The names are different: it’s called tudong in Singapore while it’s called kerudong in Indonesia. That’s the veil that Muslim women wear to cover their heads and the rule about wearing it are poles apart in these two countries. When I was in Singapore I was told that wearing the tudong is a steady commitment, meaning the women who don them have to wear them religiously particularly when they’re out in public and when there are other people in their homes. Taking it off is considered highly sacrilegious and the person who one day was wearing it and the next day keeps it at home is frowned upon and, to the extreme, labelled as a backslider. It’s a serious decision to be made if one had to wear the veil, my Muslim friend told me.
“I feel safer when I wear it,” she continued to tell me during one of our little conversations.
It was an eye-popping ephipany last week when I chanced upon a former student who was suddenly wrapped in a white kerudong.
“You’ve decided to wear the veil! Wow!” I enthused as we exchanged greetings.
“It’s our Friday uniform, Miss,” she answered nonchalantly.
“I’m sorry I don’t understand.”
“We have different uniforms everyday, Miss, and every Friday, we wear this one with the veil,” she explained patiently.
My head was spinning. That would mean that she – my student and the rest of the Muslim women in Indonesia – can take off their veils and wear them whenever they wanted to.
“You can choose to wear and not wear your veil?” I remarked.
“Yes, Miss,” she and her friends answered in unison, their eyes belying the astonishment at my ignorance of the veil rule.
And it gets more interesting. Apparently, they’re no less Muslim or are labelled as backsliders.