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Meet Amina Wadud, The Rock Star of Islamic Feminist

The Lady Imam talks to Managing Editor Hera Diani about her endless spiritual journey, Feminism in Islam, and how she enjoys taking off her hijab in her new home in Indonesia.

 

by Hera Diani, Managing Editor

 

amina wadud distributed the copies of the Quranic verses related to Islam and feminism during a class in Jakarta last year. It was held during Ramadan by Rumah KitaB, a non-governmental research organization focusing on the rights marginalized groups facing discrimination against socio-religious perspective.

There were 35 participants from different professional backgrounds, including public figures like women activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, as well as Muslim scholars Ulil Abshar Abdalla and Nur Rofiah. But all of us share the same interest in Islam and gender and we were all star-struck by the presence of the Lady Imam in front of our very eyes.

My introduction to the 68 years old American Muslim philosopher was in 2005, when she created a controversy by leading Friday prayers for a congregation in the United States, going against the general rule that allows only male imam in mixed gender congregations. For someone who had been questioning the very rule and had been asked by non-Muslims about it, I became an instant fan and follower after that.

Getting her PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Michigan in 1988, wadud (who prefers her name in lower case as Arabic alphabets do not recognize capital letters), has focused on relation of gender and Islam. She wrote the quintessential Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, which has since become a seminal work on the topic. She has been part of several civil society organizations and movements that promote principles of equality for women under the principles of Islam, such as Sisters in Islam and Musawah.

As an Islamic scholar, she has a progressive focus on Quran exegesis, or the interpretation of the holy text. That was what she tried to teach us last year in the class, to read the holy text using contextual methods.

wadud said we need to ask the following questions in seeing gender discrepancies in the Quran. Is it a reflection of the historical context? Is it the shortcoming of Arabic language? Is it a reflection of patriarchy? Or a matter of divine intent? How do we know?

We were divided into groups of 2-3, and each group read different verses. My group got Surah Al-Ankabut 28-35, about the Prophet Lot’s people and their abomination, which have been used by many Muslims to reject homosexuality.

“Check the verse. Who is the speaker? Is it God? Is it the prophet? Who or what is this statement made about? Is the message clear? If there is a woman, does she speak?” said wadud.

As we dissect the verses word by word to answer these questions, it became clear that the verses were not crystal clear about homosexuality. There are mentions about “obscenity” and “people of corruption”, as well as “wrongdoers” and “lewdness”. The narrators alternate between God and Prophet Abraham telling the story of Prophet Lot, and other unclear narrator(s). There are a few mentions about Lot’s wife, such as “We will save you and your family, except for your wife, who will remain behind.” But it was not clear what vice she does, and does she speak for her own? Never.

It was such a mind-blowing exercise.

“Compare each verse to other verses. If we find contradictory passages or ideas in the text, choose on the side of equality and justice. If other people can read in patriarchy, you can read in equality and justice. The only way to resolve contradiction is to think,” said wadud.

“No need to be scared of people. You don’t have to be a scholar to interpret the text, it’s your right to do so.”

As she talked about hegemonic binaries in Islamic context, wadud also made a reference Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, a 1992 work of literary criticism by Toni Morrison, which made her class even more exciting.

In between the classes, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with amina wadud and the excerpt is as follows.

Magdalene: So you are now moving to Indonesia. May I know why?

amina wadud: I love this part of the world; I love the weather. I have arthritis, it fits me better. I’m very happy here. My kids, the youngest one is turning 30 today. They have a life of their own and they’re living their lives, and I can always visit them. Because it’s cheaper to live here and visit them there. So I’m hoping to find a place that I can either purchase or, you know, move to.

How did you begin to be interested in Islam, being a daughter of a Methodist priest?

I think being raised in a God-centered household, it was fairly early on that I was clear that there was more to it than just one way. And at that time I just was interested in looking into various Christian denominations to see what’s the same, what’s different. When I was in high school, I lived with families, some were Jewish, Unitarian Universalists…so again, there was this idea that religion is not just one.

By the time I got into the university, I really was interested in Eastern spiritualist tradition and I became a Buddhist and lived in Ashram for a year and practiced meditation and textual practice. And the next year, when I was like 18 or 19, I started reading about Islam. There was a very strong movement in the U.S., so anybody who expressed any interest, they converted them. So I actually went to the mosque to get information and they said, “Oh, you should just take your shahadat (the Muslim profession of faith).” Five months later, I was given a copy of the Quran, which in my mind should’ve come way earlier but nevertheless by that time, I kind of committed myself to some level of practice, to some kind of community. But one time I read the Quran, I really fell in love and that’s really when it made a profound difference.

Did you face resistance from your family?

No, because I was always the odd person out. I was the only one who had ever went to university. I was vegetarian. They were, like, “Ok what else she is bringing home today?” (laugh). And I was already in the university, I wasn’t living at home, so there wasn’t any major issue. My father also had an illness that took his life, and his health deteriorated over the first two years that I was a Muslim until he passed away. So there was never really an opportunity to have any frank theological discussions.

I think my father also never knew about any other version of Islam except for the Black Muslim movement in the United States. At that time the Black Muslim movement was a non-esoteric movement. They didn’t believe in heaven and hell; they didn’t believe in white Jesus. And I’m sure that that seemed like it was a problem even though that wasn’t what the doorway was for me. I did not enter into the doorway, many Muslims did. They also, in a way, had internal movement until they became religious Sunni Muslim. But in the beginning it was a different kind of movement but I didn’t enter into that. But I think my father might’ve thought that, but as I said, I was living away from home, so if I came to see him and visited him at the hospital up until he died, we never really had time to talk about, “what is it you’re doing – do I agree, do I disagree”.

Being a Muslim back then in the U.S. must be very different from now in Trump’s U.S.

I’m sure because that was like over 40 years ago. I’ve been a Muslim for 46 years now. At that time actually there was a very strong movement in the African-American community towards Islam. In the 1930s to 70s, there was a very strong movement of conversion in the African-American community. And being an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, I was right in the heart of Philadelphia. And even today, of all the cities that you might visit in the United States, if you’re in the city of Philadelphia, Islam is very noticeable. It’s got a very strong presence and it is predominantly African-American even though there are Muslims from everywhere. So it was not as strange, but it still was rare.

But Islamophobia wasn’t as apparent as it is today?

No, there was a real lack of knowledge and people were pretty much stuck with that. With Islamophobia, there was a kind of consolidated profiling of types. The Muslims already figured out what was the “type” at that time and Muslims already knew what our type was. So we didn’t really have that palpable quality of hate and prejudice discrimination that goes on profiling everyone now.

So, how did you start focusing on feminism in Islam?

I never studied feminism in Islam. I actually distinguished myself from feminism for 35 years of being a Muslim. I studied Quran because I was interested in the Quran, and when I studied the Quran at my undergraduate university, I was mostly on my own because there wasn’t a really advance level. I started learning Arabic in the early 70s, then I lived in Libya and my Arabic fluency increased. I went to work, just teaching and tutoring in Islamic private schools, then I went to graduate school for Islamic Studies and Arabic. And by that time, I was clear that I really wanted to understand the role of women as promoted by the Quran.

 

Participants of Islam and Feminism class with amina wadud. (Courtesy of Rumah KitaB) 

 

I had lived abroad; I’d lived in a Muslim majority country. I’ve been around in the communities in the US, which are eclectic, with Muslims from all over the world, as well as home-grown, what you’d call indigenous Muslims. I had already absorbed that there were discrepancies between the ideas about what rights belong to men as Muslims and what rights belong to women as Muslims. I was very curious about where these differences had come from. And so my first question was, is this what Allah intends? And if this is what Allah intends, where would be the source of getting that information that I would best to be able to access? And that was the Quran.

So it worked out well because I was already in love with the Quran, and so I was clear that I wanted to look at that… Even then I didn’t even call it gender. My first book is called Quran and Women, it should be called Quran and Gender. But I didn’t take Feminist Studies, which was just evolving. I took a few random courses at Women’s Studies, but I took all these courses that say Islam is the best way. Here, look at all these researches that say why Islam is the best way, and they always gave me an A but it wasn’t really critical.

I think after I finished my master’s and PhD, and I wrote my dissertation, which became the book Quran and Women…I think it was then that it became clear to me that if you actually, methodically demonstrate discrepancies between certain cultural practices throughout the history of Islam and Muslims, from the Quranic trajectory based on knowledge of the Quran, it was so challenging to the comfort zone and authority given to men, that they resisted.

So I already became controversial when I really was not by personality very controversial. I was actually very conservative. Even Quran and Women as a book, it’s conservative, but in terms of scholarship it’s very rigorous. And, unfortunately, for the patriarchal projection of Islam, it does not support that projection. So it already began to create some problems. But I wasn’t interested in creating problems; I’m just interested in the truth.

 

It was much more challenging to the mainstream when the basis for your resistance to unequal treatment of women and men was not secular liberal feminism, but it was Quranic.

 

After I did my dissertation and got my PhD, I came to Malaysia and joined the International Islamic University to teach Quran and Quranic Studies to undergraduates. I began to have a relationship with the women in the communities and the beginning of Sisters in Islam. And that really shifted my thinking from just theory and theology to the level of activism and realities. When both thinking align with that trajectory that I understood from the Quran, it was much more challenging to the mainstream when the basis for your resistance to unequal treatment of women and men was not secular liberal feminism, but it was Quranic. That was even more powerful.

As a consequence, I actually began to experience some relevance in my work. Because before, it was all utopic, like Islam is the best religion in the world, and it does only wonderful things and the Quran says all these wonderful things, but the lived reality is something else. When you start having conversation between these two cosmologies, for me it’s the easy answer that the Quran will come first but how come we’re not living it? And trying to figure out not only how come we’re not living it, but how to live it. What were the steps needed to be put into place to follow that, putting it on the trajectory was actually revolutionary?

I left Malaysia in 1992 and Sisters in Islam started in 1987 but I didn’t join until 1989. And Musawah was launched in 2009 and by that time I identified as an Islamic feminist. I actually wrote critically about the … shaping of feminism, which was very secular, very white, and very class-elitist in its origin for it to relate to me as an African-American woman and a Muslim. There are a lot of things that need to be looked into.

Actually in 1995, at the Beijing World Conference of Women, it became clear that Muslim women’s issues were being put into a kind of battleground between the secular feminist and the Islamist. And the Islamists were a hundred percent patriarchal interpretations of Islam and that was fine because Islam is perfect, and the secular had a hundred percent “we don’t know religion” and they were in an agreement that you can’t have Islam and feminism. It wasn’t until those who were in the middle said, “who is defining Islam and how are they defining it? And who is defining feminism or human rights? How are they defining it? And when will the authority be given to us who are also living as Muslims and women to be able to define feminism, Islam and human rights all for ourselves?” And that’s when the shift came in terms of even the work that Sisters in Islam, the right to exert the authority to define not just feminism, but also to define Islam and that’s been the cornerstone of our work.

Because before people just say, “Oh you know what, that’s just Islam.” It’s like whose Islam? How is it defined? And where do they get their authority?” Those are the three questions that you need to ask continually because people are very strategically asserting limits for Islam in accordance to the agenda that they have and patriarchy was one such agenda that has a long history. So people just started taking it for granted. And when we challenge even that history to say, “That was one way of doing it, but there are other ways to do it” and here are the source stacks, here’s the methodology to support the idea that there are other trajectories of Islam, then we became a lot more empowered, but also a lot more controversial.

I can relate with what you call the battleground because Magdalene often talks about that trajectory and redefining Islam, like, is feminism in Islam oxymoronic or is there actually an intersection. And we are being attacked by both the right who say we’re liberal, and the left who say we are Islam apologists.

Yeah, that was what happened to us in the 90s, and it turned out also to strategically be a very good turning point, because then we had to figure out what is our identity. Because the Islamists said that we were secular feminist and the secular feminists said that we were Islamist. We were not either one of them. So, technically, not having an identity, and so clarifying both for ourselves and for the projection of our work and our relationship to larger communities took the next 10-15 years. By the time the launching of Musawah took place and we became a part of the global movements.

So now we teach the methodology of combining Islam and human rights for the dignity of women. It’s a lovely journey for me because everything just opened itself up to the next thing in a way that I was allowed to grow and change and learn and teach, and at the same time being a part of movements to implement what was being grown and what was being taught. So yeah, it’s a great blessing. But I didn’t know about it when I got into it, I only know that the dissertation I wrote that I became the book. I just get my royalty payment, twice a year from Quran and Women, it’s still making money. You know it’s like 27-something years old… so I mean it’s a blessing, really, to think about it.

Musawah focuses on family law, why is that?

Yes, the reason is that we have to work within an instrument, implement it within the context of the nation state. Many Muslim countries or non-Muslim countries with a large Muslim population that are minority will establish courts to adjudicate the matters that most relate to women and women’s well-being. They are family law courts, or personal status law courts. The fundamental understanding of those courts is that men are in charge. To dismantle the rubric of men’s superiority at a pragmatic level means challenging the established means of laws that support certain notions that actually violate in many ways the constitutional equality that is guaranteed to the same women in the context of direct nation-state. So strategically it’s a very powerful tool, otherwise it’s just too big.

We get to align with very specific kind of projects. For example, each country must give a report to CEDAW for the documents that they have become signature forms and each country is also permitted a shadow report. The shadow report is the unofficial report by women’s activists on the ground to say they’re telling you that they’ve been handling this and this is what is really happening on the ground.

It became a very powerful tool because it puts the nation state under its international connection empowering women on the ground to talk back to the state. But that also took time because CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) was not in the UN and all its bodies was not qualified to interrogate the interpretation of Islam that came down the road. They were also believing that their job was to be hands off.

One of the ways that Musawah has worked with CEDAW and nation state to nation state’s agendas for women is to actually teach people in the UN about definitions of Islam. Like, who defines it and how, and we say if it’s defined by these things, how come these things are not put into these principles of Islam or these reservations on these international document and everything, so that took a lot of time and it’s not a hundred percent replaced, but it’s becoming more and more effective as we just keep on doing it.

Eventually, even in the UN, they said, “You know what? You defining Islam, what about these ways based on these principles” and all of a sudden we can no longer come to this body and say “Well you can’t do anything about it cause it’s Islam” because that body is also asking “whose interpretation of Islam are you using?”. It’s slow, but it’s happening.

One of the thorniest issues among Muslim women is hijab. What is actually said in the Quran about hijab?

First of all, there’s nothing said in the Quran about the hijab. There are some statements in the Quran about women’s dress, they’re taken one hundred percent from the style of the dress that existed at that time and place, and I used those based on things I presented in the first two sessions here. I use those as reflections of a general principle, and that general principle is modesty. But you cannot restrict modesty to only one form.

I don’t believe that hijab is a requirement of the religion. But it is personally my preference for my public work. I don’t wear it at home, I don’t wear it in my neighborhood, I don’t wear it when I go for some shopping, but when I were in public I do and it’s because I have a different relationship with symbols. This is one of the clearest, symbolic representations of Islam. And in that way, I identify this as a public performance. But I don’t see it as a requirement and I don’t see it as the only expression of modesty.

But because hijab is so politicized in a negative way, under the roof of Islamophobia, I am implying even more incline to assert it. So, for example, after 9/11, I was always subject to additional screening because I wore hijab at the time and I wear long dreadlocks as well, so it was like a nightmare. Because I would choose not to wear it, people were saying “why don’t you just go through the thing and not wear it?” I was, like, “No, no, why would I not identify with the people being the most oppressed?”

 

Compare each verse to other verses. If we find contradictory passages or ideas in the text, choose on the side of equality and justice. If other people can read in patriarchy, you can read in equality and justice. The only way to resolve contradiction is to think.

 

You know, I do also identify with wearing hijab, and recently when I went to Bali or something like that, I realized, “Oh, I’m in a Muslim majority country, they would let me wear if I have to they won’t pass at me, and if I don’t, they won’t pass on me either.” So, for the first time in 18 years, I went through security without having on hijab. That was, like, huge for me, because we have to see that there are politics related to it as well, and I don’t feel like my dress should be subject to the convenience of Islamophobes. Like, you don’t get to determine for me how I dress. Even your hate and your laws say that you don’t get to determine it for me. So obviously I believe in the wearing of choice and I believe in the taking off of choice. Because I both wear it and don’t wear it, I live in one hundred percent a place of choice, and that’s where I am.

What about niqab or burqa?

Well first of all, I chose to wear niqab myself for four years. I was in the United States and then I moved to Libya and I was still wearing it. And when I was in Libya, I stopped wearing it. But it was possible to wear the niqab by choice as well. Unfortunately, because of the politicization of the discussion, it is a long way before we know what would a person do if they were totally free. That is, if they were free to wear whatever they wanted, nobody said anything, would that be as big a deal? Even for the wearer? As it is to those who are resisting it? I don’t know.

So, until we actually accept people in the full range of their choices, we can’t know about what is the full spectrum or full range of women Muslim and their dress. We can’t know. So I support this movement going on terribly in Iran just as much as I support the burqini protest that is going on in France. They emphasize on two different things, but they’re all about women saying we give the same, that’s my body my choice. And that’s hard to do with the (unintelligible)

Now that you’re living here, how do you see the increased conservatism?

Yes, it’s interesting because many people have been pointing this out to me. I’m a little bit insulated living in Bogor and not speaking fluent bahasa. But also because I lived in Malaysia and actually it is way worse in Malaysia. Malaysia goes under the guise of a little bit more modern, a little bit more economic prosperity, but extreme Islamists is a really more rampant.

So, I’ve lived around it, so it still seems to be less in Indonesia but it is growing. It is in the favor of the Indonesian people to arrest the force of it by promotion of all kinds of tolerant, diverse representation of Islam. You just have to load the ways with more of the history of the tolerant nature that is typical of Indonesians. We have to make that the loudest part of the public.

The thing is we give more attention to the extreme voices and because we do, it seems as if they’re greater in number than they really are. Or that they have greater favor. They’re fighters, they make people afraid, so we really need to flood the waves with more conversation about just generic Indonesian Islam. And then it won’t seem so overwhelming. Because it is. It’s negatively overwhelming, and that’s part of the effect. We shouldn’t want that effect, and I think that they don’t have as much clout as they pretend they do. But they have enough to make other people afraid and so that’s the clout. That’s why we have to proliferate the friendlier messages.

But it’s worrying, like public schools are getting more conservative. And everywhere we go, more and more women are wearing hijab. My friend said when she was going to the church, she was genuinely taken aback, “Wow, it’s odd that nobody’s wearing hijab. Oh, wait a minute. I’m in a church.”

(Laugh) That’s right, you don’t go somewhere without seeing…. It does proliferate. It’s funny because I have to walk my neighborhood every morning, I tried to walk every morning because of my age and my arthritis and all that stuff, and I mostly go with a T-shirt, sometimes gym pants. And sometimes I think to myself, because everybody in the neighborhood wears hijab, “Are you showing off?” And actually, at the time that I go there are so few people that are out and about, and I always say, “Pagi, Bu/Pak. Apa kabar, Ibu.” and just trying to be neighborly, but the opportunity for me to walk with just a t-shirt on is rare. I can’t do it in the country like the United States because we got that other thing that’s going on there and I need to represent myself as a Muslim because I don’t want other things to come…I’m Muslim here, I don’t have to dress to go with it.

I went to the mosque with my T-shirt on, I just bring along scarf to do the prayer part, and I take it off and I get up and everything, I’m finally whole. My body is whole. I’m not fighting a war all the time with my body so I will have that choice to a Muslim woman. I don’t have to fight that here, so it is a pleasure. But sometimes, I worried, I said, “Are you showing off?” Because I would never, I mean, stay in an island… I went to Madagascar, which is an island, we have our own little private beach, so I’m in a sort of regular bathing suit, like a one-piece, but not like a burqini. And my friend, who’s also a Muslim, from the UK, she would go to the village to buy food, and she would wear just the shirt on. I mean, I could not go that far, so I have to put back on more clothes. I could not go with my chest all out, in my bathing suit, so I had to put on a regular T-shirt, so I’m not comfortable in certain levels of dress. Even on an island, if I’m going to meet other people, but I swim in a bathing suit like this, you know. So it’s a really funny thing because I noticed it more as I get older that the right to be able to choose my own body politics is very rarely given to me. So, when I walk in my neighborhood, I can do that, but you know, I wouldn’t be able to do that in many places.

But yeah, I do notice more (people are wearing hijab). Since the first time I lived here, which was 2008 to 2009, so in those ten years, I do notice more. Because I also wear (hijab) and I take it off as I want to as well, and I only started doing that when I was here. Living here the first time, I realized I don’t have to defend Islam. I’m not a walking poster for Islam, I’m just another person out here in the community, and most of them are Muslims, it took a weight off my back. So my first time to experience what would it be like to walk all the time without my hijab on is living here, and I said that I’m okay with this. But as I said, I wouldn’t go with a tank top, that’s not me. I came back here so I can enjoy taking it off. I’m not here for anybody’s pleasure or inspection, so if you don’t like that I don’t wear it, that’s your problem. Just as I would tell the Americans, if you don’t like that I do wear it, that’s your problem.

We also received quite a number of articles from the women who took off their hijab and receive a lot of backlash.

I used to say that most people give that backlash because they’re jealous, like, “Why do you get to take yours off while I have to wear mine?” I mean, like, that’s your problem.

So, are you doing your research here?

This first year, I must admit, I’m flaunting being retired, just trying to make some friends for safari, I’m going to South Africa next month. I’m enjoying not having to do anything except for what I want to do, because I’m a workaholic and I have five children. So, I never got the chance to do whatever I wanted to do for more than a minute, so I’m just flaunting it.

But I need to get to do some writing, which is why I left the U.S., I didn’t plan to stay, but this happened in such a good way. But yeah I want to do some writing from this research on sexual diversity and human dignity, and also I put in a proposal for a book about progressive ideas about the summit of spirituality and devotional practices. A kind of a progressive version of the five pillars, so I can talk about women imams, and also talk about the ways which people connect themselves to Allah, that include the regular five pillar that also extends it beyond itself.

After I made hajj, I ran a proposal that was accepted like, okay, here’s a chapter, and I never get any further. So I’d like to make that book, sometimes when people think of a book, to know about the fact that there are lady imams. Because if you learn about lady imams, it has to be like on a marginal discussion, on a marginal aspect, but no. It’s just a part of a regular Islamic salah (prayer), so, inshallah (God willing). Put me in your dua’ (prayer), because the idea is good but the discipline really sucks.

 

Source: https://magdalene.co/story/meet-amina-wadud-the-rock-star-of-islamic-feminist?fbclid=IwAR3Qt9Py8RI-q6DECUdqWabKUWNHfuhX-Q_Svw7Kt4ottvDdSnS87AF61og

Giving Thanks for the Blessing of Reason: Reconstructing the Meaning of Wilayah (Guardianship) to Prevent the Practice of Child Marriage

Report on Discussion of the Book Fikih on Guardianship: Re-reading the Right of Guardianship for Protection of Women from Child Marriage and Forced Marriage

In Bekasi, on 20 October 2019, Rumah KitaB, in cooperation with Yayasan Perguruan Islam el-Nur el-Kasysyaf (YAPINK) and Institut Agama Islam Shalahuddin Al-Ayyubi (INISA), conducted a discussion of the book Fikih on Guardianship: Re-reading the Right of Guardianship for Protection of Women from Child Marriage and Forced Marriage. This event was attended by 194 participants (44 men and 150 women), comprising the Board of Pesantren Caretakers of YAPINK, the leadership of INISA, lecturers, teachers, and students, and invited Ulil Abshar Abdalla (PBNU), KH. Ali Anwar (YAPINK Board of Pesantren Caretakers), and Ahmad Hilmi, (member of the book writing team) as the resource persons. The discussion took place at the Lecture Hall of YAPINK’s Faculty of Culture, and acting as the moderator was Jamaluddin Muhammad (Researcher from Rumah KitaB).

Before the event started, KH. Khalid Dawam (Chairman of the YAPINK Board of Pesantren Caretakers) provided welcoming remarks conveying his appreciation for the intellectual work that has been done by persons who are willing and courageous enough to explore matters that are often considered final, such as fikih. This intellectual work to respond to what is happening in society, according to KH. Khalid Dawam, is not intended to ignore, negate, or disrespect the fuqaha who have set forth their thinking in the studies on fikih as presented in various books, but is instead a form of intellectual responsibility to address problems in society.

Al-Qur’an and the hadith are indeed one, but clearly their interpretations are not singular, KH. Khalid Dawam stated. Hence, he continued, it is still possible to discuss matters that are of a furuiyyah[1] nature.

If to date the community has believed that akil baligh [maturity] is one indication that a person is allowed to marry, now we must reexamine what exactly akil baligh is, and what its consequences are – particularly if biological maturity is used as a basis for allowing child marriage. This is because there are certain individuals who use this basis to commit actions that are not beneficial for all, thereby often giving rise to negative views about Islam. Observing this, KH. Khalid Dawam said, quoting the noted Egyptian Muslim intellectual, Muhammad Abduh: “Al Islamu mahjubun bil muslimin” (the glory of Islam is concealed by (the actions of certain) Muslims themselves).

The book Fikih on Guardianship prepared by the team from Rumah KitaB, according to KH. Khalid Dawam, is part of an expression of gratitude for our being given common sense, by using it as well as possible so that rigidity of thinking does not occur.

Ulil Abshar Abdalla stated that the book that is being discussed came about as a response to the widespread practice of child marriage in Indonesia. Following on from this, Ahmad Hilmi mentioned that Indonesia is among the countries with a high rate of child marriage.

This problem of child marriage has become so serious not solely because of legal issues, but also because it is intertwined with religious and cultural perspectives. Hence, according to Ulil, the book makes a significant contribution to resolving the problem of child marriage.

For example, the religious arguments that have up to now been used as a justification to allow child marriage are reconstructed in the study (in this book) and given a new meaning that is friendlier to females, particularly those who are likely to become victims of child marriage. As an example, the concept of ijbar in fikih differs from the concept of ikrah (coercion). Ijbar is the realm of protection by the father (guardian) to his daughter in order to protect her from all possibilities by choosing a proper partner for her. And clearly, a requirement for ijbar is the willingness of the daughter who is to be married. The power and authority to protect the rights and dignity of a child that are held by a guardian in ijbar cannot simply be reduced to the idea of coercion (ikrah).

[1] Furuiyyah literally means branch. But in this context, it can mean multidimensional.

 

Summary of Books on Fikih on Guardianship: Rereading the Right of Guardianship for Protection of Women from Forced Marriage and Child Marriage

Exposers of the Dark Current:

Exploring the Works of Muslim Intellectuals in Realizing Justice for Women

by Nur Hayati Aida

 

The world we live in now is one in which society still considers one sex as superior to the other. Nearly all arrangements in society are constructed from a male perspective, so it is not surprising that what is produced is a set of rules that tend to be detrimental to women and put them in second place. One factor that reinforces the imbalance in the relations between males and females is (the interpretation of) religion. Whether we realize it or not, interpretation of religion (and its texts) contributes to the perpetuation of practices of injustice toward females.

Yet in the midst of this patriarchal mainstream, certain persons have emerged who chose to fight the tide by building a methodology that reinterprets the misogynistic religious texts that have long been deliberately used to legitimize gender-based discrimination.

In the early 19th century, an intellectual who was also a scholar at al-Azhar named Rifa’at al-Thahthawi published a book that analyzed the gender relations between males and females in Islam. This book, entitled al-Mursyid al-Amin li al-Banât wa al-Banîn, addressed the unequal relations between men and women in Egypt at that time. With his deep understanding of religion, Rifa’at al-Thahthawi traced the elements in the classical treasury of Islam that were more friendly toward women. He also actively campaigned for the importance of education. Education and social interaction are the doors for the advancement of women. Without education, the ideal of progress for women would be a dream that is never realized.

With his intellectual capability, Rifa’at al-Thahthawi also built a methodology for interpreting religious texts using a feminist perspective through three basic principles: al-hurriyah (freedom), al-musâwah (equality), and al-hub (love). If these three foundations are used properly in the reading of every text, the interpretation can never lead to oppression of one sex by the other.

A few years later, Muhammad Abduh became prominent. One of Abduh’s intellectual works that can still be enjoyed today is Tafsir al-Manâr. Although ultimately this commentary was completed by his student, Rasyid Ridha, the basis and direction of al-Manar were constructed by Abduh. al-Manâr is a work that addressed the social problems existing at the time the book was written. According to Abduh, the interpretations prevailing at that time were unable to accommodate the problems experienced in the context of modern society. What Abduh did was an effort to engage the Qur’an in continuous dialogue with the current age.

Abduh fervently opposed polygamy because of its great potential to destroy the family, and also because it violates the sharia which function as the protector of positive benefits. This argument was based on the Qur’an, specifically al-Rum:21.

In the middle of the 19th century, there emerged in Egypt a thinker and activist named Qasim Amin. Qasim Amin wrote a book entitled Tahrîr al-Mar’ah. This book created a great controversy, leading to various responses, both positive and negative. In the book, Qasim Amin wrote about women and their private rights in connection with the family in Egypt. The topics that received the most public attention were polygamy and divorce.

At the same time, Qasim Amin also harshly criticized the fikih scholars who took the position that talak could be imposed without witnesses and even if done as a joke. Qasim Amin placed divorce on the same level as marriage. Like marriage, divorce is an action of sharia that leads to the loss of certain rights and the emergence of other rights, such as sustenance and inheritance. Therefore, divorce also requires witnesses.

As well as in Egypt, an intellectual also emerged in Tunisia who was greatly concerned with humanitarian issues, and especially women, at the end of the 19th century. This was Thahir al-Haddad, who constructed a concept of Islamic ethics using three instruments: al hurriyah (freedom), al-‘adâlah (justice), and al-musâwah (equality). These three instruments were used as the spirit in reading texts in the creation of sharia. Sharia grants freedom to individuals and the public based on a basic human right – the right to live free from domination by any type of person. According to Thahir al-Haddad, Islamic sharia must be a pioneer for change in society to emerge from backwardness toward progress. The greatest challenge faced by the community in the world of Islam is the excessive power of religious institutions in controlling family life.

Through his book Imra’atunâ fî al-Syarî’ah wa al-Mujtama’, Thahir al-Haddad voiced his social critique because Tunisian society placed women behind religious symbols created by the ulama based on religious knowledge as the center of truth.

Although his life ended in exile, Thahir al-Haddad’s concepts and ideas live on. Many years later, his name is used for schools in Tunisia and his photograph is displayed in government offices.

 

Indonesian Scholar/Thinkers who Spoke out for Justice for Women

 

Islam arose in a feudal social structure centered on the power of clans (bani), relying on patriarchy and physical force to conquer a harsh physical environment. Islam actively combined with the local culture through the Prophet Muhammad, and responded to the characteristic events and social traditions of the Middle East. The products of law, particularly the fikih, were constructed by the ulama of the early mazhabs based on the context of the region where they lived and studied, mainly in the Middle East. One context worthy of mention relates to the position of those who are weak or are made weak, such as women, children, widows and the poor.

Indonesia is obviously not the same as the Middle East. The two regions are different in terms of culture, geography, land, and social structure. If a nomadic society relies on trade, communities in Indonesia tend to settle in one place and be based on the traditions of an agrarian society. These differences have implications for changes in various religious practices. In the classical works of fikih, for example, istinja’ or cleansing one’s body after defecating is done using a stone. This practice of using stones for personal cleansing may make sense in a sandy desert region, but certainly does not apply to the context of Indonesia with its water-based culture.

These differences, as well as certain social issues specific to Indonesia, have forced Indonesian scholars and thinkers to reconstruct and reanalyze the interpretations of religion and the law of fikih. They have tried to provide a context to the rules of fikih which were taken from the locale where Islam first emerged, and particularly the more sensitive issues that are rarely addressed such as women, children, and minorities.

We can now mention the name of Husein Muhammad, a male ulama who has been most vocal in speaking out for the rights of women. His works and writings record how the (interpretations of) religion that have long been used as justifications to perpetuate discrimination can in fact be used as a means of resistance and a counter narrative to the negative views of women. Kiai Husein, with his mastery of the literature and the academic realm, has traced the classical texts of Islam, and proclaimed the news of ideas about the equality of humans, whatever their sex. Islam, according to Kiai Husein, is a religion that upholds the principle of equality. This is clearly illustrated in the confession of tauhid, belief in the oneness of God, as a confirmation that there is nothing and no one that deserves to be worshipped and elevated in rank by humans other than Allah. And humans, both males and females, have the same position and opportunity to engage in pious works. Men and women also have the same worth in the eyes of God. Those who are more favored before God are those who are pious and devoted, whoever they are, male or female.

As well as Kiai Husein, there are several other figures from the world of the pesantren who, while not specifically known as feminist, speak out on issues of benefit in society which are based on development of the law of fikih. No doubt fresh in our minds are the ideas of social fikih as conveyed by KH. Dr. (HC) Sahal Mahfudz. Social fikih is a form of religious accountability to respond to the needs and problems of society. More than that, social fikih is also a form of concern from Kiai Sahal, as he is known, regarding the assumption that fikih is a kind of transcendent truth. The general public has a mistaken perception that all truth is contained in (the books of) fikih. To produce social fikih, Kiai Sahal uses two methods: qawlîy, using an approach of qawâid fiqhiyah, and manhajîy, the approach of maqâshid al syari’ah, whereby the text and the context are brought together.

Kiai Sahal places great attention on the many cases of child marriage. He is of the opinion that by marrying off a daughter who is still a child, the parents have violated their obligation as parents to provide a decent livelihood and education for their child.

In the realm of the Religious Courts, Dr. Andi Syamsu Alam can be considered a pioneer in institutional management. He is very active in building effective working methods and a modern judicial system, and also encourages judges to pursue further judicial education.

Dr. Andi’s concepts in verdicts on family law, which should serve as a reference for religious court judges, include rejecting dispensations for a lower age of marriage, and granting inheritance rights to adopted children. Unfortunately, the first of these concepts is often not used as material in the consideration of verdicts. According to Dr. Andi, this is because judges’ thinking is stagnated, in that judges still interpret the Marriage Law as accommodating child marriage. In fact, the Marriage Law, despite its many loopholes that need to be criticized, was in fact an initiative by certain progressive figures and ulama to raise the age of marriage and to protect women and children from discriminatory practices. The minimum age for marriage for females, which was set at 16 years when the Marriage Law was enacted in 1974, was the result of fierce negotiation with conservative groups.

Two figures who were involved in the preparation and formulation of the Marriage Law are Prof. Dr. Hazairin Harahap and Teungku HM. Hasbi Ash-Shiddiqiy. Teungku Hasbi is one of several persons who have offered the idea of Indonesian fikih. According to Teungku Hasbi, the ‘urf (local wisdom) of Indonesia should be used as the basis for creating a special fikih characteristic of Indonesia, considering the differences in culture, habits and social structure between Indonesia and Middle East, the region where Islam was first sent down and which was used as the basis for creating the laws of fikih. This idea has received many responses from various groups and individuals, some of whom say there is no need for an Indonesia fikih.

Teungku Hasbi’s interpretations include a prohibition on polygamy, because the requirements for allowing polygamy cannot possibly be fulfilled. Furthermore, the narrative constructed by verse 3 of al-Nisa’ is a prohibition, not a recommendation. Polygamy, according to Teungku Hasbi, is only allowed in emergency circumstances, and emergency doors must normally be kept shut.

Meanwhile, Prof. Dr. Hazairin Harahap was Indonesia’s first doctor in traditional law following independence. He served as Minister of the Interior in the cabinets of Ali Sastroamidjojo and Wongsonegoro. After retiring from the world of politics, he entered the world of education as a professor at the University of Indonesia.

Like Teungku Hasbi, Hazairin also strove for the concept of an Indonesian fikih by reconstructing ‘urf and istihsân in ushul fikih. He severely criticized the practice of marriage in childhood which bases its permissibility on the concept of biological maturity (baligh). Biological maturity cannot be used as a justification for marriage in childhood. A person must have achieved the level of baligh rusyd (maturity in thought and action) as a requirement for permissibility of marriage. In addition, his ideas relating to receptio a contrario also contributed to the creation of the Marriage Law.

The figures mentioned above are just a few of those who have chosen the lonely path toward realizing justice. They have chosen the path less taken: intellectual work, a kind of work that requires great discipline in exploring both text and context, as these two aspects are interrelated and constantly pulling on one another. A text does not appear in a vacuum; context cannot stand firm without the support of text. And it is these lonely works that can expose the dark current of patriarchalism that has for so long prevented thinking and acting to achieve justice for women. []

Finland expresses its gratitude for contributions to equality with special recognition – Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation from Indonesia among the recipients

Jakarta, 11 July 2019

 Finland places great significance on promoting equality in the world, and wishes to thank those who are working towards this common goal. To express its gratitude, Finland is presenting special recognition to individuals and groups around the globe. The names of the first recipients from 17 countries are released, with one of the honours going to Indonesian Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation.

 

Equality is a core value for Finland and its people. To highlight the importance of equality and to show gratitude for the valuable work that is being done to advance equality in society, Finland is presenting special recognition to individuals and groups around the world. Finland aims to encourage conversation about equality and promote initiatives for a more inclusive society.

 

Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation is a research institution aiming to empower women, children and marginalized groups in Indonesia. It pursues an equal society by shedding light on discriminating social and religious structures through advocacy, education and awareness building. It is led by Ms. Lies Marcoes-Natsir, an expert in the fields of women’s rights, reproductive health and gender in Islam.

 

“We are thankful for this Hän Honour that recognises our humanitarian work, the importance of equality among people and the acceptance of diversity of ethnicities, races, religions and genders. For Rumah Kita Bersama, the recognition serves as a motivation to work even more actively in the community”, said Lies Marcoes-Natsir, on receiving the Hän Honour at the Embassy of Finland in Jakarta on 11 July 2019.

 

“Rumah Kita Bersama’s work encapsulates very well the meaning of this equality campaign”, said Ambassador Jari Sinkari at the recognition ceremony. “Hän” is the neutral 3rd-person singular pronoun in Finnish language and the symbol of the campaign as it stands for equal opportunity.

 

Among other recipients of the recognition are individuals and groups from for example Singapore, Croatia, Namibia, Norway and Japan. They represent a range of fields, including education, minority rights and gender equality.

 

The recognition forms part of a broader campaign about equality, launched in June 2019 and continuing until the end of the year. Finland aims to bring questions of equality to the fore of the international conversation.

 

In 2017, the year Finland celebrated the 100th anniversary of its independence, it promoted action around the world in the name of gender equality and launched the first International Gender Equality Prize. The prize will be awarded for the second time in 2019.

 

List of recognition recipients: https://finland.fi/han/#Han_honours
Finland’s equality campaign website: www.finland.fi/han

Rumah Kita Bersama website: https://rumahkitab.com/en/

IGEP: https://genderequalityprize.fi/en

DISCUSSION OF BOOK ON FIKIH ON GUARDIANSHIP: RE-READING THE RIGHTS OF GUARDIANSHIP FOR PROTECTION OF WOMEN

Qiwamah and Wilayah Column:

[Over the next several months, this Qiwamah and Wilayah Column will appear in the Rumah Kita Bersama website. As well as reporting on the Roadshow for outreach on the book conducted in several cities, this column will try to reach a broader range of readers. Therefore, this column is presented in both Indonesian and English. This column is published four times, in cooperation with the Oslo Coalition]

 

Jakarta, 25 June 2019

Unchaining Fiqh from the Manacle of Asymmetric Relations in Gender’s Construction

JAKARTA. On Tuesday, 25 June 2019, Rumah Kita Bersama launched the book Fikih on Guardianship: Re-Reading the Rights of Guardianship for Protection of Women from Forced Marriage and Child Marriage. This book is the outcome of a study on classical and modern texts on the concepts of wilayah and qiwamah together with various religious figures, sociologists, anthropologists, legal experts, and activists conducted over several months.

This event took place in the hall of Griya Gus Dur at the Wahid Foundation, Menteng, Central Jakarta. The event was attended by sixty participants from various institutions: NGO activists, representatives of the government such as from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Supreme Court, Ministry of Law and Human Rights, Ministry for Women’s Empowerment, Commission for Prevention of Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan), Commission for Protection of Children (Komnas Perlindungan Anak), university lecturers and students, and the media. Also in attendance were three representatives of the Oslo Coalition, Norwegian Centre for Human Rights: Dr. Lena Larsen (the Director of the Oslo Coalition, one out of six thematic areas at the Norwegian Center Department), Prof. Dr. Nelly Van Doorn, and Kathrine Raadim (the Director of International Department at Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo).

To discuss the book, Rumah Kita Bersama invited four resource persons: Dr (CH) KH. Husein Muhammad (head of Pesantren Dar at-Tauhid, Cirebon and former commissioner of Komnas Perempuan), Nursyahbani Katjasungkana SH (women’s activist from LBH Apik Jakarta), Drs. Mohammad Noor SH, MH, (Judicial Judge of the Legal Bureau and concurrently Public Relations officer of the Indonesian Supreme Court), and Ulil Abshar Abdalla MA (young intellectual from Nahdlatul Ulama). The event was led by Lies Marcoes-Natsir MA from Rumah Kita Bersama.

In her introduction, Lies Marcoes noted that normatively, Islam places the values of equality of men and women as a principal value, but in terms of fikih law – where the law regarding social relationships within the family is constructed – the relations between males and females are placed asymmetrically.  In the concepts of fikih, the relations between these two genders are linked in ways that are slanted or imbalanced. Nevertheless, this asymmetrical construct is (often) considered to be certain, fixed, and immutable, or qath’i. In reality, these asymmetrical relations are not always accepted, even by the fuqaha themselves. This can be seen from their interpretations, which very obviously seek to achieve a fairer balance in the relationship. In the book, many figures are presented, including some from the Middle East such as Rif’at Thohtowi, Qasim Amin and Muhammad Abduh. From within Indonesia, the book presents the ideas of Kiai Salah Mahfud with his social fikih, as well as breakthroughs by religious court judges in the Supreme court as exemplified by figures such as Prof. Hasybi Asydidiqie, Prof. Hazairin, and Andi Syamsu Alam SH. They offer new ideas, in terms of both methodology and interpretation, on family law and on how these methods can be applied in court hearings.

Many people assume that Islamic law is whatever is set out in the fikih. In fact, according to Ulil Abshar Abdalla, Islamic law is not just what is stated in the (books of) fikih, though fikih is one part of the big picture.

Meanwhile, Nursyahbani Katjasungkana stated that the concept of guardianship in Islamic law differs from the concept of guardianship in both the Civil Code and the Marriage Law. In both those laws, women are allowed to serve as guardians; something that is very different from the concepts of qiwamah and wilayah found in the book. Nursyahbani also noted that this asymmetry occurs not only in fikih, but also in the Laws on Islamic family law, such as in the Marriage Law, which states that the man is the head of the household and the woman is a housewife. This indicates that the Marriage Law does not refer to international law or conventions such as CEDAW.

Another problem, as noted by Kiai Husein Muhammad, is that to date men have been at the center of the lawmakers, and they enjoy luxury in many aspects, including in the issues of wilayah and qiwamah. This process of granting luxury to men, according to Kiai Husein Muhammad, is not solely a form of delegation of rights based on gender due to descent or to relations that arise from the occurrence of a legal event, such as marriage, but is instead related mainly to the man’s responsibility and obligation to protect the rights of the children or the wife. In other words, this is a gender construct relating to the obligations and responsibilities of men, and not simply about rights.

Unfortunately, this kind of reading that emphasizes the aspect of obligations, rather than rights, is not very popular in the community. The fikih that we currently use, Kiai Husein Muhammad explained, is a product of medieval Arabic culture, which granted greater leeway to men based on their situation and condition. Methodologically, there are certain principles that should be upheld throughout the ages: the humanitarian ideals of Islam, the ideals that place males and females on an equal standing as humans. Since the death of the Prophet Muhammad, nearly all religious teachings are interpretations. And interpretations are closely linked to time and space, so the interpretations of religious texts, even (interpretations) of the hadith of the Prophet, are products of culture, while in fact they (should) constantly refer to the ideals of Islam.

To achieve a reading of religious texts that is fair to both women and men, a new methodology is needed – a method that is willing to read the changing reality in society. Women nowadays are better educated and more self-reliant. Consequently, a method for reading texts is needed that is friendlier and more sensitive toward women. In this way, the texts will be able to read the special needs of women, which have to date been covered up by the misogynistic power of the texts.

Such efforts are often accused of being a Western agenda that promotes immorality. Lena Larsen said that this egalitarian approach that is undertaken in rereading the concepts of qiwamah and wilayah does not promote immorality. Rather, these efforts are simply to protect the family, especially children and wives, who are vulnerable to unjust treatment.

The efforts to perform reconstruction or deconstruction of texts are not easy. Over many centuries, the existing theological ideas and interpretations have become sacralized. Thus, a significant investment of time and thinking is needed in this regard. But this does not mean it is impossible.

One of the initiatives that has been undertaken by Rumah Kita Bersama is the publication of the book Fikih on Guardianship: Re-reading the Rights of Guardianship for Protection of Women from Forced Marriage and Child Marriage. Muhammad Noor says that this book produced by Rumah Kita Bersama is important. In his opinion, this book can be used as a reference by judges and those who provide direct support to the community in handling cases of family law, especially child marriage and forced marriage. (Aida, Lies)

Child Marriage in Indonesia: Resolving an Issue

by Lies Marcoes and Fadilla Dwianti Putri

Child marriage is a form of violence against women and girls, as it deprives them of their rights to education, healthcare, and freedom from violence, among others. Indonesia has committed to end child marriage in order to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

However, as of 2016, it is estimated that one in nine girls in Indonesia will marry before the age of eighteen1 and, due to its large population, the country is among the ten countries worldwide with the highest absolute number of girls married while underaged.2

The Issues
The research on child marriage in Sumenep Regency, Madura, East Java undertaken by Rumah KitaB3 in 2015 shows that close to 70 percent of the people in the regency got married before the age of eighteen. The district of Dungkek in the regency had the highest number of child marriage, with about 80 percent of its nearly four thousand people – as per national population records in 2015 – having married as children.

The research also reveals that child marriage is caused by different factors and circumstances. But there is one common factor that led to it – either the complete absence of parental guidance due to migration, or weakened family structures resulting from divorce or pressures related to survival in the face of poverty.

Another research conducted in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara province involving four girls (identified as Rita, Ida, Vera and Idawati)4 reveals the significant roles played by religious and community leaders in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. Young couples who eloped (merariq) are urged by these leaders to marry immediately, and insist that marriage is the only solution to the situation to prevent shame on the whole village. The community has a strong culture of shame. It recognizes the religious and community leaders as custodians of customary rules. These customs are reinforced by Islamic religious values that add greater pressure to eloping young couples to marry.

Unmarried girls who eloped and failed to immediately marry are subject to social pressure including gossip and ridicule. They would be referred to as mayung bakat (literally meaning “injured deer”), dedare toaq/mosot (old spinsters) or “tainted” and thus a disgrace to the family. Boys on the other hand are not subject to these social mores.

For girls who get pregnant, religious values require marriage in order to have the names of both parents listed on the child’s birth certificate. According to Islam, the relationship of a child to the father can exist once ijab qabul (exchange of marriage vows) has occurred. Outside of marriage, the child would only be officially related to the mother.

Girls who marry early are forced to bear the financial burden of their households through informal work, and not allowed to continue their education (but the boys continue their study). Many are forced to raise children alone (as in the cases of Rita and Ida). Child marriage is also associated with the high divorce rate in Lombok. Being psychologically ill-equipped at such young age to deal with marriage and economic pressures, many child marriages lead to divorce within one year.

ChildMarriage-1s.jpg

ChildMarriage-2s.jpg

Wedding reception in Lombok (Photos by Morenk Beladro)

Health and Child Marriage
Studies on child marriages often refer to the impact of underage marriage on women’s reproductive health. From the four case studies in Lombok, three of the girls experienced adverse effects on their reproductive health. One showed signs of anemia during her pregnancy, and another experienced bleeding due to an underdeveloped uterus. A third one was administered contraception at a very young age. 80 percent of teens in Lombok suffer from anemia, a condition affecting the uterus and nutrient supply to an unborn child. This poses risks during and after (postpartum) birth. Furthermore, the impacts of child marriage on reproductive health are not limited to physical health, but also to the psychological health of the girls who have not yet reached a level of maturity required to raise a child.

The 2013 data from Lombok, show the mortality rate of women as shown in the table below.

Number of Maternal Mortality in Lombok in 2013
Pre-natal Natal Post-Natal Amount
Mataram 3 2 9 [14]
East Lombok 10 0 25 35
Central Lombok 1 3 16 20
West Lombok 4 3 3 10
North Lombok 0 0 2 2
Total [81]

(Source:West Nusa Tenggara(NTB)Statistics Office5)

The Lombok statistics show that the highest rate of maternal mortality occur at the post-natal phase. The leading causes of maternal mortality in Lombok are bleeding, infection, complications associated with heavy workloads following birth, and poor health and sanitation facilities.

Infant mortality, on the other hand, usually occurs when infants are around one month old, and two-thirds of the cases occur when infants are around one week old. The West Lombok Health Department sees low birth weight, often related to the physical and mental condition of young, ill-prepared mothers, as the biggest factor for infant mortality. These factors also relate to the high rate of maternal mortality in Lombok, especially when a mother’s reproductive organ is not yet fully mature.

Measures to Address Child Marriage and Health Problems
The Indonesian Marriage Law of 1974 provides that a girl of at least sixteen years of age can marry with parental consent. But the Law on Child Protection of 2002 defines a person under the age of eighteen as a child regardless of gender. The conflict between the two laws was brought to court. On 13 December 2018, the Constitutional Court of Indonesia issued an order declaring the provision of the Indonesian Marriage Law of 1974 on marrying age for girls unconstitutional and discriminatory against girls. It also considered this legal provision as against the law on child protection.6

But the question remains, how can child marriage be stopped at the level of the community? The people know the law on marriage and in a number of cases prevented the application of the law by using the traditional marriage system to allow child marriage,7 or by using the legal process with falsified documents on their age.

Of the four case studies examined in the research, it is clear that there is a link between child marriage, social change and cultural stagnation in terms of the application of merariq in Lombok’s case or fear of becoming an “old spinster”8 in other cases.9 Due to the absence of parental guidance and support, low levels of maturity and education, the girls agreed to marry. They viewed marriage as a solution to the problems they faced at home. Social and institutional pressures and the strict application of cultural traditions by community and religious leaders make it difficult for girls like Rita and Vera to be allowed to continue their schooling and postpone marriage until they are physically, emotionally and psychologically more equipped to deal with the pressures of marriage and raising a family. The case of Vera (who continued her study after marriage) however is a clear example of how intervention by legal aid providers and provincial and district legal institutions can lead to much better outcomes for girls particularly in relation to education.

Therefore, besides working at the national level to raise the minimum age of marriage for girls, working together with formal and non-formal institutions at the community level is crucial since these institutions are the “gatekeepers” who have power to allow and, at the same time, to prevent child marriage at the community level.

Lies Marcoes is the Executive Director while Fadilla D. Putri is the Program Manager of Yayasan Rumah Kita Bersama. 

For further information, please contact: Lies Marcoes  and  Fadilla D. Putri, Yayasan Rumah Kita Bersama (Rumah KitaB), Rawa Bambu I, Blok B/7, Pasar Minggu, Jakarta 12520 Indonesia; ph (6221) 7803440, 778837997; e-mail: official[a]rumahkitab.com; www.rumahkitab.com .

*This article is largely based on the 2015 report of the authors entitled Child Marriage and the Phenomenon of Social Orphans in Lombok, Rumah Kita Bersama and Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice, and the 2016 report entitled Testimony of the Child Brides – Summary of Results of Research Study on Cases of Child Marriage and the Role of Institutions in Nine Regions in Indonesia, April 2016. More recent documents supplemented the discussion from these reports.

Endnotes

1 UNICEF Indonesia Factsheet: Child Marriage in Indonesia, 2017.

2 UNICEF, State of the World’s Children, 2017.

3 Lies Marcoes and Fadilla Dwianti Putri, Testimony of the Child Brides – Summary of Results of Research Study on Cases of Child Marriage and the Role of Institutions in Nine Regions in Indonesia, April 2016.

4 The four women in the case studies were identified through consultation with local activists, government officials and community members. The interviews were held after getting the approval of the woman, her parents and village leadership.

5 Lies Marcoes and Fadilla Dwianti Putri, Child Marriage and the Phenomenon of Social Orphans in Lombok, Rumah Kita Bersama and Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice, 2015, page 4.

6 See Agustinus Beo Da Costa, “Court ruling brings Indonesia closer to ending child marriage: campaigners,” Reuters, www.reuters.com/article/us-indonesia-women-marriage/court-ruling-brings-indonesia-closer-to-ending-child-marriage-campaigners-idUSKBN1OC1CM 

7 See discussion on role of institutions in Testimony of the Child Brides – Summary of Results of Research Study on Cases of Child Marriage and the Role of Institutions in Nine Regions in Indonesia, op. cit.

8 Translated from the Indonesian language “perawan tua.”

9 Marcoes and Putri, Testimony of the Child Brides – Summary of Results of Research Study on Cases of Child Marriage and the Role of Institutions in Nine Regions in Indonesia, op. cit.

End shadows of intolerance post elections

Achmat Hilmi

TheJakartaPost

Jakarta   /   Fri, April 26, 2019   /  09:06 am

The simultaneous elections have ended, but they have left a frenzy and disputes. A group that claims to be the most moderate in the country is no longer able to display the tenderness and progressive spirit of Islam; it is trapped in political barriers and becoming intolerant. Many seem to be fighting for their spirit of primordialism based on political factions, rather than the spirit of nationalism.

During the presidential and legislative campaign period until polling day on April 17, security forces had managed to secure physical space but they never succeeded in reconciling virtual space.

These simultaneous elections have not managed to assert the next president, the votes for whom are still being tallied by the General Elections Commission (KPU). Whoever wins the presidential seat seems to be a vague figure amid truth claims of “quick counts” of pollsters and “internal counts” of the camps of the presidential contenders.

The elections have instead succeeded in blurring the spirit of diversity. The presidential election, in particular, has considerably affected family relations, friendship and national unity. One camp trumps up the threat of communism while the other raises threats of Indonesia turning into a caliphate, each claim intending to sink the electability of the incumbent Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his challenger Prabowo Subianto.

 

Social space actually reinforces differences, blurs unity.

 

Social space actually reinforces differences, blurs unity and increasingly converges to the bipolarization of political space with two extreme camps charging the other of being “infidels”. Political camps thus become increasingly exclusive.

It seems public space today, particularly as echoed in cyberspace, allows less discourse for equality and justice, and instead extends the space for discrimination against those who succumb to the rallying cries of each camp.

Many voices of devotees of tolerance and diversity have become silent, turned off by the dominance of partisanship.

Religious conservativism has merged into political ideological conservativism. Religious fanaticism has reached a universal definition; what it preaches is not a religion that many people understand.

Ideological space is now shifting; from religious ideology; moderate-conservative, transforming into a numerical ideology with symbols and political ideology jargon.

Digital space should contribute to expanding social space that we cannot immediately reach, so we could meet amid differences. But this cannot happen when the other is accused of being an infidel and not having common sense.

Intolerance and exclusivism are being increasingly crystallized to be more extreme than any ideology. There must be a way out.

The epidemic of political extremism must be stopped through the instilling, again, of noble values of tolerance and inclusiveness that depart from our ancestral heritage, progressive understanding of religion and based on the philosophy of the Pancasila.

***

The writer is program and advocacy manager at Rumah Kita Bersama.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.

Link:

https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2019/04/26/end-shadows-of-intolerance-post-elections.html

Rumah KitaB and the Campaign Against Child Marriage

Kathryn Robinson
Emeritus professor in Anthropology, Australian National Univerisity

Rights in marriage have been a key issue for women’s rights activists all over the world. Age at marriage is perhaps the most significant issue, even more than the free choice of a spouse. Child marriage has been a focus for Indonesian women for nearly a century. In the colonial era, family law was left to the Islamic courts, but the women’s congresses that were held regularly from 1928 argued for secular laws that would protect women’s rights in marriage, including a ban on child marriage and the necessity of a woman’s consent. This emphasis on secular regulation as the way to protect women’s rights bore fruit in the independence period with the passage of the 1974 marriage law which, amongst other things, set a minimum age of marriage, of 16 for females (19 for males) and required that the marriage officiant ensure the woman’s consent.

As education becomes more readily available and more young women are going on to finish high school, and even tertiary education there has been a movement upwards in average age at marriage but as the work of Rumah Kitab shows us, child marriage persists. What are the strategies to address this? The session organized by Rumah KitaB at the Kongres Ulama Perempuan in April 2017 focused on the religious basis of arguments about age at marriage. The kiyai focused on textual analysis of the Qur’an and hadith to show the complexity of the definition of baliq, and the difference between a purely biological concept and a notion of aqil baligh, an idea of adult personhood. This interesting return to religious argumentation was a response to the intervention of MUI in a 2015 constitutional court court judicial review of the marriage law, in particular the regulation of age at marriage. The review had been requested by activists (including Rumah Kitab) on the basis of an argument that Indonesian law should be  harmonized with 2002 Law on Child Protection , which set 18 as the age of adulthood.. The weight given to the MUI submission by the secular court is an interesting cross over between religious and secular courts, which were unified into a single system in Indonesia during the Suharto regime. Rumah KitaB were developing a textually based  argument that could challenge the interpretation offered by MUI, which relied on a single text. Law reform is always an important part of social change. Legal reforms provide venues where people can argue for rights, but also are an important part of raising awareness and changing attitudes. For example, in a case of forced marriage that occurred in the community where I was doing research in the late 1970s, not long after the passage of the marriage law, a local official said to me that if the girl had come to him, he would have stopped the marriage. Talk is cheap’ and he was not put to the test but his comment shows the way in which changes on law begin to circulate and be spoken about, and so potentially impact on people’s behavior. What other ways can child marriage be challenged, and social practices changed? Marriage (and the subsequent state of parenthood) is in most communities the path out of a state of childhood to adulthood. Marriage resulted in the formation of a new conjugal unit and household. For those fortunate enough to pursue schooling, educational success and employment are also ‘building blocks’ of adulthood, and delayed age at marriage has no doubt contributed to the decline of marriages arranged by parents, as young people meet prospective spouses during education and in their work place.

Kathryn Robinson at KUPI

But these opportunities are unevenly spread throughout the archipelago. Especially in eastern Indonesia, schools beyond SD level can be a long way from home. And employment can be even harder to find. In such situations, marriage is the only avenue available young women to achieve adulthood, independence from their families of origin, and they often willingly enter into marriage at a young age . In such contexts, educational and employment opportunities are a critical part of solutions to early marriage. The globalized world we now live in is highly sexualized. Mass media exposes us all to narratives and images that challenge customary forms of morality. I have been shocked at the ready availability, indeed the difficulty of avoiding pornographic content in Indonesia, on social and other forms of media. There is a ‘moral panic’ in Indonesia about ‘pergaulan bebas’. In some research I  conducted few years ago, young people who themselves led innocent lives almost universally identified ‘pergaulan bebas’ as the biggest threat confronting Indonesia’s youth. In addition, prolonged education means many young people live away from home and outside the every day ‘control’ of parents, which can be of concern to parents and children alike. In this context, I understand that recent research by Rumah KitaB has shown that some parents see early marriage as the way to address this perceived risk. But it could also be argued that good sex education on schools and religious institutions, including empowering young people to make informed choices and evaluate risks associated with sexual activity—including health, emotional, social and economic risks— could counter this perceived threat in a more effective way than early marriage. But all of these strands are important legal reform and the empowerment of young women, in terms of their knowledge base but also the practical issues around alternative paths put of childhood. [Kathryn]

 

Forced marriage law ‘could stop victims reporting crime’

Criminalising forced marriage could stop victims from speaking up if their parents are locked up, campaigners say.

While legislation sends a “strong message,” a charity working with victims said it also scared off others.

Rubie Marie, 35, who was forced to marry in Bangladesh when she was 15, said: “It is hard because you love your family of course you do… But at the end of the day abuse is abuse.”

The Home Office said it was essential victims had confidence to speak out.

Forced marriage became a criminal offence in 2014, but only one case has been brought in Wales since then – with four convictions in total across the UK.

However, the Welsh Government estimates there are up to 100 cases of forced marriage every year.

Forced marriage victim Rubie Marie

Rubie Marie was raped almost daily by her husband in Bangladesh after being forced to marry him at the age of 15

In 2018, the forced marriage unit – a joint effort between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office – gave advice or support in 1,196 UK cases.

Shahien Taj of the Cardiff-based Henna Foundation told BBC Wales Live more prevention work was needed to educate perpetrators, who are often the victims’ parents.

The charity said victims often wanted to return to the family home once the situation was resolved.

“I don’t know a single victim that I’ve worked with that has said she’s ok with the police coming down on parents like a tonne of bricks – all too often they don’t want any intervention because of that,” said Ms Taj.

Ms Marie, who now lives in the Midlands, said once she was married, she was raped “more or less, every single day” so her new husband could have a child and a ticket to live in the UK.

A traffic jam at an intersection in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Rubie Marie was forced to marry a man twice her age after being taken to Bangladesh

The Home Office is consulting on proposals that would legally require those who work closely with young people, such as teachers and social workers, to report suspected cases of forced marriage.

Ms Taj believes forced marriage protection orders are the preferred route – allowing young people to apply to the courts for protection, while keeping the family out of the criminal system.

“We’ve had eight cases where young women have gone home and been able to move on with their lives,” she said.

Samsunear Ali from the charity Bawso said education was key as many parents did not even realise they were breaking the law.

“For them they are doing the right thing and that’s the only way they know how to reduce the level of shame in the family that this child could potentially bring.

“It’s a huge problem in Wales, and it’s still not being talked about as much.”

She said there were cases in rural Wales where women had no support and they were at greater risk, with forced marriages potentially “going on for generations and nobody knows about it”.

Rubie Marie as a young girl

Rubie Marie – pictured here aged five – was told her trip to Bangladesh was a holiday

‘I was raped every day’

Rubie Marie was born and raised in south Wales. She had a happy childhood but everything changed once she hit puberty.

She was taken to Bangladesh in 1998 at the age of 15 under the pretence of it being a holiday.

“We were only supposed to go for six weeks but then it went to two months, then it went to three months, then it got to six months and we all got homesick,” she said.

“I asked my father, I said we want to go home. I want to go back to school. I want my friends. But he would say things like ‘we spent so much money coming here’… That was his excuse, his cover up, his facade to plan what he was planning which was the marriage.

“I was sitting down having dinner with the whole family and he just came in and he sat down and he started to eat and out of the blue, and I remember it like it was yesterday,

“‘Wouldn’t it be great if we got Ruby married?’ And I was mortified. I was a kid and I had a tantrum. I threw my plate on the floor. I started kicking off, banging the doors, ran into my room screaming, shouting. I just didn’t know how to comprehend that information.

“I was put on a bidding system. One of my uncles went and started bidding me. It was horrible. I was treated like a slave.

“I was in this alien country – I didn’t know where to go, where to turn to, didn’t know where there was a phone. Nothing.”

‘I was disowned’

Ms Marie was forced to marry a man twice her age and for her engagement she was “dressed up like a doll”.

“The house was full of laughing people, you know there was people everywhere trying to come into my room to see me, to have a peek at this new bride,” she said.

“And I was just sitting there just thinking ‘I’m just an object’. You just got to do what you’ve got to do and that’s it. My vision was just get home, do whatever you need to do to get home.”

Once she was married, her new husband wanted a child.

“More or less, I’d been raped every single day to get pregnant, so then he’s got an official British pathway of coming to Britain because he’s got a child. That was their plan,” she added.

She got pregnant and came back to Wales to give birth. When the baby was born, she fled: “That brought shame to the family again in their eyes. And I was disowned for a very long time.”

Rubie now works as an ambassador, educating people about forced marriage.

“Now I’m speaking and talking to the world and sharing in that way of there is light at the end of the tunnel, there is a place for you in this world.

“It’s not all doom and gloom. And it’s not hell. You’ve got to turn it around. You’ve got to find that strength to turn it around and use it to your advantage and make it a happy place otherwise no one’s going to do that for you.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We know that forced marriage is often a hidden crime and so it is essential that victims have the confidence to come forward to get the help they need.

“We are seeking views on whether introducing a mandatory reporting duty might help strengthen protections for victims and ensure more perpetrators are brought to justice.

“The consultation is open to everyone and we are particularly interested in hearing from victims and survivors of forced marriage, and professionals with expertise in the issue of forced marriage.”

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-46455013

Screening and Discussion of the Film “Memecah Kawin Bocah” by UMN Juice

On November 12, 2018, Rumah KitaB received an invitation from student community of Multimedia Nusantara  University: UMN Journalism Center (UMN Juice) to attend the screening and discussion of the film “Memecah Kawin Bocah”. The film produced by Rumah KitaB in 2016 was one of the selected films played in UMN Juice’s monthly screening film, in addition to the film “Ojek Lusi”, which tells about ojek around the Sidoarjo Mud, which is one of the film produced by UMN students.

The event which was attended by around 25 students was opened with the screening of the film “Memecah Kawin Bocah” and continued with a discussion session by representatives of Rumah KitaB, Fadilla Putri, and Adit from UMN Juice as moderators. Fadilla convey the background of the film. The film is a part of the RK research which lasted for two years. This is a challenge to “simplify” the issue of child marriage that is so complex into the short film.

Fadilla also explains why choosing the issue of child marriage for this movie. Besides as a part of the RK advocacy since 2014, another reason to make this film is that child marriage is still a concern in Indonesia. The child marriage data shows that Indonesia is ranked 7th in the world and 2nd in Southeast Asia. Moreover, with the rise of the fundamentalist movement lately, many have encouraged teenagers and young people to get married early to avoid adultery. In fact, marriage that has not yet reached maturity could have a negative impact on children, especially girls.

Regarding the technique of making films, it can be said that it is not easy. Starting from the selection of informants that have good articulation, making strategic interview questions, and involving child marriages survivor, all of them need extra work to fulfill the principles of protection for children and women. Luckily in the making process, RK was assisted by friends from Communicaption who provided input regarding the storyline and the production process.

The screening of the film “Memecah Kawin Bocah” at UMN is also one of the forms of RK advocacy to a wider audience, moreover the majority of the audience are students. It has to be admitted that the dissemination of this film is still in a limited circle, that is, a group that indeed both understand the dangers of child marriage. By watching and discussing this film with the students, it’s expected that the fellow students have new knowledge related to this dangerous practice. [Dilla]