It’s hard not to do a double take when a photo in the New York Times shows a girl wearing a hijab and wailing away on an electric guitar.
Performing as a rock musician isn’t something most Muslim girls do, even in Indonesia, where the story is set and Islam is less strict than in certain Middle Eastern countries.
But there is one religious factor that all the reporters, from various publications who’ve covered the story, have missed. See if you can find it in this article.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — The three teenage girls — shy and even seeming slightly embarrassed as they peer out from their Islamic head scarves — do not look much like a heavy metal band.
But a dramatic change occurs when they take the stage. All pretense of shyness or awkwardness evaporates as the group — two 17-year-olds and one 15-year-old — begin hammering away at bass, guitar and drums to create a joyous, youthful racket.
They are Voice of Baceprot, a rising band in Indonesia, a country where heavy metal is popular enough that the president is an avowed fan of bands like Metallica and Megadeth.
But beyond blowing away local audiences with their banging music, the three girls are also challenging entrenched stereotypes about gender and religious norms in the world’s most-populous Muslim-majority nation.
The girls, we learn, wish to prove they can be observant Muslims while playing loud music and wearing hijabs while doing so. In response, they’ve received plenty of death threats for not acting submissive. Also,
Beyond the death threats, they also dealt with a more prosaic form of disapproval: “Our school principal is a conservative Muslim, and he says music is ‘haram,’” or forbidden under Islam.
An important factoid was glossed over there. After perusing the Times article, plus similar pieces on the band done by metalinjection.net, NPR and the Guardian, there was one thing they all didn’t mention. It has everything with why religious leaders oppose their appearances and with whether Muslim women should sing at all.
Remember the above quote about music being "haram?" There are a lot of prohibitions against any kind of singing in public, especially by women, for whom singing is considered sexually enticing and thereby forbidden. I looked up several online Islamic resources and all of them said that women are prohibited from singing, much less singing in pop bands. This includes even folk songs.
I’m not sure how this band gets around such rules, which are ignored in many other Muslim-majority countries, such as Egypt where there are plenty of female vocalists. Some may be Christian but most are probably Muslim. There's even stirrings in Iran among female vocalists, so Quran or not, these women are going to sing.
Still, I am curious as to how this Indonesian band gets around this prohibition. Articles on this group say they fight against the assumption that women must be submissive, but there’s no explanation of the theology that would forbid girls to be in bands. In fact, there’s not a whole lot in the Times piece about how the band members do observe their faith, other than wearing hijabs.
The Guardian did mention the band making their way through Ramadan without drinking any water. And this piece in thediplomat.com refers to women in hijabs ordinarily not being allowed to sing and about how some of the opposition has been violent.
So to say that many Indonesian Muslims believe that Quran-observing women must be quiet and submissive, hence one can’t play in a rock band, are missing the point. There’s actual theological reasons for their beliefs and it has to do with the inherent sexuality they believe all music contains.
I understand the reporters who did these stories aren’t religion specialists, but were this, say, a sports or politics story, would a good reporter have left out a major underlying reason for what the people involved are doing? Of course not, yet the religious reasons against this rock band aren’t discussed.
As for the New York Times reporter, I am wondering if he grasped the issue. For instance, he includes these two paragraphs.
Jay Subyakto, the event’s creative director, said he booked Voice of Baceprot to give them a national stage to prove a point to their detractors.
“It’s like saying art is un-Islamic,” he said. “I, and I think many other Indonesians, want to see lesser-known bands who are young, have a good ideology and have amazing lyrics in their songs.”
Theology matters, doesn’t it?