Saturday, 8 November 2008

Certificat de Coutume

The Irish Embassy had just received clearance from Dublin to say they could certify to the Indonesian authorities that I was free to marry. The official at the embassy had been very friendly and congratulated us. AF asked whether I was going through with it.
I think so. If that seems a vague answer, let me elaborate. Actually both of us want to slip as unobtrusively as possible into the so-called married state. We both want to carry on pretty much as we are doing but with the added facility of being ‘allowed’ to travel together and stay at each others houses. In Indonesia there is no secular marriage. For Muslims they are married by the Department of Religious (poking your nose into other people's) Affairs. Their certificate (Buku Nikha) is the marriage certificate and there is no civil registration. Others have to register a civil marriage, but they cannot do so unless they first have a religious ceremony. It is impossible for people who are not of the same (or not of any) religion to marry, although marriages conducted abroad are recognised de facto.
Now with the whole Ahmadi thing it is worrying whether the local religious affairs office would recognise Ahmadis as Muslim at all – so we have to be careful not to actually mention it.
They said that because I am a foreigner they want ‘proof’ that I am a Muslim. I thought that the only ‘proof’ I had was an Ahmadi ID card (I hate the idea of ID cards – it seems Ahmadis are keener than the British government to make a database of everyone, number and issue them ID cards) so that was a worry. I don't want to lie, so I don't want anyone to ask me, ‘are you Muslim?’ Then I remembered that my statutory declaration when I changed my name says on it that the reason for the change of name was that I became a Muslim. Let them have that. No one would ask my fiancée with her hijab[1], of course. I told her clearly and repeatedly that I do not regard myself as a Muslim. I do not accept the Kalima[2] and I do not submit to concepts which I believe to be most likely human constructions. (I say, ‘most likely’ out of respect for my agnostic position, in the same way, as Russell put it, that it is impossible to prove a negative and that he was agnostic about the Homeric gods too.) She still thinks I am a Muslim because I still believe in God and still say ‘Asalaamu alaikum’ and ‘insha'Allah’.
She doesn't know if it is zina to marry me. Of course it is, because according to Islam it is clear that a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man. But for her the fudge of ‘not knowing’ is good enough.
She is adamant in not wanting a walima[3]. She said that if the family insist on it then she will not go ahead with the marriage at all: Which is rather a strong position. I am happy to have a cup of tea and some nasi goreng[4] with a couple of people for half and hour or so, but she really hates the idea of being the centre of attention. She wants the whole business over and done with as soon as possible. We are so similar. She is a wonderful partner.
I am coming to the view that marriage is a purely religious concept anyway and for people who do not intend to have children it is rather pointless. Unfortunately we have to be careful because it can be life threatening (for women) not to have the relevant piece of paper if the sharia law mob get their way.
That is what I like about the Irish Embassy. As a small country it allows people to be human. That would be out of the question at the British Embassy. I love the delightful and completely harmless Irish emblem of the harp. It is not mythical, harps actually exist, and not threatening. Lions and unicorns and eagles with spears are so horrible. The consular secretary likes to put quotations at the bottom of her emails, without attribution unfortunately. I agreed to match her, but I said that I would not quote anyone and would make up my own aphorisms.
The only thing about Ireland is that their constitution – which on the whole is a good one and mostly secular in content now – still insists on beginning with the words:
In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,
We, the people of Éire,
Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial,
However, I'd still rather have a harp than a lion.