Gender and Islam in Indonesia

Public guest lecture by Nina Nurmila, Senior Lecturer at the State Islamic University (UIN) Bandung, Indonesia


Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. Its current population is about 250 million and about 85 per cent of them are Muslims. Indonesian Islam is well-known to be moderate and peaceful Islam and in fact it is termed as the smiling face of Islam. This is partly due to the peaceful nature of the spread of Islam in the Indonesian archipelago through trade, marriage and adaptation with indigenous culture. However, since the 1980s, after the Iranian revolution, there has been increasing “Arabisation” of Indonesian Muslims such as by promoting veiling on women, which was being reacted negatively by the state for fear that this would lead into the establishment of Islamic state.

The relationship between Islam and the state was changing since the 1990s when Muslim leaders used cultural rather than political approach in relation with the government. This was reacted positively by the government, for instance, by allowing the adoption of veiling at school and work, which was previously being prohibited. In 2000, during the Reform Era, Islamist parties try to “formalise” the implementation of Islamic shari`a at the national level, but they failed. Due to this failure, taking advantage of the newly introduced decentralisation policy, they continue this effort at the local level. As a result, there has been increasing number of local regulations throughout Indonesia which tend to formalise the implementation of Islamic shari`a and is being called perda shari`a (local shari`a regulation). This regulation tends to control female body such as by obliging women to put on veiling and prohibiting them to go out at night. Consequently, women who are caught outside the house at night are vulnerable of being imprisoned with the accusation that they are prostitute, the profession being prohibited by the local shari`a regulation. This affected negatively on women because some women such as doctor, nurse and factory workers who should have a night shift cannot avoid going home at night.


Nina Nurmila is a Senior Lecturer at the State Islamic University (UIN) Bandung, Indonesia. Her first degree on Islamic Education was from UIN Bandung (1992), her MA was on Gender and Development from Murdoch University (1997) and her PhD on Gender and Islamic Studies was from the University of Melbourne (2007). She was an Endeavour Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (2008) and was a Fulbright Visiting Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Redlands, California, USA (2008-9). She was also a Visiting Fellow at the Religion and Society Research Centre of University of Western Sydney (2013) and a Visiting Researcher at the University van Amsterdam (2015). Nina is the author of Women, Islam and Everyday Life: Renegotiating Polygamy in Indonesia (London; New York: Routledge, 2009&2011).