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UPDATED: 20:06, December 06, 2006
Planned polygamy ban stirs debate in Indonesia
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A recent government's move to extend the ban on polygamy to all Indonesian state officials has apparently triggered strong reactions from lawmakers in the parliament, mostly those from Muslim-based parties.

The government announced Tuesday a plan to amend the 1974 marriage law and widen the ban on polygamy from civil servants to legislators, cabinet ministers, elected governors, mayors and regents and soldiers.

The move came after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono reportedly received thousands of text messages and emails from housewives and female activists protesting the second marriage of prominent Muslim preacher Abdullah Gymnastiar.

Gymnastiar -- who has nationwide fans of mostly women and is portrayed a role model as a perfect husband, as well as male admirers for being a modern Muslim scholar -- drew controversy after secretly taking a second wife despite a consent from the first who gave him seven children.

Unlike other Muslim scholars, Gymnastiar is independent from politics and attracted even more supporters in the country when refusing to greet U.S. President George W. Bush during the latter's visit in 2003.

"The president has great concern for women and it is of great importance for the government to ensure protection for women and deliver them the sense of security," said State Minister for Women 's Empowerment Meutia Farida Hatta Swasono.

Many in the world's most populous Muslim nation are practicing polygamy on grounds that Islam allows such practice.

Cabinet Secretary Sudi Silalahi, who accompanied Meutia in the Tuesday's meeting with the president, said polygamy is allowed among other societies only if the wife was invalid or infertile.

But still, the husband must earn approvals from the religious court and the first wife.

Meutia asserted that the amendment of the polygamy law will be conducted soon, only to ignite fire in the parliament.

"The government has no business regulating this issue, on which the religion imposes no prohibition," senior legislator Lalu Misbach Hidayat from the Muslim-based National Awakening Party was quoted Wednesday by leading news website Detikcom as saying.

Hidayat said stricter ban on polygamy would force many women into prostitution or increase love affairs, considered to be serious offences to Islamic teachings.

Fellow lawmaker Lukman Hakiem from the United Development Party said the government should defend polygamy according to Islamic rules.

"Will the government allow sinful affairs but ban polygamy which is lawful according to Islam?" he asked.

Indonesian Ulema Council chairman Ma'ruf Amin joined the chorus to oppose the prohibitive law, saying the government should not completely close the door to the practice.

"Polygamy is indeed allowed. The door should not be closed to it, neither should it be widely opened," he said.

Islam allows a man to have up to four wives if he can treat all of them fairly.

Muslims make up of more than 90 percent of the country's 240 million population, but mostly observe the moderate version of the religion. The country is run by a secular government.

Noted female scholar Dr. Musdah Mulia from the State Islamic University of Jakarta said Muslims should stop using religion to justify polygamy.

"There is no single verse in the Koran stating that polygamy is halal (lawful)," she said.

But quite surprisingly, female legislator Yoyoh Yusroh said the expanded polygamy ban could constitute violations against the right to privacy.

As for Gymnastiar's first wife, Teh Nini, she said everything was fine with her despite having to share the house with another wife.

"It was hard for me in the beginning," she said in a radio broadcast Wednesday.

"I kept praying to God... and later found that he had no intention to hurt my feelings. I was just unprepared for this."

Source: Xinhua

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