Welcome To Global Justice

Human Rights

Saturday, 25 September 2010


by Agus Miswanto| Sept, 22, 2010

Polygamy is one of interesting issues which usually become discourse and controversial among Muslim people in Indonesia. Since some people assume that polygamy is part of Islamic religious teaching giving men to allow merry more than one woman. On the other hand, some Muslim people oppose to this notion, and they argue that polygamy although at the first time was allowed, but due to the process of shifting condition and situation, polygamy is prohibited. Because practice of polygamy has deviant from the goal of marriage. This perspective can not be separated from the raising of feminism movement in the Muslim world today.

Islamic feminism1 is “characterized by a consciousness of oppression and repression towards women in society, the workplace and the family, as well as conscious actions by females and males to change the situation using the sacred texts as a foundation” (Fuad, 2007:272). Therefore, based on this perspective, one can be called feminist if he/she actively try to alter the situation of discrimination on the basis of sex, male domination and patriarchy, In line of this notion, however religious leaders have strategic position2 in the way of producing interpretation of religious text in fighting on gender justice. This essay would like to address about religious leaders role in addressing human rights against polygamy. How do they frame the issues, and what is the impact of their effort?

Translating Human rights into the real context of society is the need a process and instrument. Sally Mary (2006a:40-43)suggest the use of culture as an instrument of translating human rights into society. In her perspective, culture can be used to frame and claim human rights. Of course, the use of culture needs new interpretation which fit and accord with human rights values (Marry,2006b:12). In line of Marry perspective, an-Naim (in Marks and Clapham,2004:395) also acknowledges that human rights usually denied and unrecognized by people due to out of culture legitimacy. In other word, culture plays a pivotal element in human rights advocacy. Otherwise the culture can be used as legitimacy, he suggest the use of cross culture critic to frame human rights, because culture is not always compatible with human rights, even it can destruct human rights. Therefore, critic against culture which offend human rights is unavoidable, before using it as instrument of legitimacy of human rights into society.

In the context of Indonesian Muslim, religious leaders try to reconcile the substance of Islamic doctrine with the values of universal human rights. Therefore, Indonesian Muslim intellectuals see that the application of universality of human rights has to consider differences of socio-cultural background (Fuad,2007:282). Due to this perspective, they have tried to make synthesis between the universalism and relativism of both Islamic and human rights in order to make both fit within the Indonesian context.

In line of reconciliation effort, religious leaders use Islamic language in translating universal human rights values. In this case, religious leaders look for universal values platform between universal human rights and fundamental values of Islam. Then, at the same time, they also pay attention to deconstruct shari‘ah which undermine women rights. In other word, they do not take shariah3 as granted, but shariah it self needs criticism. They see shariah is not a eternal product of Divine, but it is a profane product of human from certain era, schools, and places which has a different taste, culture and perspective (Fuad, 2007: 283).

Religious leaders have a pivotal role in transforming society and social justice. In the context of women rights, the role religious leaders can be seen their effort in transforming religious values in the context of social change. Regarding of polygamy issues, religious leaders seek the essence of religious values, give critic to product of the past religious text, and frame monogamy as an ideal form of marriage, as basis of their advocacy.

1. Finding Interpretation Theories of religious text as a basis of framing advocacy
According to Musdah Mulia (2010), the primary element undermining woman position in Muslim communities is religious interpretation constructed by religious authorities. Therefore, according her, the problem is not the religion it self, but people behind religious text. Therefore, reinterpretation of religious teachings (ijtihad), is a crucial solution to settle the problem. In other word, religious leaders in the modern era has to find a way of interpretation of religious text which can respond dynamic changes of the real context. This effort has been lasting for a century a go, in which Ulama and Muslim scholars see the legal theories from the past was not available to produce an interpretation fitting and proper with the contemporary context of Muslim society.

A number of Indonesian ulama has contributed in finding new legal theories exploited in interpretation of Islamic law. Few of them are such as Nurcholish Majid, Abdurrahman Wahid, Amin Abdullah, Munawir Sadzali, Hasbi ash-Shidiqy, Siti Musdah Mulia, Dawam Raharjo, Husain Muhammad, Nazaruddin Umar, etc (Wahid, 2008:55). In the way of interpretation, they carried out the religious text from theo-centric to anthropocentric, from elitist to popular nature, from deductive to inductive. Accordingly, religious leaders (ulama and Muslim scholars) interprets Qur’anic verses and al-Hadits from the perspective of public benefit (Maslaha), local wisdom, maqashid al-syari’ah, and public logic (ibid) Even Musdah Mulia and her team of CLD KHI use method of interpretation of Islamic law based on a vision consists of six points, that are pluralism (ta’addudiyyah), nationality (muwâthanah), upholding human rights (iqâmat al-huqûq al-insâniyyah), democracy (dîmûqrathiyyah), public benefits (mashlahat), and gender equality (al-musâwah al-jinsiyyah) (Wahid, 2008:54; Mulia, 2010).

2. Framing Polygamy as contradict to Islamic Messages
Principally, Islamic marriage is monogamous. It is understood from the message of polygamy limitation addressed by the prophet. Although it was lawful in the prophet era, but it was limited. Since polygamy had become a customary practice among Arab tribal, before and at the dawn of Islam. At that time, commonly, people practiced polygamy, and there was no limitation to have many wives. Therefore, after Islam come, the practice of polygamy was limited in number and the practice has to fulfill certain requirements. Message of the limitation, according to modern ulama, is that the practice of polygamy would be banned, if the condition of society change and achieve in the better civilization. The limitation is only the initial sign for banning polygamy in the future.

a. Polygamy contradict to Justice
Muslim religious leaders frame justice issues as a reason for prohibiting practice of polygamy. They see that polygamy practices has violated gender justice. According to them debate on justice which in Islamic law regulations on polygamy refers to such notions as giving equal provision to all wives, tends to be qualitative justice. According to Komaruddin Hidayat concept of justice in al-Quran refer to term al-qist and al-‘adl. Al-qist according to him, is a quantitative category, which concerned with the equal provision of material needs such as money, and this can be afforded by those who have more than one wife. Then, ‘adl or ‘adalah is a qualitative category in which it is more abstract in measure and difficult for people to achieve with regard to polygamy (Fuad, 2007:275). Therefore the person who can afford quantitative justice is not always the one who can satisfy the requirements of qualitative justice. In other word, doing polygamy is not allowed, because no one can afford qualitative justice.

In addition, when a husband can not afford a qualitative justice such as passion and love, consequently he has done discrimination among his wives. Therefore, accordingly it will lead to violet goal of Islamic marriage. Because, the primary core of a family is the existence of reciprocal respect and love among its members, therefore if a husband cannot respect the rights of his wife, the structure of the family will be damaged. Hence, polygamy is only a form of discrimination against and marginalization of women (Fuad, 2007:274).

b. Polygamy as a form of violence against women
Many religious leaders also see that practice of polygamy will form violence against women. For instance, decision of a husband to marry other women will only hurt heart of his wife, it is, because majority of women does not want to share love of her partner with other women. Psychologically, women will experience psychological harassment such as sadness, anger, feel to be isolated, and offended (Venny,2006). Furthermore, polygamy will trigger conflict among family members. In other word, polygamy only make uncomfortable situation among women, and will impact on family harmony. Therefore, polygamy contradict to maslahat of marriage, the goal of marriage will not be achieved. In addition, polygamy contradicts to concept of musawah al-jinsiah (equality relationship), passionate and love which is as a basis of marriage relationship. In this notion, that men and women are equal, there is no domination and subordination. In fact, polygamy is likewise a symbol of patriarchy culture, in which women become subordinated and as an object of male sexual.

The way of interpretation of religious text has resulted new significant paradigm. Not only People hold on the product of religious text from the past, but they have an alternative interpretation in the new ways. In the context of polygamy, for example, therefore, they have a theological basis and framing as an instrument to give pathways in defending women rights against polygamy issues. Based on the frameworks, feminism movement has a strong basis theology to claim women rights. Musdah Mulia and her team, for instance, has succeeded in proposing Counter Legal Draft of Islamic Law Compilation (CLD-KHI)4, and become main discourse in public sphere. Her efforts aim at suggestion of amendment of Islamic law (KHI) which is used as resource in Islamic court. One of the purposes of amending KHI which is used in Islamic Court, is the existence of polygamy in that law.

Beside that, personally, the new frameworks of interpretation also give people bravery and encourage them to raise critic against religious text including polygamy notion. Abdurahman Wahid (Faqih,2003) for example, accused people who allow practice of polygamy, they do not understand the messages of Qur'an. Even, KH Husain Muhammad see practice of polygamy does not fit and proper with essence of Islam. Furthermore, the anti-polygamy movement in Indonesia increase from time to time. For instance, Dickson's research on Muhammadiyah women (Aisiyah)5 in Malang shows that majority of Muslim women see that monogamy is an ideal marriage, then the preference on monogamy marriage among them increased very significant from the prior research (Dickson, 2008:). Then based on a survey conducted by Indonesian Survey Foundation (LSI) together with Center of Studies on Islam and Society (PPIM) of State Islamic University of Syarif Hidayatullah, on March 2006, showed that almost 60% (57,4%) of Indonesia people was categorized to “refuse polygamy”, which consist of 53% of people declared "disagree", and 4,4% of people claimed "very strong disagree" (Martadikusumah: 3). Then, there are also many demonstrations from Muslim women and activists demanding the government to amend and alter Law 1/1974 on marriage. Because in this law, although the bond between husband and wife is basically monogamous, but the possibility of having more than one wife (polygamy) is open to all Muslim men.

Religious leaders has a pivotal rule in promoting human rights, although there are also many opposition from colleague. Religious leaders can function as bridge in transforming society from traditional views which has very strict to women, into modern society which has views of democratic and equality. The role of religious leaders give a legitimized framework of international and universal human rights applicable to the particular society, but also they function critic against religious norm which unavailable to society more reachable than others.

Polygamy which is legitimate rule in the frame work of traditional shariah, can be interpreted in the new way in which it is prohibited to do. Since the essence of limitation of polygamy in the time of prophet give indication of guaranteeing women from exploitation. As long as the process of time, the permission of polygamy is not available due to the essence of Islamic message on marriage. Beside that, requirement of qualitative justice as basis of relationship between men and his wives is difficult to be afforded. Likewise, polygamy also triggers violence against women, such as discrimination and conflict within family members.


Dickson, ANNE LOUISE, 2007, Pandangan Ibu-ibu 'Aisyiyah di Malang Terhadap Poligami, http://www.acicis.murdoch.edu.au/hi/field_topics/anne_dickson.pdf, accessed in June 26, 2010
Faqih, Abdullah, 2003, Poligami dalam Perspektif Alquran, in Suara Merdeka: Perekat Komunitas Jawa Tengah, http://www.suaramerdeka.com/harian/0308/28/kha2.htm accessed in june 27, 2010
Fuad, Ahmad Nur, et al., 2007, 'Islam and human rights in indonesia: an account of muslim intellectuals' views', Al-Jami'ah, vol. 45, No. 2, http://ern.pendis.depag.go.id/DokPdf/jurnal/01-Al-Jamiah-vol-45-No-2.pdf
Marks, S. and A. Clapham, 2004, International Human Rights Lexicon, Oxford, Oxford University Press
Marry, SE, 2006a “Transnational Human Rights and Local Activism: Mapping the Middle”, in American Anthropologist, Volume 108, Issue 1 (p 38-51), http://www3.interscience.wiley.com.olr.iss.nl/cgi-bin/fulltext/120127451/PDFSTART, accessed in June 26, 2010.
Marry, SE, 2006b, Human rights and Gender Violence, Translating International law to Local Justice, Chicago, University of Chicago Press
Martadikusumah, H.R.A.G. Hanafi, Stigma Poligami dan Kesetaraan Jender (Perspektif Islam dan Hukum Perkawinan Indonesia), http://www.uninus.ac.id/data/data_ilmiah/STIGMA%20POLIGAMI%20DAN%20KESETARAAN%20GENDER.pdf, accesses in June 26, 2010
Mulia, Siti Musdah, 2010, Islam as a Tool for Women’s Empowerment and Peace Building, in Global Justice: Fights Against Discrimination and Inequality, http://justicerights.blogspot.com/#ab=-&dh=justicerights.blogspot.com&dr=&du=http%3A%2F%2Fjusticerights.blogspot.com%2F&dt=and%20Inequality%20
Oh, Irene, 2005, Islam and the Reconsideration of Universal Human Rights, http://www.irmgard-coninx-stiftung.de/fileadmin/user_upload/pdf/archive/042%20Oh.pdf, accessed in June 2006
Syamsiatun, Siti, 2004, ' The Origin of Nasyiatul Aisyiyah: Organising for Articulating Religious-based Womanhood in Pre-Independent Indonesia', This paper was presented to the 15th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia in Canberra 29 June-2 July 2004, http://coombs.anu.edu.au/SpecialProj/ASAA/biennial-conference/2004/Syamsiyatun-S-ASAA2004.pdf, accessed in June 26, 2010
Venny, Adriana, 2006, “Kekerasan Poligami”, in Jurnal Perempuan, http://www.jurnalperempuan.com/index.php/jpo/comments/kekerasan_poligami/, accessed in June 27, 2010.
Wahid, Marzuki, 2008, 'Counter Legal Draft Kompilasi Hukum Islam (CLD-KHI) from the Perspective of Politics of Law in Indonesia, http://english.pta-yogyakarta.go.id/artikel/lawarticles/260-counter-legal-draft-kompilasi-hukum-islam.html , accessed in June 26, 2010

Agus Miswanto is a lecture of Islamic studies at Muhammadiyah University of Magelang. He got his bachelor in Islamic law from the  State Islamic University of Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta in 2000. Then he continued his master program at the same university in 2002, unfortunately he did complete it. In 2009, he was awarded a felowship program from Ford Foundation to take master on human rights, development, and social justice at ISS (International Institute of Social Studies Erasmus University) in the Hague, The Netherlands.