Original Research: Historical Thought and Source Interpretation

Redefining status through burqa: Religious transformation and body politics of Indonesia’s woman migrant workers

Inayah Rohmaniyah, Agus Indiyanto, Zainuddin Prasojo, Julaekhah Julaekhah
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 78, No 4 | a7270 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v78i4.7270 | © 2022 Inayah Rohmaniyah, Agus Indiyanto, Zainuddin Prasojo, Julaekhah Julaekhah | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 November 2021 | Published: 31 March 2022

About the author(s)

Inayah Rohmaniyah, Faculty of Ushuluddin and Islamic Thought, Universitas Islam Negeri (UIN) Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Agus Indiyanto, Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Cultural Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Zainuddin Prasojo, Department of Social Science, Institut Agama Islam Negeri (IAIN) Pontianak, Pontianak, Indonesia
Julaekhah Julaekhah, Department of Graduate Studies, Universitas Islam Negeri (UIN) Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta, Yogyakarta, Indonesia


Apart from being commonly understood as a symbol of religious identity, full-face veils (burqa) are also a process through which women redefine their bodies and social status. This article investigates Indonesian women’s commitment to wearing burqa after their work migration in Taiwan and Hong Kong. It focuses on the signification and the redefinition of the body through hijrah (transformation). In-depth interviews conducted with nine Indonesian women migrant workers (WMWs) revealed that this hijrah process characterised by the wearing of the burqa is not always motivated by a religiously radical mindset but more likely by practical considerations aiming to create a sense of security and comfort while working overseas. The burqa is perceived as a symbolic shift in body definition: from being a source of harm, to piety and privilege, paving the way for women to join an emerging elite community, rendering them a new noble and influential social status through socio-religious activities. This study recommends that further research on WMWs in the Middle East needs to acquire a more comprehensive picture taking into account its complexity.

Contribution: Beyond the symbolic religious identity, burqa wearing is also a form of political participation. It illustrates women’s agency and transformation in redefining their bodies, public space, authority and public recognition.


burqa; woman migrant workers (WMWs); the body; hijrah (religious transformation); social recognition; participatory politics


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