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Author: Tineke Hellwig

Since the 1990s Islam in Indonesia has shifted in orientation and gradually shed its depoliticized position. After the fall of the New Order in 1998 many female authors came to the fore and voiced their opinions about societal expectations, gender roles and norms that regulate female sexuality. Muslim women have addressed in their fiction issues regarding Islam, modernity and how to balance Islamic teachings with globalized forces that have changed Indonesian ways of living. This article analyzes three novels by Muslim author Abidah El Khalieqy in which the protagonists search for ways to shape new female identities and forms of selfhood that are in accordance with Islam and also suit the modernized world. The novels speak openly and in great detail about sexual relations. They critique polygyny and patriarchal attitudes that treat women as sexual objects and inferior beings, and disrupt taboos such as domestic violence and (marital) rape while endorsing women’s activism to advocate gender equity and social justice. They also demonstrate how women find pleasure in sexual intimacy. Abidah's fiction does not shy away from topics such as homosexuality and pre-marital sex but eventually hetero-normativity prevails. In significant ways Abidah's fiction contributes to debates on women's rights and gender expectations within Indonesia's Muslim community.

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