In Islam, polygamy is allowed, with the specific limitation that men can only have up to four wives at any one time. The Qur'an also states that men who choose this route must deal with their wives as fairly as possible, doing everything that they can to spend equal amounts of time and money on each one of them. If the husband cannot deal with his wives fairly, one is enough. A man can only take a second wife if his first wife gives her consent and that a man can only take a second wife if he is capable of maintaining the same level of marital duties due to his first wife; the marital duties are 1) food, 2) clothing, and 3) sexual gratification. Although many Muslim countries still retain traditional Islamic law which permits polygamy, certain elements within some Muslim societies challenge its acceptability. For example, polygamy is prohibited by law in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tunisia and Turkey. In secular Arab states like Tunisia and non-Arab countries with Muslim population, Turkey for example, it is banned. However, polygamy is still practiced in Malaysia, a non-Arab Muslim country, but there are restrictions as to how it can be practiced. In traditionalist cultures where polygamy is still commonplace and legal, Muslim polygamists do not separate themselves from the society at large, since there would be no need as each spouse leads a separate life from the others.
A WRITER'S LIFE
By DINA ZAMAN (The writer is a Malay muslim Malaysian giving her understandings of polygamy from a woman point of view)
Polygamy has nothing to do with culture or religion. Men, and women too, cheat because they can.
WHEN a male friend told me he planned on taking a second wife, all I could do was try not to choke on dinner. Are you serious, I asked. He said yes, he had fallen in love with a single mother, but it was not his fate to marry her.
Thinking it was perhaps due her compassion, her earnest desire to bring up her sprogs in a Godly way and that life was indeed a struggle, I choked on my dessert when my friend told me the first thing he noticed about her was that she owned a great set of jugs.
Now, my friend takes his religious obligations very seriously. His first wife wears the hijab. So to hear him admit that it was his paramour’s cleavage that caught his heart was quite shocking.
It was due to women like me, whose so-called Western, secular and feminist ideas of polygamy that pushed it underground. I then asked him, whether his equally-pious wife agreed to him taking on another wife, and he said no. She gave him an earful.
But our friend was on a roll. Now that his journey into polygamy was thwarted, it was all our fault. We modern Malay women, be they religious or not, were forcing men like him to marry in Thailand or Iran, where they practised nikah Muta’ah.
He was emulating the steps of our good Prophet Mohamed, he argued.
“You have got your Islamic history upside down! Nabi married war widows, and his first wife was older than he. Aishah was the youngest. And I don’t think our Prophet married any woman because she had great breasts!”
“You don’t understand.”
“Okay then. Why don’t you sell your car and take a camel to work then?”
I’m realistic. I know men who adore their wives and love them to bits, but they can still love their mistresses and other wives. Am I condoning affairs and polygamy? No. But this happens. It has nothing to do with Islam or being Malay, though polygamy is part of the culture.
We’re Asians. We have a long history of concubinage. There are good men who are faithful, and there are good men who have other wives. There are also bad men who are faithful and also bad men who are unfaithful.
Just like our politics, love in Malaysia is a circus. Weeee!
I’m not going to bore you with what polygamy in Islam is about, as it has been written before and talked about to death. Women’s rights activists have long fought for this “crime” to be illegal, but we face a tough fight. Sometimes it’s not the men who are itching for it, but yes, our gender, too.
In the 80s, when I was young and clueless, meeting mistresses and second or third wives would be sinful and against my principles.
These days? “Oh, you’re a mistress?” “Oh, you’re a hidden wife?” Yawn. Wear tudung or mini skirt, got. Educated or stupid, got. Some of our mothers are The Other Women, and are good mothers. So how?
Is this phenomenon particular to our culture? Oh no. Read the British newspapers. Mistressing is talked about to death in feminist columns.
But I thought after that dinner with my friend, I’d revisit the issue again. Some of the findings from my five-sen survey:
> Theoretically ... polygamy is OK. But must ikut hukum Allah lah. There are conditions.
> Ya, but… actually, kan, for career women like us, it does work. Nak jaga laki 24 jam … gue tak larat la. Biar bini nombor satu jaga. After all, in Islam, polygamous wives are taken care of legally. Better a Muslim second wife than a common law wife.
> But really. Think about it. Convenient, what. You see him once a week, makan once a week, have sex once a week...
> Sex once a week?! Baik tak yah jadi bini nombor dua macam tu! Chit. Once a week mana cukup?!
Why do men cheat? Again, just an observation dwelled upon by friends and myself. For a lot of polygamous men, they marry good women who fit their criteria of holiness, wifeliness and motherhood.
Intimacy between the men and their wives are perfunctory. It’s make-the-baby-cover-the-face sex. With their girlfriends and second wives, it’s Penthouse all the way, baby. It’s the soul thing.
At least this is what I got from talking to quite a number of married men. It’s not because of the first wives’ lack of trying; they want to have healthy intimate lives, but the bees in their husbands’s bonnets keep reminding the men of the Madonna-Whore syndrome.
Malaysia is not a place for single women desiring Hollywood-movie type of marriages and love. KL especially is a city for marriages and affairs. And it has nothing to do with money. There are rich men who cheat, and I know of a despatch boy who has two wives!
There are many single-again women like my friends and I, who still believe in marriage and love. But I can tell you, should we walk down that path again one day, we’re going down it with our eyes open and keep a part of our hearts to ourselves. Because you never know.
Perhaps my friend, an activist who makes a living entering and staying in war zones, is right.
“We have women like you, me, your mother, your aunt and friend who fight so hard for women and children and yet face a brick wall, simply because we ‘understand’ so much, and forgive all the time, which is why cheating, affairs and polygamy are rampant, to the detriment or contribution (depends how you look at it) of our well-being,” says my friend.
Another friend, Sharizal Sharaani, put it succinctly: “Men (and, yes, women too) cheat because they can. Full stop.”
The writer still believes in love and marriage and wants to move to Corfu
Polygamy, or the principle of plural marriage, had its genesis in a revelation received by founder Joseph Smith and subsequently practiced by Brigham Young and a host of church leaders.
After five decades of practice, it was officially abolished by church manifesto in 1890 under the weight of pressure from the federal government and the desire of Mormons to secure statehood for what is now Utah.
But polygamy has never ceased being practiced among Mormon fundamentalists, and many believe it is growing and flourishing despite being illegal under both state law and church canons.- Brave Author Details Living in Polygamy, Tulsa World, USA, Jan. 16,2005
Benefits of polygamy
Philip Kilbride, an American anthropologist, in his book, Plural Marriage for our Time, proposes polygamy as a solution to some of the ills of the American society at large. He argues that plural marriage may serve as a potential alternative for divorce in many cases in order to obviate the damaging impact of divorce on many children. He maintains that many divorces are caused by the rampant extramarital affairs in the American society. According to Kilbride, ending an extramarital affair in a polygamous marriage, rather than in a divorce, is better for the children, "Children would be better served if family augmentation rather than only separation and dissolution were seen as options." Moreover, he suggests that other groups will also benefit from plural marriage such as: elderly women who face a chronic shortage of men.
Polygamy around the world
In South Africa, traditionalist Christians commonly practice polygamy. The leader of the ANC, Jacob Zuma is also openly in favor of plural marriages, being married to numerous wives himself. The wives live in small houses in a circle around the master compound. The Chinese culture of Confucianism and thus the practice of polygamy spread from China to the areas that are now Korea and Japan. Before the establishment of the modern democratic mode, Eastern countries permitted a similar practice of polygamy. In Mongolia, there has been discussion about legalizing polygamy to reduce the imbalance of the male and female population. Before the establishment of the Republic of China, it was lawful to have a wife and multiple concubines within Chinese marriage. After the Communist Revolution in 1949, polygamy was banned. This occurred via the Marriage Act of 1953. In Hong Kong, polygamy was banned in October 1971. Man-Lun Ng, M.D. of Humboldt University of Berlin reported the situation in Hong Kong: it was estimated that out of the approximately two million married couples in Hong Kong, about 300,000 husbands had mistresses in mainland China (1996). In 1995, 40% of extramarital affairs involved an enduring long-term relationship with a stable partner. The traditional attitude toward mistresses is reflected in the saying: "wife is not as good as concubine, concubine is not as good as prostitute, prostitute is not as good as secret affair, secret affair is not as good as the affair you want but can't get" (妻不如妾, 妾不如妓, 妓不如偷, 偷不如偷不到).
Both polygyny and polyandry were practiced in many sections of Hindu society in ancient times. Concerning [polyandry], in the ancient Hindu epic, Mahabharata, Draupadi marries the five Pandava brothers. Regarding polygny, Ramayan, father of Ram, king Dasharath has three wives, but Ram has pledged himself just one wife. The god-figure Lord Krishna, the 9th incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu had 16,108 wives which were his most sincere devotees. Under the Hindu Marriage Act, polygamy is considered illegal for Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs. However, Muslims in India are allowed to have multiple wives. Marriage laws in India are dependent upon the religion of the subject in question. The 2008 BBC documentary series "A Year in Tibet", however, recorded three distinct cases of polyandry in and around the city of Gyantse alone (the pregnant farmer's wife in episode 1, "The Visit"; Yangdron in episode 2, "Three Husbands and a Wedding"; and the young monk, Tsephun's, mother in episode 5, "A Tale of Three Monks"). In "Three Husbands and a Wedding", a 17-year-old girl is also shown being forced into a marriage that would have been polyandrous, except that the younger, 12-year-old, brother had to attend school on the wedding day (his parents hint that he will marry his older brother's new wife at a later date). The programs include statements from the women involved that indicate they did not enter the polyandrous marriages willingly, and commentary that indicates young women in Tibet are routinely forced by their families into polyandrous marriages with two or more brothers. Polyandry (especially fraternal polyandry) is also common among Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Ladakh, and other parts of the Indian subcontinent.
In christianity Saint Augustine saw a conflict with Old Testament polygamy. He writes in The Good of Marriage (chapter 15) that, although it "was lawful among the ancient fathers: whether it be lawful now also, I would not hastily pronounce. For there is not now necessity of begetting children, as there then was, when, even when wives bear children, it was allowed, in order to a more numerous posterity, to marry other wives in addition, which now is certainly not lawful." He refrained from judging the patriarchs, but did not deduce from their practice the ongoing acceptability of polygamy.
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