Indonesia’s government is on a collision course with political and religious leaders who are taking multiple wives in the name of Islam.
Muhammad Insa, a Jakarta businessman, has brought the issue to a head by petitioning the Constitutional Court, furious that permission for him to take a second wife was rejected by the Marriage Office, while others have been allowed to take four.
Mr Insa conceded that polygamy could hurt the feelings of first wives, but added that they receive compensation. “If the wife agrees her husband marry another woman, according to Islam, her reward in heaven will be big.”
Asked about his wife’s view of his pursuit of polygamy, Mr Insa said they had not discussed it. Asked why, he replied: “I don’t want to look for troubles.”
Indonesian law places strict restrictions around polygamy. The existing wife must give her approval. She must also be childless, terminally ill or unable to fulfil her sexual obligations.
But the restrictions have been ignored by prominent figures, most recently by the deputy parliamentary speaker and leader of the Islamic Reform Star Party, Zaenal Ma’arif, and the cleric Abdullah Gymnastiar. They say the Koran allows up to four wives and claim it prevents adultery.
Recently Mr Gymnastiar provoked a public outcry by taking a former model as his second wife. The three have posed for television cameras strolling down the street with the first wife, Teteh Nini, by Mr Gymnastiar’s side, and the second wife, Alfarini Eridani, dutifully trailing behind.
Aside from his role as a television evangelist, Mr Gymnastiar has also served as a spiritual adviser to the presidential household, which was inundated with complaints from women’s groups.
This prompted the President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to forbid public servants from having multiple wives but no concrete action was taken – including against members of his own cabinet.
An undaunted Mr Insa took his quest to join the growing pool of polygamists to the court. He requested that it overturn restrictions on multiple marriages, saying they violated his religious freedom. “The Marriage Act is based on monogamy,” he said.
“In Indonesia there are many religions, and for other religions maybe the law is suitable. But for Islam it is not.”
This week the Religious Affairs Minister, Maftuh Basyuni, told the court “Islam is basically monogamous in nature but in some limited and rare conditions polygamy is tolerated”.
Polygamy was more commendable in the time of the prophet, “in order to help women who lost their husbands in wars”, he said.
Rahmawati Husein, a scholar with the Muslim organisation Muhammadiyah, said none of its leaders were polygamists, unlike its larger rival, Nahdlatul Ulama (which boasts a membership of 40 million).
“The joke … says if you want to commit polygamy you have to [join] NU,” she said.
Ms Husein doubted that sanctions would be enforced against polygamists. “Such practices bring more problems than benefits. The man … must share his love equally between wives, something that is almost impossible to do.”
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