The government in the Indonesian semi-autonomous territory of Aceh said Muslim female flight attendants, when flying into Aceh, must wear a hijab in accordance with the region’s laws.
The regional government has sent a letter to national carrier Garuda Indonesia and budget carriers, such as Malaysia’s AirAsia and Firefly, regarding the headscarf worn by women who feel it is part of their religion.
“All female stewardesses must wear jilbab, a Muslim fashion in accordance with the rules of sharia,” the authorities said in the letter.
In Acehnese culture jilbab is a loose style of headscarf that covers a female’s hair and chest, allowing only the face to be seen, whereas in Arabic, where the word jilbab originates, it means a loose garment that covers a person’s body from the shoulder to the feet.
The international airport in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, services dozens of domestic flights every week, and international routes to neighbouring Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.
Non-Muslim flights attendants were not required to wear a jilbab, but Muslim staff would be asked to wear them on flights in and out of Aceh, said Mawardi Ali, chief of the Aceh Besar region where the airport is located.
Garuda Indonesia and its budget arm, Citilink, “support the suggestions” and will comply, said airline spokesman Ikhsan Rosan.
Firefly in Malaysia declined to comment, citing “the sensitivity of the matter”.
In 2015 Malaysia launched its first domestic “sharia-compliant” airline, Rayani Air. The airline does not allow alcohol to be consumed on its flights and serves only halal food.
“It is compulsory for our Muslim women cabin crew to wear hijab and for non-Muslims to wear a decent uniform,” said Jaafar Zamhari, Rayani’s managing director.
Under a 2001 peace deal with the central government, Aceh enjoys greater autonomy where its legal system is based on Islamic law.
However, most of the rest of Indonesia is run by a civil law system intermixed with customary law, which includes aspects of Islamic law, and the Roman-Dutch law.