Indonesia considering widening polygamy ban after popular preacher takes second wife

Indonesia is considering banning ministers, lawmakers and other government officials from practicing polygamy after the country’s most popular Islamic preacher took a second wife, sparking renewed debate about the practice.

There are no plans to outlaw polygamy all together in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Currently, men are only allowed to have a second wife if his first is an invalid, terminally ill or infertile. The regulation, however, is rarely enforced and most commentators say the practice is becoming more common.

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Woman’s Affairs Minister Meutia Hatta said Tuesday that a 1983 law forbidding civil servants from polygamy — passed by then-dictator Suharto, reportedly under pressure from his wife — could be expanded to included ministers, parliamentarians and governors, among others.

The move comes after charismatic preacher and television personality, Aa Gym, who had a strong female following and often preached about family values, announced that he had taken a second wife.

The preacher’s move has been discussed extensively on gossip shows and in magazines, with the coverage uniformly negative, and female activists and liberal Islamic clerics have expressed disappointment.

Islam permits a man to have four wives, though some Muslim countries ban or prohibit the practice.

No statistics are kept on how common polygamy is in Indonesia, though with the downfall of dictator Suharto in 1998 the practice has become more open.

Banning polygamy outright would likely face opposition from conservatives, who would see the move as a further secularization of Indonesia, where 90 percent of the 220 million people are Muslim.

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