Nyai Hj. Afwah Mumtazah : The Victims Should be Escorted, Do Not Let Them Fall into a Despair
By: AD Kusumaningtyas

Our second interviewee is Nyai Hj. Afwah Mumtazah,  a religious woman scholar who manages Pondok Pesantren Puteri Aisyah, in environment of PP Kempek Cirebon founded by KH (Kyai Haji, male pesantren leader) Harun bin Abdul Jalil in 1908. Alumnus of Arabic Language Department at IAIN (State Islamic Institute) Sunan Gunung Jati Cirebon which was used to be Hadith Interpretation Department at IAIN Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta, is also resilient in studying. The Daughter of KH Fuad Amin and Hj (Hajjah: a Muslim who has made a pilgrimage to Mecca) Izzah Satory from pesantren Babakan has also finished her Master degree program in the field of Pedagogical in IAIN Sunan Gunung Jati, Cirebon. Married with KH. Muhammad Nawawi, they have two daughters and one son whose names are Nada (14), Eza (7) and Ayundia (5).  Besides managing pesantren, Mbak (Sister) Afwah, her nickname, also delivers lecture regularly at the Insititut Studi Islam Fahmina (ISIF) Cirebon, as well as the Chief of Hafizhat (Al Qur’an memorizer) for whole regency of Cirebon.  Following is our conversation in the middle of hustle and bustle of her activities. 

According to data taken from the Religious Court, it shows the case of marriage dispensation request for under age couple, which is 16 years old for women and 19 years old for men, is quite high. One of the causes is the pregnancy before marriage. What do you think of this phenomenon?  

This is quite a shocking phenomenon. There has been a moral deviation behind reason of executing an early age marriage in the past and now. A long time ago, early age marriage dispensation is purely because of arranged marriage by the parents who considered a girl having her first period and being literate enough shall be married soon since her life is only destined for these purposes: serving husband and family, as well as cooking meals for children. Even though she earns a higher education degree, it will be useless because her life is only for these, while early age marriage dispensation request is normally due to unwanted pregnancy. I think teenagers’ life nowadays tends to be more sexually open. Even the elementary and junior high school students have the easy access to porn websites through an internet center or their mobile phone. Without sufficient religious faith and maturity, they tend to copy easily what appears on such media. They even committed sex with their counterparts without any commitment, just for fun. On the contrary, it will be a shame for them to keep their virginity during high school years. To me this is very horrible. We should fix all this, this shall become our responsibility. 

Have you ever escorted a victim having her early age pregnancy while she is still at school? What did you do to accompany her? 

I have escorted such girls for several times. A few years ago, I met a girl in grey and white uniform, waiting for me and crying. While holding her school bag, she begged me to allow her to be a student in our school. When I asked where her parents or her siblings were, she answered she came by herself after a pedicab driver suggested her to come here. I felt something was wrong with her, she might be stressed or depressed. I kept my question by letting her have some rest in our pesantren (Islamic boarding school) and asking one of the caretakers to put her in their room, as well as to lend her clothes because she didn’t bring any except uniform she put on, praying outfit and Al Qur’an. 

The day after, exactly after dusk prayer, I approached her and carefully asked why she chose pesantren. Suddenly, she burst into tears, telling me that she was so scared of her family because she was being pregnant. Her pregnancy had come to 4th month, while she had to deal with the final exam. She begged me to stay at pesantren until the birth of her baby and wished she would repent for her fault. She also asked me to persuade her boyfriend to marry her at pesantren without telling his parents. I accepted all her requests, I let her live at pesantren while continuing her final exam by going to school back and forth, even though the regulations applied at pesantren restrict its students to enroll for another school outside. I felt I had to help this girl to avoid her from every unexpected things. I called an ustadzah (female teacher) to guide her in doing night prayer and read the Al Qur’an. 

Through her help, I borrowed her cellphone and called her boyfriend to ask him to be responsible. Thanks God he was willing to do it as long as I didn’t tell about this marriage to his parents. The next step, I contacted the women NGO to consult about this problem. They suggested me not to execute what her boyfriend asked me to do because it is worried the girls’ parents would sue us. 

So, I let the victim live at pesantren for a month so she could participate in all activities over there, she also changed and looked physically better, she didn’t seem to be depressed like the first time she had come here. Until one day I asked her to come home escorted by a caretaker to bring her clothes and all necessary matters. A day later her parents came home with a happy face and grateful feeling because their daughter has the initiative to go to pesantren, something she was very reluctant before. A feeling of anxiety and dilemma happened to us all until I explained the truth to the parents so they would be willing to treat their daughter as good as I did.

After listening to my story, their happiness turned into despair, even the mother looked shocked. Trembling, the father told me he couldn’t accept my wish to let their daughter live at pesantren, even the mother said they couldn’t bear if it would humiliate the school’s reputation. We discussed it altogether and I reminded them to treat her well so the fetus could grow healthily, until they finally decided to leave their daughter to her sibling in Karawang, a district near Jakarta, until the birth of her baby. 

How are people and parents’ response towards your action? 

I feel like I don’t get enough assistance while trying to help the victims due to several reasons. Either the NGO or public figures ask me to repatriate the pregnant girls to their parents otherwise I will be sued, meanwhile the victims’ parents feel guilty to have bothered me by sheltering their daughter in a so-called ‘sacred’ institution. My colleagues even said it would give a bad impact to image of pesantren as an asylum for pregnant girls without marriage. There will be such impression, while I have one objective only: a pregnant girl like her needs help and guidance, at least she finds out the mistake and loss she will bear, as well as the social and religious sanctions. 

When I see a girl in such condition because she is rejected everywhere, she will be more depressed by executing an abortion or by becoming a prostitute. I think this is far more detrimental for her. Our people see such girl as annoying and wild, who should be isolated. In fact, she is a victim, because there has been a wrong parenting system in the family. 

What do you think of a marriage which shall happen because the bride is already pregnant? (marriage by pregnancy): 

To me, marriage for pregnant girls is much better if she is married with man who had made her pregnant by sticking into commitment to build a family based on spirit of sakinah,  mawaddah wa rahmah. The decision to get married shall come from themselves, not from their parents or family to get rid of their disgrace. It is not rare to find such reason which will end up into a divorce after the baby is born. As scholar Hanafi said it is better to determine nasab (descendant) of a child than to consider the child without any descendant (illegitimate child or bastard). Even It is possible to marry the pregnant girl with a man who hadn’t caused him to be until the birth of the baby. Meanwhile, the marriage is not obligatory if after the baby is born, the biological father is the one who will marry her, and it’s not necessary to repeat the marriage.

In this case, Imam Syafii shared same point of view, which set forth the nasab relationship of a father with his child resulted from sex before marriage (or zina) if the marriage is seen more than 6 months following the child’s birth, the nasab will follow the father’s, even though he is not the biological father. But if period of the marriage is less than 6 months before the child’s birth, the nasab of the child doesn’t belong to the father, even though he is the biological father of the baby. 

Do you know if there’s a tale in Islamic history which tells about how Islam treats pregnant women who are not yet married?

The history if Islam has recorded that our Prophet treated pregnant women with compassion, including those without marriage. It was Maiz ibnu Malik al Asalami and imraah  Ghamidiyah who confessed to the Prophet that they had committed adultery. They asked the Prophet to persecute them, but the Prophet always withheld and rejected their demand while they both urged him to do so, but the Prophet would hardly do it and instead wanted them to repent. 

The stoning punishment had existed long before arrival of Islam, and it is not purely an Islamic way of punishing someone. The stoning had ever been done during the era of Moses which is stated in the Old Statement Deuteronomy 22:22. If someone is found out to have slept with a married woman, both shall be punished into death: the man who slept with that woman and the woman herself, including a virgin woman who committed adultery, as stated in verse 23 of the Old Testament. Stoning is the death punishment for every adulterer by burying the half part of their body into the soil, and everyone who passes by them are asked to stone them until death. 

As stated by Moqsith Ghazali, ”Al Qur’an doesn’t contain the verse of stone punishment, though it had been abrogated. The stone punishment is applied by many fuqaha (Islamic jurisprudence scholars) according to Syar’u man Qablana (pre-Islamic sharia), as we all know there are many Islamic Laws adopted pre-existing religious laws, including those of Jewish. The stone punishment can be applied if only the woman or the perpetrator confesses adultery, testified by four witnesses who discovered that matter.”

In one chronicle, the Prophet was visited by a pregnant woman confessing her act of adultery. She was willing to be punished as it should be, but the Prophet didn’t execute it instantly. Instead, the Prophet asked the woman to come back to her home until the birth of her baby and feed the baby afterwards. Until the woman was ready to receive the punishment, the Prophet would execute it as she requested. The way our Prophet withheld the punishment gives us a clearer perspective that he is very careful and also very loving though the baby is resulted from the sex before marriage. In another chronicle, the Prophet would like Maiz to revoke her confession, and to repent instead.  

What do you think of pregnant students being expelled from school? 

I totally disagree with the expulsion of a pregnant student out from school. What if she is the victim of a rape? It’s like rubbing salt into the wound. If the school wants to expel her, it should be the man who causes her to be pregnant, if the man is from the same school. The school should also carry out a persuasive action by interrogating the pregnant student if she is indeed the victim. I feel regretful if she shall be expelled from school while she must sit in for a final exam. I think, it would be better if the school let her finish her study first though she must pass the exam in a separated room or give her several months off to let her prepare herself for the baby birth, if the pregnancy happens in her first or second year. To get a proper education is every citizen’s right whatever the reason is, and the school must facilitate her. Even a person in jail due to criminal act can sit in the national exam, why a pregnant woman cannot? Except if she resigns or refuses to sit in due to personal reasons, that is another thing. 

How does the pesantren respond to this teenager’s pregnancy problem? 

The pesantren firmly disagrees the pregnancy before marriage. The effort we carry out to avoid this problem is by involving our students in full activities, either intra and extracurricular so they will be too busy to think of or to commit sex. In the curriculum, contents on reproductive health and organs must be intensively elaborated, especially in the chapter of Risalah al Mahiedh or Fiqih Munakahat. It is not only about pregnancy before marriage happening to teenagers, but early age marriage can also be the focus of the discussion. One of the causes of cervical cancer is the sex activity having been done in very early age and they are not yet ready for it. Not to mention the impacts which could mentally affect them. They are not yet mature, their emotional psychology is not balanced, which will lead them to divorce. A very significant matter can be a serious problem for teenagers, even if they have children at a very young age. Teenagers who get married too young-and they don’t continue their school to a higher education-will not be able to educate their children very well because of the least knowledge they have earned. Isn’t it the mother who will be the first school of her children? 

Are there any other practices such as arranged marriage or marrying an under-age child in the pesantren’s life? What are the impacts in regard to the teenagers’ pregnancy issue?

The practices of arranged marriage in the pesantren’s life are still common to find. Thanks God there’s only a few of it are being married at a very young age. Usually it is associated with the culture where the parents live. Almost all of the women live in villages are married at their very young age. As we have explained above, the impact associated with the reproductive organ’s readiness is not quite good for their health. Early-age marriage will also perturb their mentality as well as it can bring them to divorce. 

To get married, is a requirement to be baligh (physically mature) considered necessary? Do most people think that to be physically mature means their reproductive system is ready?  

The issue of baligh which is recommended in every single deed contains various interpretations and wisdom. The meaning of baligh as required in marriage shall be interpreted extensively. In the concept of fiqh, girls are said to be baligh when they have their first menstruation period, or when they are already 9 years old; while boys are when they have reached 15 years old of age or when they experience their first ihtilam, as stated by Imam Shafi’i. As to me, baligh in marriage doesn’t only mean that, but also mental readiness, tamyiz, maturity in behavior, attitude, and so on. It will be quite unusual if we only stick to the limit of menstruation as our reference, in the meantime instant foods and such things can trigger our children to have their first menstruation faster like what happens to our fourth or fifth grade students at most elementary schools. Do they deserve to get married? If this occurs, the objective of marriage, which is to build a family with the spirit of sakinah mawaddah wa rohmah will be difficult to reach. 

Is it possible for the pesantren to carry out several efforts in avoiding teenagers’ pregnancy? If so, by what means? 

The efforts of pesantren in preventing the teenage pregnancy are carried out in various ways, such as: a) maximizing all the activities inside the pesantren so that teenagers will be too busy to have negative thoughts on sex and such things, b) in the fiqh study, especially the fiqh nisa (Risalah al-mahiedh dan Munakahaat), the discussion on reproductive health materials is emphasized. At least, students get to know their body parts into the most vital and private organs including their functions, so it is expected they will take care of their reproductive health and not to do any behavior which can cause pregnancy, c) case study in the field on the number of pregnant teens, to analyze and identify the loss or disadvantages caused from teens’ pregnancy, d) another preventive way is to apply the curfew around the dormitory in order to control the students going out only for urgent matters.  

How will the pesantren contribute to the sex and reproductive health rights issue? 

Pesantren is the institution highly considered effective in morality development of teenagers. Inside the pesantren, there is a taadib process, of which the role is more important than ta’alim (transformation of knowladge). Taadib is an education process not only limited to school, but also to daily attitudes observation from day to night for a better behavior, especially in terms of knowledge application earned from school into daily habits, in speech and characters. This process can only be found in the pesantren environment. An independent curriculum made by the pesantren can give a bigger portion to sex and reproduction rights education, not to mention the classical Islamic texts which elaborated the similar topics in the chapter of munakahaat (marriage) as the principal sex education in Islam. As to me, this is a strategic effort given by pesantren to avoid pregnancy before marriage. 

What are your expectations to overcome this teenagers’ pregnancy issue, either the pregnancy among students or the early age pregnancy? 

The teenage pregnancy is not only found in big cities, but also becomes more common in the villages. The religious, moral development and education management which emphasize on character building should be the focus of formal education institutions, in which children will be taught to appreciate their lives, to avoid pragmatic attitudes or making instant decisions while encountering problems. I think this is more important than only transferring course materials without any meaning. 

In the meantime, there must be a solution to handle the early age marriage problem by giving enlightenment and exposing the risks of it. Apart from the risk of losing the future, the victim will also lose the opportunity to gain valuable experiences if she gets married too young. In villages, we shall invite the chiefs and local figures to draw a policy which prohibits the early age marriage and urges their pupils to earn a higher education degree at the high school level. If the school fee becomes the problem, they will have to find a foster parent for them as one of the solutions.[] By: AD.Kusumaningtyas

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