Just as we were about to click the “book now” button, we decided to first read a few reviews of the hotel in Jakarta we were considering. This is when we learned that the hotel follows Sharia Law. Out of both curiosity and adventure we confirmed our booking, wondering what we had in store for us for the first two nights of our Indonesian vacation.
For those of you who might not be familiar with Sharia Law, it is a list of strict guidelines set forth by Islam. These include wearing a hijab (headscarf) for women, no alcohol consumption and mandatory praying five times per day. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, there are religious police to enforce these laws, often using severe practices as punishments, such as caning, for not following the rules. What had we gotten ourselves into?
After a 20 minute walk from Jarkarta’s Gambir Train Station we entered the hotel with our booking number in hand. As we handed over our passports, we noticed prominently displayed signage indicating that all married couples were to present proof of their marriage in order to get one bed. We wondered what this meant for us and the one bed we had ordered. Upon arriving to our room we must admit that we were not entirely surprised to see two twin beds, one of which we snuggled up in together to sleep that night, exhausted from our travel day.
Unlike in hotels in North America you will not find a copy of the Bible in the beside night stand. Instead, each room includes a bilingual Qur’an (Arabic and Bahasa Indonesian), a prayer rug and an arrow on the ceiling pointing towards Mecca.
Although there was a mosque right across the street sounding the call to prayer five times a day, it also came from the speakers in the hotel. One of our favorite aspects of all hotels in Muslim countries, and this one was no different, is the Mecca TV channel, that shows the Kaaba in Mecca twenty-four hours a day. For some reason we find this channel memorizing.
No, No, No
Sharia Law prohibits the consumption of alcoholic beverages and pig meat, both of which were no problem for us. We enjoyed our welcome drink of fresh fruit juice after our travel day from Thailand and were frankly happy not to see hacked up pieces of pig carcass at the complimentary breakfast the next morning.
According to Sharia Law, no visitors could enter the rooms and could therefore only meet guest in the lobby. In addition, no pornographic movies were available on TV. But since we weren’t expecting any visitors and aren’t into pornos, these Islamic rules didn’t phase us either.
For some reason (and we could not find this rule in Sharia Law), there was no chain on our room door. This didn’t bother us per se, but we both confessed that we were nervous that the cleaning staff would come in a see us snuggled together in one twin bed. Having learned that lesbians are legally classified as “mentally-handicapped” in Indonesia, this was possibly a valid concern. As it turned out, we were abruptly woken up at 8am by sturdy knocking at the door. It was indeed a member of the cleaning staff who began pushing his cleaning cart into the room the second the door was opened. We guess a good Muslim would already be up by then?
One Bed Please
After considerable discussion we decided to ask upon checkout about how we would go about getting one bed for our next stay.
So the final morning, knowing that lesbians aren’t even considered in Islamic law, we turned in our key, pointed to the Sharia Law policy and innocently stated, “It says here that in order to get one bed married couples have to prove their marriage. We are married. What kind of proof do you need?”
The man behind the counter, in his early to mid 20’s, immediately looked at Mindy’s chest and his face flushed with embarrassment. Smiling through his visible discomfort, the employee stumbled for the word “certificate”.
The man then decided that we could get one bed without a certificate. We guessed that anyone willing to admit a same-sex marriage must be telling the truth. Besides, since Sharia Law does not even recognize lesbians, unlike our male counterparts, then how can we be breaking the law? But it does say that “women exist for men”, so not having a man around would be our crime?
Although we were clearly not Muslim, being the only women not wearing a hijab, all staff members were very friendly to us, smiling, saying “good morning” and offering explanations of some of the food items at breakfast that we were unfamiliar with. Honestly, we wish we had come out earlier in our stay.
8 thoughts on “Surviving Sharia Law as a Lesbian Couple”
Nicole Rossetti le Strange
Although we lived in Morocco for five months, I don’t think we ever came across anywhere that enforced Sharia law (and certainly not where I stayed in Turkey in 2000). Everyone just assumed that Kevin and I were married, and we never sought to disabuse them of the notion! And actually, our friends who run the riad where we first stayed (and from whom we ended up renting an apartment), while being Muslim, were actually quite Western in their outlook, and in the way that their marriage seemed to work. Certainly, Jamila had no qualms about Brahim doing all the cooking and washing up! Ha ha!
I keep forgetting to ask you – in your travels, have you ever been to a hammam? Next time we get together, ask Kevin to tell you about his experience… it was vastly different to mine (which was amazing)!
BTW, I love your snuggly pic – you two look soooo…. narak mak mak! 🙂
Mindy & Ligeia
Hi Nicole, thanks for sharing your experiences living in Morocco and visiting Turkey. I wonder where else we will come across Sharia Law in our future travels. And yes, we DID visit a hamam while in Turkey and it was wonderful AND because we are two women we got to share the experience together. You can read about it here: http://www.boundingoveroursteps.com/the-hamam-experience/
OK, so I basically made all of the comments aloud to you just now, but whatever. 🙂 I am so glad you asked at the hotel and they gave you one bed. As a single heterosexual female, I’ve never thought about anything like whether or not the hotel I am checking in to would even let me have one bed for two people. I love stories like this that show, despite being shrouded in deep-seeded beliefs and religion, people do bend and adjust.
Mindy & Ligeia
Not only did they adjust, but we did too. We went there with beliefs and expectations of what Shyriah Law might be like and extended these to the employees at the hotel. We learned a great lesson in that always give people the chance before assuming a particular reaction. We also were happy to give this man the opportunity to meet gay people – perhaps we were the first ever! 🙂
I enjoyed reading this first hand account of all the little differences you discovered, and what they meant about Muslim culture! Fascinating peek, thanks 🙂
Camels & Chocolate
Those are some crazy rules. Mad props to you guys for standing your ground! I haven’t traveled a lot in strict Muslim countries, so this was all very educational =)
Giselle and Cody
We have travelled through a few Muslim countries but never have been asked for our Marriage certificate.
We do have a copy with us just in case because who really wants to sleep in separate beds when you’re married.
While in Egypt one of our friends from Saudi Arabia said he wants to take us to Mekkah and dress us up like Muslims…..Ummmm, don’t know about that.
Good job on getting the same bed!!
Nicole @ Vegan Nom Noms
That’s exciting they gave you one bed (or said they would next time at least)! I work sometimes in Dubai as Project Manager and while I’ve never had a partner there with me (and so it was pretty easy for me to appear straight all the time), I always was curious what would happen if it was made clear to the local staff I was gay. Would the suffocating customer service win or the traditional values? Dubai is pretty liberal as far as the Middle East goes, I’d say, but it definitely had a feel of general queer unfriendliness and was somewhat depressing when I tried to reach out and network with other lesbians in the area. You two are braver than I! Mostly I just don’t have the patience to deal with peoples’ confusion/questions, but perhaps it’s worth it to provide something to think over to others now and again. 🙂