Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jakarta correspondent | June 26, 2008
ISMAIL Yusanto, the Indonesian head of radical Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir, believes Australia should legalise polygamy immediately, particularly as prostitution is legal.
The Jakarta-based cleric, who has two wives, said: “Do you allow prostitution (in Australia)? Why? Even though it enables women to become chattels, to be traded, and given a price?
Polygamy “should be accepted”, he said. “If you believe in what you call human rights and freedom of expression, then it must be allowed. If someone wants to marry and take responsibility for a woman, why wouldn’t you let them?”
Polygamy has long been a hot topic in Indonesia, a nation that is overwhelmingly Muslim but where adherence to the religion’s rulings is usually of a malleable variety.
Research by the Roy Morgan group, released this week, found that 53per cent of Indonesians support the national introduction of sharia law – legislation based on the Koran and the Hadith, or the actions of the Prophet.
This would include all oversight of Muslim marriages.
However, that figure was especially low given that of Indonesia’s population of 230million people, more than 95 per cent identify as Muslims. Roy Morgan’s Ira Soekirman said: “A lot of people think the idea (sharia) is very good, but when you start talking of everyday implications, the number dropped.”
Similarly, the number of people participating in polygamy – officially, at least – is probably quite low, analysts believe.
Indonesian public servants are discouraged under the terms of their employment from taking more than one wife, although those who want to do so often have a ceremony called nikah siri or unofficial marriage.
The Constitutional Court ruled last year that polygamy was not illegal so long as the man had his first wife’s permission and could demonstrate an ability to care for any subsequent spouses.
Mr Yusanto said it took him “a night” to convince his first wife, whom he married in 1990, to let him take the second one, a widow with one child, three years ago.
“According to Islam, it’s not even required to ask permission, but I did so because of the social issues – this is important to resolve any issues within the family,” he said.
“Why does a man take a second wife? It’s because he’s already happy in the first marriage, so then everyone’s happiness can increase.”
Some prominent Indonesians have been involved in controversy on the issue, including Muslim televangelist Abdullah Gymnastiar, who two years ago sparked passionate debate when he took a former model as his second wife.
Many believe he scotched all possibility of having a tilt in next year’s presidential elections by doing so.
A famous fried chicken restaurateur from Solo, in Central Java, has been a leading campaigner for the practice. Puspo Wardoyo has built restaurants for each of his three wives, in cities far removed from each other.
Even President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been caught up in the debate, having had to defend himself from allegations of polygamy by fellow parliamentarian Zaenal Ma’arif.