Likewise the general rule of modesty and being cover to
the wrist, ankles and to the neck, in practice, applies to both men and

As to why the head, I am not sure. However, my consulatants informed me
that according to Islam one must cover the _aurat_ (that which is
erotic). They explained the difference in what is covered in various
Islamic countries by what the local country defines as erotic. Hence,
in Indonesia, men do not find hair erotic, so the hair of a woman need
not be covered. Likewise, those part of a man's body which are erotic
to women must be covered.

The growing popularity of the jilbab seems to contradict this position.
However, we must understand this popularity are related to the
government position (and Western scholarly view)of Islam. Western
scholar have long down played the imporatnce of Islam in Indonesia,
claiming that it is a thin veneer of a Indic civilization. This view,
coupled with the government's "accomadations", have mad many young
muslims angry. In a show of religious pride, and to prove that 90% of
Indonesians are indeed muslims, they have adopted the jilbab, and other
"arabic" affectation, including beards (on men who really can't grow
them). In my ethnographic context (traditionalist ulama in East Java),
the head might be covered not so much because the head is special but
because of perceived eroticism (head is covered in traditional garb for
women, but not all of the hair, or the neck), or because of processes of
identity construction.

Ron Lukens Bull
Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology

"There are two ways to be rich -- make more, want less."