More women in niqab at PAS congress

Women attending the annual PAS congress in Alor Setar last week could be spotted wearing face veils in addition to the now standard headscarves. Despite rising conservatism among Muslims in Malaysia, it is still unusual to see women in niqab on the s
Women attending the annual PAS congress in Alor Setar last week could be spotted wearing face veils in addition to the now standard headscarves. Despite rising conservatism among Muslims in Malaysia, it is still unusual to see women in niqab on the street.ST PHOTO: TRINNA LEONG

More women wearing face veils at congress signals party's return to fundamentalism

ALOR SETAR (Kedah) • One visible indicator of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) turning more conservative can be seen in a small, but growing, section of its women delegates and observers who don the niqab - a face veil that reveals only the eyes.

The tudung or hijab - a headscarf that reveals the whole face - is considered standard issue these days in Muslim-majority Malaysia, but some women at the ongoing annual party congress took the further step of covering their faces with white or black niqab.

At the 600-strong meeting of the women's wing last Wednesday, more than two dozen were attired in niqab, including at least two of the 20 female leaders on stage.

This is admittedly a small number but still a big change from just 10 years ago, when face veils were a rarity at the party's annual meetings.

One female delegate wore a white niqab as she spoke at the rostrum during a debate on their wing chief's speech, even though the hall was packed with women, save for a few male reporters and photographers.

The turn towards deeply conservative dressing comes as PAS - the nation's second-largest Malay Muslim party after Umno - returns to its fundamentalist roots, an ongoing move in the past two years.

Niqab were spotted among young women serving as ushers, older women delegates and party members who were attending the congress with their husbands.

Several women who run stalls at a bazaar by the side of the meeting hall were similarly attired.

The face veils were also more visible in the programme brochure for the party's women's meeting, in photos of female PAS leaders and at the party's various committees.

Even though the Muslim community in Malaysia is turning more conservative, it is still highly unusual to see women wearing niqab on the street.

The turn towards deeply conservative dressing comes as PAS - the nation's second-largest Malay Muslim party after Umno - returns to its fundamentalist roots, an ongoing move in the past two years.

During its five-day congress, which ends today, the party resolved to seek a constitutional amendment that would make it necessary for the country's prime minister to be Muslim.

PAS spent nearly eight years until 2015 as part of the now-disbanded Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance, which took a moderate approach in its politics.

That alliance included the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Malay-led, multiracial Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

In 2015, policy disputes - chiefly between secular DAP and PAS over issues including hudud, or harsher Islamic punishments - caused the alliance to fracture.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline 'Niqab trend reflects changing face of PAS'. Print Edition | Subscribe