Bianca J. Smith


This article explores how the practice of polygamy is maintained in a Sasak pesantren (a traditional Islamic boarding school for the study of the Qur’an, Hadith and classical texts) in Lombok, eastern Indonesia. Pesantren are patriarchal institutions that are managed by male Muslim teachers and preachers known in Lombok as tuan guru. I demonstrate how tuan guru play critical roles in the reproduction of polygamy in Sasak society by implicating women in the co-creation of polygamous marriage and simultaneously teaching strategies for resisting it. By situating Muslim women’s experiences in wider Indonesian and local Sasak discursive contexts, and based on anthropological field research, the article explores how Muslim women draw on a range of magical forces and prayers that they learn from tuan guru in the pesantren to resist, embrace and co-create customary marriage laws of “bride stealing” (kawin curi) and orthodox Islamic teachings about polygamy.


This is a revised version of the author's original article, which appeared in Journal of International Women's Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1 (November 2009).

Author Biography

Bianca J. Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology and Gender Studies at the University of Brunei Darussalam and an Honorary Fellow at the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies at the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne, Australia. Her co-edited books include, Gender and Power in Indonesian Islam: Leaders, Feminists, Sufis and Pesantren Selves, London & New York: Routledge, 2014 (with M. Woodward) and Indonesian Islam in a New Era: How Women Negotiate Their Muslim Identities, Clayton: Monash University Press, 2008 (with S. Blackburn and S. Syamsiyatun).