On 29 October 2010, Dr Arskal Salim delivered a paper at the Conference on Religion in Dispute held by Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany. The paper was entitled ‘Saving Marriages after Triple ‘Talaq’ (divorce): Contested Norms and Practices in Aceh, Indonesia’.
In his paper, Dr Salim examined four cases from Aceh, Indonesia, to demonstrate how various actors attempt to keep couples married (in the event of marriage breakdown), or bring divorced couples back to their original marriages. Dr Salim looked at how different agencies determine what is lawfully and religiously compliant in the case of (re)marriage after three divorces have taken place.
The paper examined the importance of social acceptance of decisions made by the shari`a courts or village religious authorities. A key question was raised: Does the community consider the legality of the marriage (as determined by the state) more important than the religious validity of the marriage? Or is it the other way around?
Using four cases as examples, Dr Salim showed how state legality has been fiercely challenged in Aceh. Religious validity, he argued, tended to be the most important factor for community acceptance of (re)marriage, despite sometimes unexpected case outcomes.
Dr Salim’s findings are consistent with other studies in this area (eg, Bowen 2003) which argue that in many cases of court decisions in Indonesia, and in Aceh in particular, state legality is subordinate to religious validity. However, the paper noted that legal settlements in villages differ from the decisions made in Aceh’s district or municipal shari`a courts in relation to gender issues. While decisions made in the latter courts were influenced by international norms of women rights, rulings in the village courts were less sensitive to gender inequalities.
Based on ten months fieldwork in Aceh from 2007 to 2008, the paper is part of Dr Salim’s ongoing research on law and Islam in Aceh, to be published as a monograph, provisionally entitled ‘Disputes After Disaster: Managing Plural Legal Orders in the Post-Tsunami Aceh’.
•Arskal Salim's profile
Coordinator, Planning & Academic Development
Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations