Polygamy and tradition
From the pro side of the controversy, a Muslim scripture is quoted, stating that Prophet Muhammad himself practiced polygamy as a means to provide for and generally improve the lives of women in need of support. He then allowed Muslim men to have up to four wives, but not without a warning that all wives must be treated fairly. That mandate became the basis for the Indonesian 1974 marriage law, which draws many of its aspects from Sharia, which is a religious law from Islamic tradition adopted by many Islamic countries.
If you look back even further into its history, polygamy was already common practice during ancient times when separate Hindu Kingdoms ruled the archipelago, a few centuries before Islam entered and dominated the nation. Back then, many kings and royals took several wives to increase political influence and show authority.
Since the early 1900s, a faint voice of women’s rights began to emerge, most popularly by Kartini, a young Javanese royal whose thoughts were made known through her correspondence with international friends and published in Letters of a Javanese Princess. In her letters, Kartini argued how polygamy is a violation of women’s rights, a surmise that is still used today as an argument against the practice. But in a patriarchal society in which polygamy has found a religious pedestal, that voice did not manage to overcome the mainstream noise.
In the 1950s, Indonesia’s first post-independence leader, Soekarno, became the unofficial patron of polygamy by taking a second wife, Hartini. Soekarno’s first lady Fatmawati couldn’t do anything about the decision, even though her objection was made known to the public.
Even during the leadership of Indonesia’s first and so far only female president, Megawati, in 2001–2004, the cry for more emancipation in (at least) domestic settings did not make much difference as the vice president was a polygamist.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the women’s right to object to their husband’s appeal for polygamy was upheld and protected by the constitution. Even after that, women still find themselves pressured by society and often feel obliged to allow their husbands to take a second wife.
A modern twist to polygamy
The long history of polygamy twisted in an unexpected direction when a Tinder-like dating app launched earlier this year. While the dating app was taken down after thousands of downloads, it is scheduled for a relaunch in October 2017 after the founders consulted with prominent religious leaders.
AyoPoligami (translates as “let’s do polygamy”) describes itself as a “platform that works to match male users with women ready to be part of a large family.” In compliance with regulations, the app will require a letter of permission from the first wife as well as official identification.
Just like the wider issue that it carries, AyoPoligami has already faced heated controversy. Some are convinced that the app will not likely be popular, while others are excitedly waiting for the relaunch.