Jakarta – Straight to marriage, without an engagement or dating: This is the new trend that is making its way among Indonesian young people who follow conservative Islamic doctrine.
Young people born in the mid-90s represent about a quarter of the over 260 million inhabitants in the world's most populous Muslim country. More and more Islamic leaders become match makers for those who do not want to date before getting married. The key moment is the ta'aruf (introduction), during which young people introduce themselves to families in the hope that they approve the union. The practice is often referred to by critics as antiquated and more suitable for conservative Gulf nations, such as Saudi Arabia, than historically liberal Indonesia.
The movement called Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran (Indonesia without dating) is flourishing in the country. It was born in 2015 on the initiative of a university student, La Ode Munafar. The group focused on weddings, has a million followers only on its Instagram page, and addresses the huge "Generation Z" audience especially through social media.
According to the indications of the leaders, any premarital contact should be controlled and getting married very young is ideal: premarital dating is a sinful product of western decadence. To spread its message, Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran also sells products under its own brand, including hats, key rings and hijabs, an Islamic accessory worn by many women in Indonesia.
According to sociologists, the seeds of this trend may have been planted in 1998 – when many of those who joined it were young children – in the ashes of the Suharto dictatorship, a regime that largely suppressed religious expression.
In the democratic era, religious symbols re-emerge and ta'aruf is one of them. By sparking a public outcry, the government unsuccessfully attempted to approve a revision of the Criminal Code backed by conservative Islamic groups last year that would have banned premarital sex. For experts, marriage without dating is also a reaction to fears that two decades of democracy have broken traditional values: once, in Indonesia, marriage was the norm and the norm still persists in some rural areas.
The more conservative interpretations of Islam are bringing about profound changes to the country's society and economy. Religious fervor is rekindled by preachers who widely use the new media. A recent trend in the entertainment industry is an expression of this: the hijrah (repentance) of celebrities, who make their discovery – or return – to the Islamic faith public. These "reborn" faithful are leading an influential movement that encourages everything from residential complexes reserved for Muslims to banking activities that respect sharia [Islamic law]. (AsiaNews/Agencies)