Sunday, March 4, 2012

Polygamy in Indonesia

This is Part 3 in a series on Life Under the Covering--what life is like for Muslim women in Indonesia. Go here for part 1 and here for part 2.

“My husband wanted to take a second wife and I begged him not to.”

I struggled to understand what this Indonesian woman was telling me. Did this taking of several wives really happen here? I’d only gone to a few months of language school, so maybe I misunderstood. But the Indonesian “poligami” sounds just like the English word.

When I take the time to read the Indonesian newspaper, I come across this open debate in the news. What about polygamy? Is it considered OK? When it is OK? How do women really feel about it?

My Muslim friends here are diverse. There’s the wife of the high government official—highly educated, very modern, could even be called a feminist. There are the young moms—some who work, some who stay at home. Some with college degrees. Some work as maids. Some regularly read the Koran. Some admit they don’t.

I love and respect them all. They are amazing women—hard workers with gorgeous smiles and warm hearts and generous souls.

The news stories lay out the defense. The religion allows men to take up to four wives if they treat them all equally. If the first wives agree to the other marriages. If the wife is really sick—too sick to fulfill her role, or is barren.

The media also shares the controversies—the famous Muslim teacher who took a much younger second wife, losing respect among many Indonesian women.

To be honest, I don’t want to risk judging a culture I have come to respect and a people I love. So, I will share their own words for you to read.

One woman’s words:

“My cousin’s husband wanted another wife because for 10 years, they couldn’t have kids. She told him her heart would be broken if she had to share her husband with another woman, and recommended that he divorce her. He did.”


“I asked my husband, before we got married, if he planned to take another wife someday. He said he could only handle one. He is mature, a great provider, a patient man whom I respect. So, I married him.”

Another friend:

“I don’t personally know anyone who has multiple wives. But it seems to happen often among people with enough money to support multiple families. And sometimes it’s kept hidden, or is unofficial—not recognized by the government.”

Yet another:

“Honestly, no woman wants her husband to take another wife. The prophet did it because he was trying to take care of widows. So, it’s allowed by Islam but it should be done to help women, not hurt them.”

Another one:

“The wives of a husband must be given their own homes so that they don’t get jealous of each other, and don’t end up fighting with each other.”

One last one:

“My father took several wives and my mother was so depressed because of it that she checked out and didn’t want to raise her kids. When I was 10, I took on the role as ‘mother’ to all my younger siblings. I left the house at 16 to get married to a man who one day, would also ask to take other wives. I told him I'd rather he divorce me. He eventually did.”

Join me later in the week for more posts about the struggles specific to Indonesian Muslim women—the stories under the covering.

photo credit, AnnieGreenSprings

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