updated 28 Jan 2010, 16:44
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Hairdos now in Indonesia Muslim clerics' crosshairs

To straighten or not to straighten? Women's hair styles have become a hot topic for Indonesia's Muslims after calls from some Islamic clerics to have the procedure banned on the grounds it invites moral danger.

Indonesia is a majority Muslim but officially secular country known for its moderate form of Islam.

Islamic edicts have no binding legal power, but that has not stopped the Indonesian Council of Ulama, which consists of elected clerics and scholars, from issuing fatwas on practices ranging from yoga to failing to vote in elections.

On Wednesday 20 January, the council's Fatwa Commission said it had received a request from a group of clerics linked to a girls boarding school in East Java to issue a fatwa banning chemical hair straightening, a type of perm treatment known in Indonesia as rebonding.

The deputy secretary of the Fatwa Commission, Aminudin Yakub, said on Wednesday 20 January that the East Java Forum Musyawarah Pondok Pesantren Putri had requested a formal edict declaring rebonding a breach of Islamic law "except for women who are married and have the permission of their husband."

The boarding school clerics had also asked for a fatwa banning dreadlocks, punk do's and "funky hairstyles" he said.

"For now, we are yet to make an institutional decision on this. So far, we have not seen strong evidence to ban it," he said. "It could be discussed in future but right now it is not a priority."

Hair salons in downtown Jakarta were bustling with young Muslim women, bemused by the sudden interest in their hair.

Eryanti, 21, a Jakarta-based accountant who is Muslim and has had her hair straightened four times, said she had no intention of stopping.

"I like my hair to look this way and if I stop, it will go back to the way it was before," said Eryanti, who, like many Indonesians, has only one name.

"It looks better and it is easier to brush."

AD Kusumaningtyas, a spokeswoman from the Islamic women's rights group Rahima, said women's hairstyle preferences could be the topic of discussion but were ultimately an individual choice.

"We don't need to [proscribe] everything as haram or not. Some injustices such as polygamy and female genital mutilation are more important" than rebonding, she said.

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