Monday, June 10, 2019

Jasmine's Message for Urban Muslim Girls

After its release in May 2019, the life-action movie remake of Aladdin soared at the box office in just a week. Thousands of reviews came from movie lovers, mostly containing praise; however, there were also some criticisms. What I would like to underline here is that most of these reviews only covered the comparison between the old version of Aladdin and the live-action one. Instead of comparing both of the versions, I prefer to talk about the new constructive values brought by the 2019 Aladdin. 

Princess Jasmine is a good metaphor to represent the urban Muslim girl in the Muslim world generally and particularly in Indonesia, which is the home of the largest Muslim population in the world. That is why this article summarizes the movie Aladdin from the perspective of Indonesian women. The contextual issue lies in the restrictions on the activities of women, which were developed based on safety and tradition. 

For the princess’ safety, Jasmine’s father, the Sultan, forbade her to go out of the palace after her mother was murdered. The worst thing is the Sultan’s household forces Jasmine to accept the tradition and to understand that she is incapable of ruling the kingdom. Moreover, Agrabah’s prime minister, Jafar, suggests that Jasmine be silent. He whispers from time to time, "It's better for you to be seen and not heard."  

Therefore, becoming a princess doesn't give Jasmine freedom of speech and expression. It's kind of frustrating for Jasmine who is depicted as a independent and visionary girl in the new movie. What is happening to Jasmine is also happening to urban Muslim girls in Indonesia. Most Muslim girls who grow up in urban areas are well educated. No matter where they come from, either upper middle class or lower middle class, they have strong characters. They live a modern life style and enjoy popular culture. Moreover, they can keep their existence in a fashionable hijab look.

Even though the urban Muslim girls in Indonesia are more independent than their mothers, they have to obey the tradition of keeping silent. In Islamic tradition, there is a teaching for a girl to hear and to obey (sami'na wa atho'na or سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا) preachers, parents, and male relatives. As well as in cultural traditions, one of the largest ethnic group in Indonesia, the Javanese, also have an understanding for the girls that they have to be silent (meneng) and to obey (manut) their elders. 

Obviously, both of the traditions put the girls in double-subordination. This situation clearly contradicts the needs of urban Muslim girls today which emphasizes equality in the development of civilization. Syafiq Hasyim confirms that the hardest thing of the condition is the incorporation between religious and cultural tradition, which together fight equality ideas (2010:38). 

Those traditions make the girls cannot speak up and express their ideas. It’s because daring to speak up can be interpreted by authority as an objection, challenge, or protest. The judgment they get will be heavier than they can imagine. They are stigmatized and stereotyped continuously which affects their psychological state. Silence are effects of this cruel process.

For that reason, Princess Jasmine’s message in the 'Speechless' song becomes important for the Indonesian Muslims women today who are shaded by the conservative movement. Through Jasmine's new character, Naomi Scott convinces the audience that, within a girl, there should be bravery to decide and to say stop for every boundary that shuts her down. 

Jasmine’s in-depth character encourages each girl to dare to speak up for herself, for the people they love, and for those who are weak. This is how female leadership should be in terms of peace and social justice. That is why we need more women and girls to show up and to participate in the development.

Unfortunately, female leadership is an sensitive issue in Muslim society (Rohman, 2013). Some people continue to use religion to block women in leadership roles, particularly a head of state or government like Sultanah. In Aladdin, we can capture the scene when the Sultan confirms that there has never been Sultanah in the thousand-year history of the kingdom. 

The history of female leadership tends to disappear in the collective memory of Indonesian people. It is because the religion conservative movement tries to domesticate women's roles in the public sphere. In fact, as a part of Muslim world, Indonesia has many precedents of female leaders. Aceh, a special province of Indonesia which is under Islamic rules, has a track record in female leadership. The first female leader in Aceh region was Sultanah Nihrasiyah Rawangsa Khadiyu of Samudra Pasai, the first Islamic kingdom in Indonesia and in Southeast Asia. 

After Samudra Pasai collapsed in 1524, the region was ruled by the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam. The first Sultanah in this kingdom appeared in 1641, namely Sri Sultanah Ratu Safiatuddin Tajul-’Alam Syah Johan. She ruled the kingdom in its heyday and reigned for 34 years until her death in 1675. She built a state library and gave full support to the writers and intellectuals to develop their talents. Her rule was the period that created brilliant scholars such as Hamzah Fansuri, Nuruddin Ar-Raniry, Syekh Abdur Rauf, and many others (Husein and Amiruddin, 2008:52).  

Afterwards, the Sultanate of Aceh Darussalam was still led by strong women for 24 years more, namely Sultanah Naqi al-Din Nur al-Alam (1675-1678), Sultanah Zaqi al-Din Inayat Syah (1678-1688), and Sultanah Kamalat Shah Zinat al-Din (1688-1699).

In the democratic era, female leadership is important to represent women's voices at the government level. Female involvement in the policy-making process is expected to support the partiality towards women. That is why an election is a good momentum to encourage women to participate in the political arena. But whether the expectation comes true in reality is debatable.

The number of Indonesian female candidates increased both in the 2018 regional elections and the 2019 legislative elections. Nevertheless, only a few candidates were concerned with female issues. There are four factors why female candidates’ preferences on this issue are still low. First, most candidates are not gender sensitive; they don’t understand women’s vulnerability in society. Second, they are trapped in an urban centric mindset. Most of them come from urban area so they just offer mainstream program in their campaign, such as free education or affordable prices for basic necessities.

Third, political parties conduct the recruitment based on popularity and the electability levels of the candidates. This condition prevents women activists getting the party’s support to partake in the elections. Fourth, more than 40 percent of female candidates are related to a political dynasty. It means they count on the kinship network to run the election (the center of political studies of Indonesia University, 2019; Perludem 2018). 

Those situations do not only maintain potential corruption in the government but also damages the image of female leaders in Indonesia. That is why female representatives have to get education and information regarding female issues. Comprehensive knowledge can stimulate gender sensitivity for female representatives and raise the integrity of female leaders in this country. 

Female leaders need trust from the society that they are capable of ruling, keeping the peace, and building social justice. Finally, the Aladdin movie wants to encourage the Muslim world to give opportunities for women in leadership without doubting them. In this case, Indonesia has traditions and history of female leaders. The next step is keeping the history and narration of women leadership in the memory of young generation. This effort requires the synergy of every stakeholder, either government, religious community, or female activist groups.

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