Indonesian interfaith marriages difficult, but not impossible

by Bobby Batara
29 January 2013
Jakarta – A new film by Indonesian filmmaker Hanung Bramantyo, about an interfaith couple, has generated a lot of buzz in recent months. While not the first film in Indonesia to tackle this subject, Cinta Tapi Beda (Loving but Different) and the topic of interfaith marriages have garnered a lot of attention due to some high profile criticism of the film

The film, adapted from a blog post written by Indonesian writer Dwitasari focuses on the love story between a Catholic woman from Padang, West Sumatra, and a Muslim man from Yogyakarta, Central Java. The woman’s family rejects the relationship, which results in difficult decisions for both young people, and highlights the challenges faced by many couples from different backgrounds in Indonesia.

Criticism of the film comes from a number of Minangkabau communities, an ethnic group based in the areas of West Sumatra and the world’s largest matrilineal society. Based on her geographic origins, the woman, Diana, was thought to have been portrayed to come from the Minangkabau. Groups such as the Association of Indonesian Minang Youth and the Coordination Agency of Minangkabau Culture and Society in Jakarta have argued that the film misrepresents Minangkabau Indonesians because the Minangkabau are predominantly Muslim and it would be extremely rare to find a Christian Minangkabau.

The filmmaker, Bramantyo, says that his intent was not to portray Diana as Minangkabau. “The aim is to show the diversity,” he says, noting he chose Padang as the city where she comes from because he wanted to portray the non-Muslim minority in the capital of West Sumatra. He apologised if the film has upset some Minangkabau communities as a result of this decision.

If anything, this controversy has only served to draw more attention to the main theme of the film: interfaith relationships in Indonesia.

Interfaith relationships often face great obstacles under the Indonesian civil code – which has no provision for civil marriage. Because marriage is only recognised through religious marriage ceremonies, interfaith couples have difficulty obtaining a legal marriage contract. Typically, one partner must convert to the other’s faith for their marriage to be legalised.

The only two exceptions are if the couple is able to marry abroad (interfaith couples can register their marriage in a foreign country and receive a stamp from an Indonesian embassy in the country where the marriage took place), or if the man is Muslim and the woman is not. In this latter case, there are a few non-profit organisations, such as the Paramadina Foundation, that will help couples obtain a marriage license from the Indonesian Office of Religious Affairs because this type of union is permitted under Islamic jurisprudence.

Other films addressing the topic of interfaith relationships have been well received and are quite popular among young adults in Indonesia. Indeed, a 2009 movie by an Indonesian director Sammaria Simanjuntak, Cin(T)a (“Cina” means Chinese, and “cinta” means love), about the romantic relationship between a Christian Chinese-Batak (an ethnic group from North Sumatra) man and a Muslim Javanese woman, and a 2010 movie by an Indonesian filmmaker Benny Setiawan, 3 Hati, 2 Dunia, 1 Cinta (3 Hearts, 2 Worlds, 1 Love), about the struggle of a Muslim man and a Catholic woman whose relationship is not blessed by their families, together received six awards at the Indonesian Film Festival.

The success of these films show the theme of interfaith relationships resonates with viewers and stories like Cinta Tapi Beda are actually well received by Indonesian film goers. Though it is unclear if these films may influence Indonesian law on this matter in the future, real life interfaith couples have been finding it possible to have their happy ending despite the difficulties.


* Bobby Batara is a reporter of Total Film Indonesia magazine and Kabar Film tabloid. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 29 January 2013,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.
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