Muslims have a different technique to keep believers from straying: polygamy. If a religious man can’t stick to one wife, perhaps he can stick to four?

I decide to see how this works in Indonesia, which has more Muslims than any other country. Less than twenty-four hours after arriving I’m in the Javanese city of Solo, sitting in front of Indonesia’s self-declared polygamy king, Puspo Wardoyo. I’m prepared to hate him. Puspo, as everyone calls him, hosts a Polygamist of the Year competition and writes books on how others can replicate his success managing four wives (his range in age from twenty-five to forty). On the talk-show circuit, he tells enraged feminists that he’s really out to help women by keeping their husbands away from prostitutes and broadening the pool of marriageable men.

Polygamy is legal here, but it has fallen out of favor. People under forty tell me that their grandfathers and even some of their fathers had multiple wives, but they don’t know many people their own age who do. This change was the handiwork of General Suharto, who ruled Indonesia from 1967 to 1998. Suharto’s government banned polygamy for civil servants and members of the military. Most middle-class families now treat a son’s decision to take a second wife as a shameful secret, and educated women are embarrassed to settle for being second — though under the right circumstances some still do.

Although a minority of Indonesians practice polygamy, the fact that it’s legal makes cheating easier to justify. Some 95 percent of Indonesians say religion is “very important” to them, making it the most religious country in Asia and one of the most religious in the world. Offices in modern high-rises have special prayer areas for employees, sometimes conveniently located right next to the lunchroom. A youth radio station I visit is decorated with posters of Western pop stars, but it rewards its top employee each year with an all-expenses-paid pilgrimage to Mecca .

Being very religious is a way to get status. In polls, more than half the population typically say Indonesia should replace its secular legal system with Islamic sharia law, though enthusiasm for sharia wanes when respondents are asked if they approve of specifics like cutting off thieves’ hands and stoning convicted adulterers. Adultery is illegal, but it’s handled by secular courts. The punishment is relatively mild: up to seven years in prison.

Puspo’s unlikely pulpit to revive polygamy is a chain of fast-food chicken restaurants. He owns about forty of them all over Indonesia. It’s not immediately clear whether the polygamy campaign is a way to sell more chicken, or vice versa. It might not be the best marketing strategy. My friend who’s come along to interpret tells me that her female friends in Jakarta refuse to eat in Puspo’s restaurants.

Lesson number one: Polygamy is delicious. At Puspo’s restaurant in Solo, where we meet for the interview, he orders us sizzling fried chicken and tofu with spicy peanut sauce, plus a special juice called “poligami” because it has four ingredients (Muslim men can have up to four wives).

Lesson number two: Polygamists are charming. I’m not sure why this surprises me, because by definition they attract lots of women. But I had expected Puspo, forty-seven, to seem menacing. In fact he has an appealing tanned face and the habit of grinning and looking straight into my eyes. In a country where you usually need to be rich already in order to get richer, he has a sympathetic rags-to-riches tale. He parlayed his parents’ tiny chicken stand into the Wong Solo chain (Puspo himself is also known as “Wong Solo”). He says the business operates on Islamic principles, and that he donates some profits to charity.

Puspo’s rationale for polygamy is all about adultery. He says that if wealthy married men like him don’t take additional wives, they’ll go to prostitutes or have affairs instead, which he says is sinful and “disgusting.” “I recommend people have a clear conscience by taking that woman as a wife, instead of cheating,” he tells me. Puspo insists, implausibly, that his four wives never argue. He does concede that the Islamic requirement that current wives approve of any additional ones is a sticking point.

Puspo also doesn’t mention that Islam’s original rationale for polygamy was to help women whose husbands had died in war. The prophet Mohammed married as many as thirteen women, most of whom were widows. (An exception was A’isha, who was about ten years old when they consummated their marriage.)

Puspo seems more intent on avoiding cellulite than aiding widows. He staged a pageant to select his fourth wife and decreed that contestants must be under twenty-five and weigh less than 121 pounds (skinny women have smaller vaginas and are easier to maneuver into certain sexual positions, he explains). No doubt Puspo is correct in saying that powerful men have a particular appeal in a country as poor as Indonesia: Three hundred fifty women showed up to compete in the first round.

The abundance of young, poor, beautiful women in Indonesia seems to be more significant than the Islamic prohibition on extramarital sex, known in Arabic as zina. “Most rich and successful people are cheating,” Puspo says. “Most of my friends are cheaters. They cheat with prostitutes just for play.” Their wives are powerless to stop them, he says. “When women are angry, men cheat more.” If a wife divorces her husband because he’s unfaithful, the next one will just cheat, too, he says.

But will four wives be enough, especially when the women are no longer young nymphs? For Puspo, having four wives has whetted his appetite for more. He tells me four isn’t really the limit, since the prophet Mohammed himself had more. Speaking of which, he asks, do I happen to know an American woman who meets his requirements? (I’m disappointed to realize he has ruled me out on both age and weight grounds.)

When I tell him I’ll give it some thought, he moves into a kind of psychic-seduction mode with my skinny interpreter. “I know your type,” he says, gazing at her. “You’re into loving someone even if he has two or three wives. It will take a lot of effort to persuade you that someone loves you. ” She is blushing so hard it takes her a minute to regain her composure and tell me what he’s said. I jealously elbow back into the conversation by asking him what kind of man he thinks I would like. Puspo looks me up and down. “You like a strong, masculine man,” he says. “You would like a guy like me.”

Excerpted from Lust in Translation: Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee by Pamela Druckerman. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) March, 2008.