The veil and Muslim women's identity: Cultural pressures and resistance to stereotyping
This study compares Muslim women’s views on wearing the veil in a Muslim majority society, Indonesia, with the Muslim minority in India. In-depth interviews reveal significant differences between the two: Majority women talk in terms of convenience, fashion, and modesty with little reference to religion as their reasons for veiling. The responses of Muslim minority women are diverse: their account of veiling stretches from religiously inspired arguments through to reasons of convenience, and to opposition against stereotypes and discrimination. Most minority women see the veil as a way of affirming their cultural identity. We argue that religious minorities are forced into constructing their cultural identity in ways that exaggerate their group belonging and difference from broader society. This may be motivated either by falling back on religious resources or by using ethnic markers to overtly oppose endemic prejudice. No such identity issue exists for the Muslim majority women. This contradicts the dominant view in non-Muslim countries in the West, where the female scarf is primarily considered a symbol of religious fundamentalism and patriarchal oppression.