JAKARTA - Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi has triggered a debate about Muslim attire after saying that the government may issue a regulation banning anyone wearing a cadar or veil from entering any government building or premises.
He cited security as the reason for the move but went on to say that a veil did not guarantee that one person was more religious than the other.
The retired army general, who was once deputy commander of the armed forces, also said that male civil servants should not wear cingkrang trousers, which end well above the ankles, and are widely believed to be favoured by radicals.
"Religion does not ban cingkrang trousers, but regulations on civil servants do," Mr Fachrul told reporters on Friday (Nov 1), pointing to the specific regulation requiring men to wear trousers that covered their ankles.
Two days earlier (Oct 30), in a speech at a seminar in a Jakarta hotel, Mr Fachrul said the move to ban the veil as well as full face helmets in government building was triggered by, among other things, the incident on Oct 10 when the former security minister Wiranto was attacked by a couple, both of whom were militants.
Mr Wiranto, who was stabbed and spent a few days in hospital, was alighting from a vehicle in Banten province when a man dressed in cingkrang trousers stabbed him while attacker's veiled wife stabbed a senior policeman. The militant and his wife were later arrested.
Mr Fachrul's remarks have since triggered a response online in Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population, a majority of whom practice a moderate form of Islam.
A netizen who identified herself as Ms Hermana claimed Mr Fachrul's stance was against the aspiration of his boss. Posting a photograph of President Joko Widodo flanked by three women, one of whom wore a veil, Ms Hermana asked: "Does (minister) Fachrul Razi get it?"
The photograph was taken by the presidential palace during Mr Joko's re-election campaign ahead of the April 2019 general election.
Prof Farid Wajdi of the Ar-Raniry Islamic State University in Aceh charged that Mr Fachrul's stance was baseless and he accused the minister of being sensational.
"The minister thinks those that wear a cadar are radical. Many terrorists wear jeans," Prof Farid told local news website rmol.id.
He also said such a ban would breach human rights principles.
But Facebook user Mr Fendy Kurniawan threw his support behind Mr Fachrul, saying: "Civil servants have standard rules on clothes. If civil servants choose not to comply, they can resign."
Defending his position, after conducting Friday prayers in Jakarta, Mr Fachrul told reporters during a doorstop: "If anyone visits your home and the person's face is not visible, you wouldn't want to welcome the person, right?"
He added that wearing a veil was Middle Eastern culture and was being abandoned.
On Friday, President Joko also weighed in on the debate, responding when asked by a reporter during an informal afternoon gathering with the media at the presidential palace.
"Anyone is free to choose what clothes to wear, but if one is attached to any institution, he or she must follow the institution's policy," Mr Joko said.