Over the last few weeks, the public has learned about a famous Muslim preacher, Abdullah Gymnastiar (aka Aa Gym), who took a second wife and has started to practice a polygamous marriage. The news has surprised many Muslims, not only because Aa Gym made a public announcement of the marriage but also because he hold an example of a ideal type of a modern Muslim preacher. Unlike the older generation of Muslim preachers, who took many wives and practiced traditional style of dakwah (preaching), Aa Gym uses modern internet technology and applies modern managerial knowledge in running his pesantren (boarding school) Daarut Tauhid. Therefore, the news of his second marriage surprises many of his followers who begin to question his modern outlook and the reliability of his statements (he once said that he was not interested in practicing polygamy).
Aa Gym’s second marriage appears to become a national issue when, in the aftermath of the news, President Susilo Yudhoyono summoned Minister of Women’s Affairs and officials of the Ministry of Religion to discuss the controversy over polygamous marriage. The Minister of Women’s Affair delivered a statement that the government would look into the legal ramification of polygamous marriage. But the conservative Muslims reacted strongly to the statement by pointing out that Al-Qur’an allows polygamy and that the government’s initiative to arrange polygamy is a transgression against religious teaching.
The controversy over polygamy has opened up a debate over the limit of state’s rights. In other words, I tend to see that what lies at the heart of the debate is not whether the state should or should not intervene, but whether the state has trangressed its rights in responding to the matter. Here the situation gets more complicated. For the proponents of polygamy, the state could not perform as the bearer of divine rights and the Divine Law should not be transgressable. On the other hand, as illustrated by comments from government officials, the state is caught in an ambiguous position. It needs to set up a proper boundary between “secular” and divine rights, but this proves a difficult task as the controversy over Aa Gym’s polygamy demonstrates.