Jakarta — Women’s rights groups and activists have come out against a bill recognising polygamy in Aceh, a province with special status on the island Sumatra that enforces sharia. The Aceh Provincial Legislative Assembly (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Aceh or DPRA) is vetting the draft legislation (Rancangan Quanun or Raqan).
Although the Indonesian government does not recognise the ‘nikah siri’, unregistered religious marriage, the practice is widespread above all among the richer classes: businessmen, politicians and prominent personalities often resort to the practice, to silence criticism and gossip over their extramarital affairs.
Since the nikah siri is not contrary to the teachings of Islam in family matters, Aceh provincial authorities want to give it a legal framework, specifying basic requirements, such as the maximum number of wives (4) and conditions under which a Muslim man can marry more than one woman, such as a wife’s infertility. The husband must also be able to guarantee the same living standards to his new wife and children and obtain permission from the Sharia Council, in addition to that of his first wife.
In Indonesia, Muslims follow a religious current called Islam Nusantara (Archipelago Islam), which is very different from that of the Middle East. It incorporates local cultural traditions and practices, and tends to be more moderate and tolerant. For this reason, the draft law in Aceh and polygamy itself have drawn harsh criticism throughout the country.
Musannif, head of the 8th Commission of the Aceh Provincial Legislative Assembly, responded to critics, saying that “The move is aimed at protecting women and children, in the event that the nikah siri ends in divorce”.
Muazzinah Yacob teaches at the Islamic State University of Ar-Raniry. She is also a women’s rights activist. She slammed the bill and criticised the DPRA. “There is no need to deliberate on the issue, if at the base of all this there is only the need to let money into the coffers of the local government, exploiting women as ‘object’ of sexual desires.”.
The bill has also been targeted by the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komisi Nasional Anti Kekerasan terhadap Perempuan or Komnas Perempuan), an independent government body set up by presidential decree in 1998.
One of its members, Adriana Venny, thinks that the proposed Raqan is only an effort to “legalise” sexual desire.
“We are deeply and seriously worried by the issue,” she said. “Polygamy is nothing more than a form of domestic violence: it should not be accepted and even less practiced. This practice is not recommended even in countries with an Islamic majority. Only the husband benefits from it, giving vent to his libido on more than one woman. I wonder if polyandry (marriage between one woman and several men) would be accepted in Indonesia?”
About 98% of Aceh’s five million residents are Muslims. Sharia came into effect around 2005 following a peace agreement between Indonesia’s central government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), a separatist group inspired by Islam.
Non-Muslims can usually choose whether or not to be punished under Islamic law and sometimes choose a painful flogging to avoid lengthy court proceedings and imprisonment.