Formation of Youth Identity in Indonesian Islamic Chick Lit

Article excerpt

Abstract: This paper is to argue that literature studies may help reveal the formation of young Indonesian female Muslim identity by looking at the books they read and write. It will particularly discuss two popular Islamic Chick Lit Santri Semelekete [Funky Islamic Boarding School Girl] (2005) by Ma'rifatun Baroroh and Jilbab Britney Spears: Catatan Harian Sabrina [Britney Spears' Headscarf: Sabrina's Diary] (2004) by Herlinatiens. The first part of the discussion will examine some external aspects such as physical presentation, biographical details of the authors, and publication-related matters. Then, using such side-line information, the next part will discuss the novels' contents to see in what way they offer some cultural analysis of youth identity in contemporary Indonesian society.

Key words: Chick Lit, identity, consumer culture

I, Hasan the son of Muhammad the weigh-master, I, Jean-Leon de Medici, circumcised at the hand of a barber and baptized at the hand of a pope, I am now called the African, but I am not from Africa, nor from Europe, nor from Arabia. I am also called the Granadan, the Fassi, the Zayyati, but I come from no country, from no city, no tribe. I am the son of the road, my country is the caravan, my life the most unexpected of voyages... From my mouth you will hear Arabic, Turkish, Castilian, Berber, Hebrew, Latin and vulgar Italian, because all tongues and all prayers belong to me. But I belong to none of them. I belong only to God and to the earth, and it is to them that I will one day soon return.

Amin Maalouf, Leo the African (1988)

This paper begins with the self-introduction of Hasan al-Wazzan a.k.a. Leo Africanus through the elegant account of Amin Maalouf to show how unstable and copious identity is. When compared to that of Leo the African, our today's world is more interdependent so as to make identity become even more porous and inevitably mixed. This paper is to examine the formation of identity by young female Indonesian Muslims through the books they read and write. Believing that literature is a distillation of human experiences, the discussion attempts to show the significance of probing into the production and consumption of literature by placing it amidst the consumer culture phenomena that permeate almost every aspect of the society nowadays. Young Muslim Indonesian readers, for example, have shared worldwide consumption of light, modern fiction written by and for females through their choice of Islamic Chick Lit. Here, "Islamic Chick Lit" is a conveniet term to refer to the crossover between the socalled "Sastra Pesantren" (Munawwar, 2008), that is, literary works written by the Islamic boarding school community, and the regional variety of Western genre fiction whose target readers are modern and stylish women in their 20s and 30s. Indeed, it is a social phenomenon that Islamic Chick Lit has become one sub-genre fiction that appeals to Indonesian teenaged Muslim readers, especially the female ones. Seen from the kind of books they consume, these young women have made urbanity as their disposition. The fact that they have favored urbanity as a trend may help us see the other face of the Indonesian Muslim society which may have been distorted by the prevailing discourse which views the Muslims as post-9/11 terrorist groups, and Islam, an omnipresent threat.

Here, the importance of studying popular literature is unquestionable. So far, the bulk of scholarship on the representation of women in Indonesian literature published in post-Suharto era have mostly paid attention to serious writing (Hartley, 1999; Aveling, 2002), rather than to popular fiction. Although there has been a growing body of literature on women's popular fiction, these studies have focused on its history, production and consumption (Djundjung, 2004; Rahmanto, 2006); and little is said about the proliferation of a particular sub-genre like Islamic Chick Lit.

This paper, therefore, will argue that in a country where Islam, the religion of the majority, is lately seen as being fraught with women's rights, the growth of Islamic Chick Lit may invite such questions as what the works say, what they mean to the authors and the readers as well as what they contribute to the larger society in which these young women live. …