There have been a lot of cover-ups by the authorities in the last couple of days. No we’re not talking about scandals and stuff, we’re talking about attire (or the lack of it).
Last week many of us would have heard the story of the woman that got asked by Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalan (JPJ) to wear a sarong because her clothing was deemed indecent, and if she don’t wear they don’t layan her.
These incidents, coupled with the incident involving national gymnast Farah Ann, made us wonder why were there so many incidents involving ‘tutup aurat’ (click here for definition of aurat) in such a short time span, and why now?
In our quest to find some answers, we discovered the demand to be more conservative has been steadily growing over the past few years. And here are some examples from before 2015.
1. Traders in Kelantan were told to ‘tutup aurat’ or be fined
So first on our list is something from the end of last year. There was an operation by the Majlis Perbandaran Kota Bharu that made sure female traders in Kelantan covered up or they would face a RM500 fine. Dubbed Operasi Gempur Aurat, it targeted places like pasar malams and supermarkets.
And it’s apparently not a new rule. It was reported that rules on dressing had already been circulated a few years back and this operation was only meant to enforce the law (because people had not been following them).
But what also caught our attention was that there were some people who commended the authorities for doing so.
“As far as I’m aware, it’s compulsory for Muslim women to cover up their aurat when in public places especially those who work in fast food outlets such as McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken.
But recently I’ve seen some of them wearing tight clothing despite wearing a tudung.” – Supporter of the Operasi Gempur Aurat as quoted (and translated) from mstar.com.my
Officials also stated that they only ran the operation because of complains from the public. And it’s not only in Kelantan, because very recently, Pahang said the same too but their punishment is more severe (1 year jail or RM2000 fine which is 3x more than Kelantan).
2. People petitioned against male doctors and nurses in the delivery room
Back in late 2013, there was a petition that asked for all doctors and nurses in the baby delivery room be women. The petition states that it is the responsibility of the hospital to protect the dignity and ‘aurat’ of its patients. And close to 7000 people signed it.
If you’re wondering why was this issue never brought up before, this blog post talks about how there are more female gynaes around now as compared to before. So yes, now that there are options, there are many who rather opt for a female gynae instead of a male one.
Plus, most recently, we came across a product to help women ‘tutup aurat’ while giving birth. It’s on the tip of the tongue of netizens right now, and all its talk has made the pants walk all the way to a Daily Mail headline.
But product aside, is it reasonable to enforce a law that does not allow male gynaes? Well first, maybe we need to consider that there are also those who prefer male gynaes. Forum discussions like this and this show that there are people who prefer male gynaes for reasons of their own.
We don’t intend to tell right from wrong or choose one sex over the other. All we’re doing is pointing out that there are people who are asking for something like this to be enforced.
3. 10 NGOs once organised a ‘Tutup Aurat’ campaign
This was back during Valentine’s Day in 2012. 10 Penang NGOs started a ‘Tutup Aurat’ campaign with the intention of “mewujudkan remaja yang beradab mulia, berakhlak murni dan berketrampilan sebagai remaja Muslim”. Basically meaning to raise good Muslims la.
The article also said that close to a thousand teenagers participated in the campaign a week after it was launched. The organisers also claimed to continue this campaign through Facebook to connect with the younger people.
But……we ended up finding quite a lot of these pages (which you can see here, here, here, and here) that we don’t know which one actually started from these 10 NGOs! But looking at the numbers on these pages you can see the thousands of people that are on board with this.
4. The National Fatwa Council once proposed banning Muslim women from certain sports
So back in July 2013, it was reported that the mufti of Penang had proposed that the National Fatwa Council (NFC) ban sports that exposed a woman’s aurat like swimming and gymnastics.
It was a big deal back in 2013 because just a few days prior to that, the council released a fatwa saying Muslims were prohibited from taking part in beauty pageants (and also because they were known for banning quite a number of things) which resulted in 4 finalists being dropped from the Miss Malaysia World 2013 pageant.
So all’s well that ends well when talking about women in sports…or so we thought. The recent Farah Ann case showed that while no one talks about it, it’s still something that people believe. In fact, another mufti, this time from Perak, went on to say that gymnastics are not for Muslim women.
So in regards to sports, Farah Ann’s case was actually a sentiment that had been carried forward from a few years back, and dare we say, that’s probably not the last we’ll hear from it.
5. There’s also a ‘Zon Menjaga Aurat’ in Kelantan
(More than one zone, actually.) In 2013, Kelantan became the first state in Malaysia to introduce ‘Zon Menjaga Aurat’ (we tried to translate this but couldn’t without making it too long, or losing the essence of the original phrase).
Where are these zones? Well basically every government building in Kelantan. It was reported that the rules initially applied only to women, but with the launch of these zones, the aurat rules also applies to men (yes, men have aurats too!)
So many from Kelantan, maybe it’s just a Kelantan thing?
We won’t disagree that Kelantan is a very conservative state. Some of their billboards do seem to point that out very clearly.
And there was also a time when a Maya Karin Celcom ad had its own version for Kelantan.
And to add on a little bit, as we were writing this, it was reported that a man was stopped from entering the KLIA’s Lost and Found department because he was wearing pink shorts.
But these incidents are actually just the tip of the iceberg.
The sarongs incidents point to a bigger picture: Conservative Islam
A few weeks after the first sarong incident and the subsequent apology from the JPJ, news surfaced that the person who enforced the sarong rule received an appreciation letter. The reason for this was just because she was only doing her job.
One of the G25, Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, stated that these incidents are signs that religious conservatism is growing in the public sector. Columnist Bartholomew Chan pointed out that making sure that people dress decently is the least of our concerns. In another article, Datuk Noor Farida also mentions that our conservatism is problematic in the way that its taught and in its message.
These are valid concerns, and things that Malaysia has to work on. But what we’re trying to say here is that we have to accept Malaysia is one of the most morally conservative countries in the world. And maybe the response of Malaysians to this increasing moral conservatism would define the country in the future, hopefully lessening the tension we’re seeing among Malaysians.
P.S. This article does not advocate that we respond with insults and culture shaming. What we hope to see instead is mutual respect as both sides strive for a better Malaysia.