UNDERAGE marriage, marital rape, and destruction of the environment were targeted by religious edicts issued by a group of prominent female clerics in Muslim-majority Indonesia this week.
The first fatwa from the inaugural Indonesian Women’s Ulama Congress (KUPI2017) was to declare marital rape haram or “forbidden” according to Islam. The religious edicts or fatwas were debated and issued at the conclusion of the event in Cirebon, West Java, which ran from Monday to Thursday.
Sexual violence, including within marriage, is a significant problem in Indonesia.
A recent nationwide survey by the country’s government statistics body Statistics Indonesia (BPS) found that a quarter of married women had experienced violence at the hands of their husbands.
Netty Prasetyani the wife of West Java’s governor said: “I hope the results of the congress will be able to push Muslim women to be better educators for children and help reduce the prevalence of sexual violence against women.”
Fatwas are rulings on Islamic law and are not legally binding in the country although they can have significant moral influence on the Muslim community.
Another fatwa of the congress condemned child marriage and urged the Indonesian government to raise the minimum age for marriage from 16 to 18.
It is estimated that one in seven girls is married before the age of 18 in Indonesia, with some studies indicating rates of child marriage as high as 35 percent in some regions.
Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, who was was in attendance, said, “I will take this recommendation to the government.”
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A final fatwa declared exploitation and destruction of the environment haram, particularly in the context of Indonesia’s stark social inequality.
The country has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and peatland burning by oil palm producers caused major toxic smog across Southeast Asia in 2015.
The event’s stated purpose was to “emphasise the importance of women’s clerical positions, to acknowledge their work, and to discuss their opportunities and challenges.”
“Female clerics, like male clerics, carry the mission of the Prophets to side with and defend the dhu’afa and mustadh’afin (weak and weakened),” says the congress website.
“In carrying out this prophetic mission, female [Islamic] scholars often experience various challenges, such as exclusion, exclusion, even violence,” it adds.
The event, attended by delegates from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and India, attracted numerous influential figures, including Anggia Ermarini, the chairman of Fatayat – the women’s wing of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) – the largest Islamic organisation on the planet.
At its conclusion, minister Lukman stated that, “This congress succeeded in fighting for justice in the relationship between men and women.”