This Man Wants Young Couples to Skip the Dating Scene and Just Get Married Instead

Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran is an anti-dating movement that sees all premarital relationships as sinful.
January 30, 2018, 12:57pm
Illustration by Dini Lestari

La Ode Munafar isn't a fan of taking things slow. It's a weird way to describe a man who rails against the evils of premarital sex, but how else do you talk about the founder of Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran, a movement that encourages young Indonesians to skip dating altogether and just jump straight into a marriage?

Munafar believes that dating is a gateway to premarital sex, and therefore sin. The only way to avoid the temptation to sin—a temptation his organization says is impossible to resist—is by avoiding dating entirely. Instead, the focus of Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran (or "Indonesia Without Dating") is staying single until you meet your future husband or wife through taaruf—an Islamic practice where a man and woman are introduced to each other, but they aren't allowed to go anywhere with being chaperoned by a family member. This is how Munafar met his wife, a woman he has been married to for four years and has one child (a boy) with.

"I want to save the younger generation from taking part in premarital sex," Munafar told VICE. "I'm concerned about the situation. Dating is not a good thing, no matter how you look at it."

Statements like that may make the whole movement seem pretty absurd—at least to an outsider. But his message is finding a receptive audience in Indonesia. Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran has more than a half-million followers on Instagram and more than a million on Facebook. That's more than a million people sharing and commenting on the organization's slicker-than-usual posts, which eschew the traditional preachy tone in favor of tongue-in-cheek captions that slyly reference popular Indonesian movies like Dilan 1990 .

The idea behind Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran is an old one, where Islamic scholars use an interpretation of the Quran to prove that the act of dating is forbidden by the tenants of Islam. But in recent years, some popular figures online have started to recast the same message for a younger audience. Accounts like @nikahasik, @pejuangnikah, @gerakannikahmuda, @semangatmenikah urge young Indonesians to marry early, and others, like @siap_nikah and @yukmenikah, offer them a spot to find their soulmate.

Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran now has a network of supporters, each led by a regional coordinator who organizes events events and gatherings in most major cities in Indonesia. That puts Munafar on the front lines of Indonesia's culture wars where religious conservatives are trying to recast this historically pluralistic and moderate country into something more Islamic. Today, we have the women of the "Niqab Squad," trying to convince young women to choose to don the full-face veil. We have apps for would-be polygamists, virgin auction sites, and television stations censoring everything from traditional Indonesian outfits that show too much skin to cartoon squirrels in bikinis.

If the efforts to outlaw premarital sex and same-sex relationships outright by conservative lobbying groups like the Family Love Alliance (AILA) is the legal side of the culture wars, then groups like Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran represent its "soft power" approach, one where a culture is gradually shifted toward a new, more conservative reality.

Munafar told me that he got started on this path back during his university days, when he would earn extra money preaching to his peers about the Quran. His organization is open to people currently in a relationship, as long as they promise to get married or break up within three months.

"If not then we have the rights to expel them from the community," he told VICE.

But isn't this kind of marriage prone to problems? Munaraf dismisses the notion that marrying someone you barely know could add to Indonesia's already rising divorce rates.

"Taaruf is the way to avoid divorce," he explained. "There's a process to open up to each other with taaruf. Knowing each other for a short period of time doesn't mean you will get a divorce."

Others aren't so sure. This rush to get married in order to avoid the temptation of premarital sex and sin has been linked to a rise in marital problems in Indonesia. It's such an issue that the Ministry of Religious Affairs now wants to counsel young couples before they tie the knot, preparing them for the realities of married life and issuing those who pass a certificate.

Ideas like this are also linked to the country's ongoing problems with child marriage. The legal age of marriage in Indonesia for a woman is only 16 years old—it's 18 for men—and efforts to raise that age to 18 for both have, so far, remained stalled. As many as 340,000 girls are married before the age of eighteen every year, according to data compiled by UNICEF.

Munafar told me that his movement isn't trying to promote child marriage, but he later explained that couples could get married once they hit puberty, so it all sort of depends on what you age you define as the end of childhood.

"We’re not promoting child marriage,” Munafar told VICE. “We’re focusing on the 'not dating' part, which doesn’t necessarily translate to early marriage. If you’re not ready, then stay single instead of dating. It’s like fasting."

Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran isn't convincing everyone though. Yusar Muljadji, a sociologist from Universitas Padjajaran, told VICE that you can't paint all dating as immoral, or declare that all romantic relationships will cause people to engage in to premarital sex.

"It’s true that this movement aims to follow Islam principles against dating," he told VICE. "But is it true that dating will lead to immorality?"

And if the answer to that question is yes, then Munafar has the perfect group for you to join.

This article originally appeared on VICE ID.