February 21, 2009 SHARE THIS PAGE GOOGLE

Life & Times / People / Article
Ade Mardiyati 

Converting for Love

In Indonesia, after a non-Muslim dates a Muslim for some time there is usually 
a question ­— coming either from the Muslim partner and family, or simply posed 
by society, of whether the non-Muslim will convert to Islam in order to be able 
to tie the knot. 

Islamic law states that a Muslim woman can only marry a Muslim, and Indonesian 
law requires that Muslims be married in the religion, not in a civil ceremony. 
Couples of differing beliefs have to go elsewhere — commonly to Australia, 
Singapore or Hong Kong, to register their marriages. 

Those non-Muslims who don’t want religion to separate them from their chosen 
one begin the process of conversion, leading to a mosque where they will 
proclaim “ ashadu an la ilaha ilallah, wa ashadu anna muhammadan rasulullah” ( 
I believe there is none but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah).

Records kept at Sunda Kelapa Grand Mosque in South Jakarta show that since 
1993, more than 15,000 non-Muslims converted to Islam there.

“Most of them said they decided to convert because they wanted to find the true 
path,” said Anwar Sujana of the mosque’s conversion department, “but there were 
also many who bluntly said they had to convert so they could marry their Muslim 

Australian Gary Dean is one of the latter, having converted to Islam in March 
1998 in order to marry a Muslim woman he met while living in Yogyakarta. 

“Basically it was important for her and her family, and it was completely 
unimportant for me,” the 51-year-old said. 

Although his conversion was solely so he could marry his girlfriend, Dean 
studied to be a “full-time” Muslim, including lessons on how to perform sholat, 
the Islamic ritual prayer, and wudhu, the ritual bathing required before prayer 

He said he considered it important that he at least knew the technicalities 
involved in being a Muslim, although he does not perform the compulsory prayers 
five times a day. His reason for converting, he wrote in a journal entry from 
the time, was “to make myself more socially acceptable and accessible to my 

His wife knew his reasoning but she did not make a fuss about it. 

Eating pork was not something I was really keen on anyway, so it wasn’t really 
a great sacrifice 

Gary Dean 
“Her father, fortunately, is Islam kejawen [Islam tinted with Javanese 
syncretism], so he is much more tolerant,” he said. 

Dean said that converting to Islam had not changed his life noticeably, as his 
pre-Muslim lifestyle was not very different. Even eating only halal food was 
not a big adjustment for him. 

“Eating pork was not something I was really keen on anyway, so it wasn’t really 
a great sacrifice,” he said.

Keiichi Hayashida, an engineer from Japan, gave up more, literally and 
figuratively, to marry Sri Wahyuni, or Yuni.

He said he did not consider the possibility of having to convert to Islam when 
he started dating Yuni, a co-worker, in 1996. 

“I didn’t really think about the difficulties,” the 45-year-old said. “My 
attitude at that time was like ‘let’s just see how things go.’ ”

It was not until they decided to marry that Yuni told him what would first be 

“If I wanted to marry her, I had to become Muslim,” he said, “and to become 
Muslim, I had to be circumcised.” 

Anwar of Sunda Kelapa mosque said Muslim clerics differed on the need for those 
converting to Islam to be circumcised. 

“Some say it is compulsory, others say it is a sunnah [not compulsory but 
strongly suggested],” he said. “But here [at Sunda Kelapa mosque] we consider 
it compulsory, so anyone who wishes to convert here should have been 

Hayashida, who was born into the Shinto religion, converted to Islam in January 
1997, one month before his marriage. He admitted that was his only reason at 
the time. 

His family in Japan were pleased with the outcome. 

“My family said I was lucky to finally have a wife,” he said, with a laugh. 
“They said I was old.”

Since becoming Muslim, he now knows a little about religion, something he had 
never considered before.

Unlike Dean, Hayashida had to change his lifestyle as some things he liked are 
forbidden in Islam. 

“I used to drink beer and eat pork, now I don’t anymore,” he said. 

He also feels that he is becoming a better Muslim as he tries to set an example 
for his daughter, 11, and son, 8, including observing the mandatory five 
prayers a day.

“I intend to go to Mecca to perform the hajj,” he said. “But beforehand, I 
really need to improve myself as a Muslim.”

Despite having lived her entire life in Indonesia, Catholic-born Wahyuni 
Widowati, known as Wowik, said she had no respect for Islam before she began 
dating a Muslim man. She considered the religion to be radical and viewed its 
followers as using violence to defend their beliefs.

Her boyfriend asked her if she was willing to convert to Islam as their 
relationship developed, and she was not. After a long discussion, they decided 
it was acceptable to have a marriage of mixed religions.

However, out of curiosity, Wowik decided to learn more about Islam. There were 
two things she wanted to know, she said.

“First, despite its bad image, why does this religion grow rapidly, especially 
in Western countries?” Wowik said she asked herself at the time. “Then, who is 
Muhammad and what is this religion he was struggling to spread?”

She began to read books on the subject and talk to Muslim friends. Two years 
later, she studied Islam intensively for three weeks with a Muslim cleric, then 
converted in July 2007. 

Her family, who are devout Catholics, strongly disapproved of her decision and 
would not accept the reasons she gave them. She persistently told them that 
Islam was what she believed in, and that she thought it would make her a better 

“It was just a problem with communication. My family finally accepted it,” she 

Wowik and her boyfriend were married in August of last year and are expecting 
their first child in July.

She said she tries to be a good Muslim by praying five times a day, observing 
puasa, or fasting, during Ramadan and regularly paying zakat — money that is 
given to the poor.

Her life feels much more peaceful and comfortable now, she said. 

“When you know your feet stand on something firm, that’s when you know you are 

Windows Live™ Hotmail®:…more than just e-mail. 

Kirim email ke