As conservative Islam rises, polygamy flourishes, writes Asia Sentinel’s Lauren Gumbs

Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, the ex-chairman of Indonesia’s Islamist-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) is currently on trial for corruption involving receipt of bribes in exchange for issuing higher beef import quotas though the agriculture ministry, which the party controls.

Luthfi also has been accused of funnelling billions of rupiah to his three wives in order to launder money he received in bribes. He says his youngest was already 18 when he married her last year while she was still attending vocational school. The 51-year old Luthfi has 15 children from his marriages, presumably most from his first two wives.

Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq. Pic: AP.

PKS, which fancies itself an upholder of religious virtue, has been rocked by the twin graft scandals, first the beef and then revelation of Luthfi’s secret girl-wife and corresponding abuse of power and privilege. Even the original bribery case was mired in sex because an aide to the PKS leader was arrested in the company of a college co-ed he had paid for sex in a luxury Jakarta hotel. Rumor has it that the co-ed has been a frequent companion of many senior PKS figures.

Many men marry extra wives secretly, making exact figures on polygamous marriages hard to determine. Polygamy was legalized in 1974 under Marriage Law No. 1. Men may take up to four wives but women may not take extra husbands.

Polygamy was, however, discouraged and restricted until the end of the reign of Suharto, when Islamic organisations demanded lifts on prohibitions of Islamic practices. In 2000 after pressure from the Muslim Unity Organisation (Persis), the prohibition on public servants having more than one wife was annulled.

Polygamy is permissible under Islam, and also justified by it. Across Islamic parties, the practice is common even though it is frowned upon by large swathes of Indonesian society. Other PKS officials with multiple wives are Communications Minister Tifatul Sembiring, and party officials Didin Amaruddin, Anis Matta and Zulkieflimansyah.