THE old controversy on marriages between persons of different religions flared up again when Minister of Religious Affairs Munawir Sjadzali, after attending the inauguration of 15 new presidents of Islamic high courts on 7 January 1992 in Jakarta, pointed out the need for the new formulation of official regulations which would allow people of different religions to marry.Indonesia has a heterogeneous society, so mixed marriages are inevitable. Therefore, he said, we have to solve existing legal problems to avoid many couples of different religions living together out of wedlock. The Marriage Law of 1974, in its second paragraph, stipulates that the government legalize a marriage between people of different religions upon recognition of the marriage by any institution representing one of the two religions in question. Some churches will legalize the marriage of a Christian and a non-Christian, but Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist institutions strongly oppose mixed marriage.
Many people have opted to change their religions to obtain official recognition of their marriage, while others get married abroad hoping that the government will later recognize their unions. The Minister said that the adherence to a particular religion is a question of fundamental human rights. This means that people cannot be forced to change their religion because of marriage, whereas getting married abroad did not solve the problem either because there was no guarantee that the Indonesian government would recognize such marriages.Munawir Sjadzali’s proposal was supported by the chairman of the Supreme Court, Ali Said, Minister of Justice Ismail Saleh, Minister of Home Affairs Rudini as well as by some Christians and some legal experts. Minister Ismail Saleh said that a joint meeting of the Ministers of Religious Affairs, Home Affairs and Justice and the President of the Supreme Court had been planned in February to find a solution to the problem. (JP, 21, 23 Nov. 1991, 8, 21 Jan. 1992; PE, 3, 21 Jan.; KO, 8, 18, 20, 21, 30, 31 Jan.; BB, 21 Jan. 1992)
A number of prominent Muslim figures and organizations rejected the suggestion of the Minister of Religious Affairs. Supreme Court Justice Bismar Siregar, who also frequently publishes on Islamic questions, wrote that marriage between Muslims and ahl al-kitab (people of the book, i.e. Christians and Jews) were problematic because such marriages have not yet been regulated in the Kompilasi Hukum Islam (Compilation of Islamic Jurisprudence). Siregar explained that the reason was because of a difference of opinion among `ulama’ on women of ahl al-kitab. According to him, the solemnization of a mixed marriage in the Kantor Catatan Sipil is illegal because it violates the law of 1974. Moreover, ultimately, the problem is not a legal one but a problem of faith.
Up to now, marriages of Muslims are registered at the Kantor Urusan Agama (Office for Religious Affairs), while non-Muslim couples register theirs at the Kantor Catatan Sipil (Civil Registration Office). According to a regulation published in the Staatsblad (the Statute Book of the Dutch colonial period) of 1898, a Muslim who marries a non-Muslim could technically register with the Kantor Catatan Sipil upon a Court recommendation. But the latter, for its part, requires a recommendation from a religious institution to endorse the marriage. And such a recommendation is often impossible to obtain in view of the firm stance taken by Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist institutions and some churches. (JP, 21 Jan.; KO, 31 Jan.; JJ, 1-7 Feb. 1992)
An Islamic legal expert, Dr. K.H. Sjechul Hadi Permono, S.H., M.A., who is also a lecturer at IAIN Sunan Ampel of Surabaya, East Java, said that the Islamic Law on interreligious marria ge is qat’i(firm). According to him, the Minister’s suggestion should be respected because it reflected an effort to give the Islamic Law a contextual meaning. However, he did not agree with the possibility of replacing religious law with traditional law.The chairman of the MUI, K.H. Hasan Basri, said that marriage is not only a secular matter but a religious one, too, especially within Islam. Therefore, for Islam, a mixed marriage performed in the Kantor Catatan Sipil is invalid, although it could be considered legal in the eyes of the State. Meanwhile Prof. Dr. Harun Nasution, dean of the Faculty of Postgraduate Studies at IAIN Syarif Hidayatullah of Jakarta, said that a mixed marriage had a bad psychological effect on the consequent family life and a negative effect on the personality of its offspring. Reacting to the opinion that marriage is a fundamental human right, both Hasan Basri and Harun Nasution were of the opinion that to understand marriage merely as a human right is a secularistic way of thinking and not in line with Islamic teaching. Prof. Dr. Zakiah Daradjat, a Muslim psychologist and lecturer at the IAINs of Jakarta and Yogyakarta, also said that interreligious marriages could raise severe problems, not only in the religious sphere but also in the psychological domain.
In connection with this problem, during its conference in Jakarta in January 1991, the Muhammadiyah stated that mixed marriage is acceptable as far as it is not in contradiction to the religious teaching of each one of both partners. A Muslim man is entitled to marry with a woman from ahl al-kitab provided that he can guarantee that his progeny will follow his religion or, in other words, he must be strong enough to take the religious lead in his family. The Nandlatul Ulama shared a similar opinion. (ME, 12 Jan.; BB, 13, 17 Jan.; KO, 15, 16, 18 Jan.; WP, 18 Jan.; PE, 18, 22 Jan. 1992)So far, several Indonesian celebrities have in fact contravened the ban on mixed marriages. Examples are the artists Jamal Mirdad and Lidya Kandaow; Dewi Yul and Ray Sahetapi; Nurul Arifin and Mayong Laksono; Bob Tutupoli and Rosmaya; Zoraya Perucha and Aldo.
Actually, such mixed marriages are a chronic problem throughout the country. In 1956, the Supreme Court handed down a judgement accepting a case of interreligious marriage. A similar decision was pronounced by the Supreme Court in 1989. The latest case is that of a Christian Dutch engineer and his Muslim Indonesian girlfriend who instigated a lawsuit in the Jakarta Administrative Court because the Kantor Catatan Sipil had refused to register their marriage. (PE, 28 Nov. 1991; KO, 20 Jan.; JJ, 1-7 Feb. 1992)
The chairman of the Lembaga Konsultasi dan Bantuan Hukum Indonesia untuk Wanita dan Keluarga (LKBHIuWK – Indonesian Institute for Consultation and Legal Aid for Women and Families), Mrs. Nani Yamin, who often handles problems related to interreligious marriages, deplored the existence of the judgement from the Supreme Court which justifies mixed marriage. She said that the existing legislation clearly enough bans such marriages. In her opinion, authorizing mixed marriages by some special regulation would only blur cultural and religious values as well as result in social hypocrisy. One out of four mixed marriage cases which she handled arose from the fact that one of the partners went back to his other, former religion. (KO, 18 Jan. 1992)
Finally, it was reported that the problem of interreligious marriage will also be discussed at the conference of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. (BB, 23 Jan. 1992)
Source: Darul Aqsha, Dick van der Meij, Johan Hendrik Meuleman, Islam in Indonesia: A Survey of Events and Developments from 1988 to March 1983. Jakarta: INIS, 1995, pp. 471-473.