Susan Al Shahri

Polygamy: It’s A Disaster For Women

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I come from a polygamist family. My father currently has three wives and fifteen children. Do you find that incredibly weird? I must confess, occasionally I do too. Most of the time, however, I never really stop to think about it.

A few months ago, I was on a training programme with young citizen journalists from different parts of the world. On our first day I spent my lunch break with a Muslim girl from Europe. Halfway through our meal, she asked the inevitable question, “How many siblings do you have?”

After I answered her, she was silent for a few moments, and then whispered, “I’ve never met anyone from a polygamist family before.” She spent the remainder of the programme questioning me about what it was like. To be honest, she made me feel like I’d just landed from outer space. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Is it really that unusual?

Polygamy has been practised in different cultures around the world throughout history and is still legal in most Muslim countries, with the exception of Tunisia and Turkey. Even though it is legal, I know it’s not widely practised outside the GCC.

In Oman, polygamy may have died out in most areas up north, but the tradition is alive and well here in Dhofar. I assume the reasons behind this are somewhat related to the stronger tribal ties at this end of the country.

Why do men in Dhofar choose to take on another wife? Islam allows up to four wives under certain circumstances and conditions.

Despite this, I believe very few men in Dhofar these days remarry for religious reasons. I hate to sound negative, but most polygamists I know (the number isn’t small) remarried for entirely selfish reasons.

In many cases men take on a second or third wife to show off their wealth or to produce more sons who will carry on the family name. Some men who are unhappy with their first wives but can’t divorce them due to family pressure choose to remarry. A large number of polygamists marry women half their age to help the men feel ‘young’ again. That seems to be the most common reason.

There are also a small percentage of men who take on a second wife for semi-acceptable reasons. For example, a former neighbour of ours took on his deceased brother’s wife as a second spouse in order to take care of her and keep the kids in the family. I can’t say it made sense to me, but it seemed to work for them.

Some men whose wives are infertile will marry other women to bear children while keeping their first wives. Divorced or widowed women also tend to end up being second or third wives since most single men here wouldn’t consider them for marriage. Most polygamists take on a second wife after they hit 40 or 50 and realise they’re not getting any younger. Having two wives isn’t uncommon in Dhofar. Three or four is rare.

The big question is, does polygamy really work? In my opinion the answer is a big no. A few years ago I was involved in a research project here in Dhofar on polygamy. After hundreds of interviews and months of work, it became obvious that women are victims when it comes to polygamy.

None of the women we interviewed were happy in their marriages. On the other hand, the men seemed to be fine and most had remarried for entirely selfish reasons. It was truly heartbreaking.

Polygamy may have worked for many centuries and it probably made sense in many cases. However, in this day and age I think it causes more heartache than happiness and I’m confident that no man is able to love and care for two women equally, let alone four! Furthermore, no woman in her right mind wants to share her husband with another woman. Men may fantasise about being the perfect husband who loves and treats his wives equally, but who are they kidding?

People may argue that I’m generalising and that they know a happy polygamist family. But are they really happy? When two wives live under the same roof, they are under enormous pressure to appear to live harmoniously, regardless of their feelings. I’m sure there are a handful of really decent polygamists out there who treat their wives equally and who manage happy homes, but I have yet to meet one!

Naturally, the law in Oman doesn’t protect women when it comes to polygamy. A man can remarry without even informing his first wife. That doesn’t speak well for women’s rights in Oman, but I’ll save that rant for another week.

Many non-Arabs may wonder why the first wife simply doesn’t ask for a divorce if her husband comes home with a young wife. If only it were that simple! Most women above the age of 40 are not educated. They have no means of supporting themselves and probably have at least five children. Where do they go? Do they head back to their father’s house if he’s still alive? Camp out in their siblings’ spare bedroom forever? They have no choice but to stay with their husbands and endure the pain.

If you think polygamy will die out with the current generation of middle-aged men, think twice. I can think of three men I know under the age of 40 who have two wives. I also know two young women around my age who became second and fourth wives respectively in the past 12 months.

In fact, just a few months ago, a married man asked for my hand in marriage. I wasn’t planning on sharing that piece of information with the world, but seriously…how could I not? Someone in this day and age assumed a young independent woman like me would be okay with being a second wife! Fortunately, I’m not. As much as I love my family and all my stepmothers and step-siblings, I am against the practice.

On a final note, a couple of years ago I read an article that suggested polygamy contributes to lower divorce rates in Oman. Whoever assumed that probably hadn’t had their morning cup of coffee. Polygamy will die out sooner or later. Until then, please say a prayer for all the women who’ve suffered through this bizarre tradition. And if you have a positive polygamy story to tell, do share….

This article first appeared in Muscat Daily

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22 Responses to Polygamy: It’s A Disaster For Women

  1. Anonymous 30/08/2012 at 5:27 AM

    I agree with many points in the article but wouldn’t stray so far as to say I don’t “accept” something that is in the Qur’an. As a female, the abuse of this “privlege” or “ability” (not “right” as so many men want to hastily claim) disgusts me to no end. Like someone else mentioned, the Prophet did not use this concept for selfish reasons to inflate a sagging ego or lack of real masculinity and character like so many men today love to do. And to the brother that claims STDs and unfaithfulness do not “afflict” the muslim community, that is laughable. I am sad to say I know more than just a few Muslim women (especially in African American and Shi’a communities) who were virgins upon marrying their husbands and HIV positive upon divorcing them.

    More men need to ask themselves how this practice is supposedly helping them spiritually and how it is really helping society. I can’t think of one brother I know personally who married a widow with children as a second or third wife., and I know quite a few polygamists…You responsibility is to first take care of your wife. I don’t understand how secrecy and selfishness (My wife is getting older/infertile/going through menopause/not as pretty anymore/cute new little sister in muslim community/need to get my “groove” back after midlife crisis/etc…) is supposed to improve family structure. When non-muslims hear of the way we abuse this privlege, they laugh at us and say, “wow, how convenient for men, you can basically do whatever you want in the name of religion–everything non-muslims are already doing, and still call yourself “Godly” at the end of the day. It is nothing more than a way to “flex” muscles nowadays because many young brothers are lacking in masculinity and not understanding what it really takes to be a man. If anything, over estimating your ability to keep more than one woman happy and secure is pure arrogance. Ask your current wife how happy she is…you may be surprised at her answer if you actually listen to what you can improve. She was there with you when you had nothing and no one else supported you. If you truly love her and want to be polygamous, at least have the decency to include her in on the decision and not be so arrogant as to think you are “entitled” to something she can’t give you but some other woman can..It makes no sense. Polygamy in the Prophet’s time was entirely about the women. It was there to help them. Now it is a new school spin on a old-school trend with men trying to keep the religion up to date and keep up with the non-muslims who are cheating on their wives with secretaries whilst still remaining “Islamic.” Missing the points brothers. Keep the family structure strong, and worry about your nafs later, please..

    Reply
  2. JCWS 06/03/2012 at 3:14 PM

    Personally I have no issue with men having more than one wife, or women having more than one husband. Both have to have that right so the power structure is balanced. It maay well be that with such a power structure a man or woman would think twice before taking a second husband/wife, but euqally, it may make it more likley. We all live longer today and there is an argument, if it works for some, that creating a larger family unit that protects all parties because it is agreeable to both, would, at the least, prevent divorce. This happens in a different, much more underground way in the UK where husbands and wives agree at some stage in their marriage to take on other partners. They stay married, love each other, but are grown up enough to decide this is right for them. For me this is a practical issue. It is of personal choice. The West has not adjusted to people living longer and I cannot see the sort of open mindedness coming to the debate that would polygamy on the table. Never. But a grown-up society would. As long as financially it is practicable for eiether party or both to support the implications of polygamy, and as long as both partners are agreeable and able to take on another husband/wife, and as long as both partners are agreeable, to me there is no issue. It is personal, shared choice. It could “save marriages”, and regardless it should have nothing to do with the state – or religion.
    JCWS

    Reply
  3. Pieter Schultz (@polyamorie) 03/03/2012 at 6:26 AM

    #Polygamy: It’s A #Disaster For #Women / Added by Susan Al Shahri [GLOBAL; http://t.co/GqqA0xSM http://t.co/ePg7eCL8

    Reply
  4. gsw 03/02/2012 at 11:32 AM

    @Abu Muhammed:
    I think one should first agree on what we mean my marriage, for you it is no doubt some form of religious ceremony. This is actually legal in most of the western world.
    It is when you start wanting the financial and legal benefits of a civil marriage that our laws say no more than one each.
    If you are not aiming to rob the tax payers blind, what does it matter?

    Reply
  5. Abu Muhammed 02/02/2012 at 5:10 PM

    anyway, the reason women can’t have more than one husband is pretty biologically apparent if you care to keep an open mine and ask yourself why they shouldn’t from a pure practical point of few.

    at any rate, good luck with that.

    Reply
  6. gsw 01/02/2012 at 11:33 AM

    “a temporary biological condition”

    So you are trying to ‘protect’ menopausal women from themselves?
    What about young girls – say 20 – 40? (with younger girls you would just they are in puberty)?
    Why doesn’t this ruling apply only to women who are actually going through menopause?

    Oh and having been through puberty, pregnancy and menopause, I can only say “this is rubbish” and belongs in the same category as the rapist who claimed that seeing a lock of hair dragged him over to the dark side.

    We women are perfectly able to make our own decisions thank you, and good luck on the “I cut my husband’s throat because I was in menopause” plea in a western court.

    You fail to state why not polyandry?

    Reply
    • Uzoozy 02/02/2012 at 7:55 AM

      Gsw,
      You must be a sick person.
      These are not rapists these are people who can have more than one wife so they have it.
      In USA there is an rape every 7 seconds.
      Which is better rape of polygmy.
      About 50 million women are not married due to imbalance of man to women ratio.
      How about the people in UTAh they get married to mother and daughter at the same time, including wufes sister. They marry as many wifes as they want.
      Noting new here so where is the problem

      Reply
      • bigstick1 02/02/2012 at 8:12 AM

        Uzoozy:

        Okay that is absolutely incorrect on the 50 million number. Actually worldwide there is 33 million more men than woman due to femicide particular in china and india. Next more males are born than females at a ration of 105 to 100; however many countries currently having higher ratios due to femicide. By the way the United State lists rape to include rape by the husband. Interesting most women are raped by the male family members than strangers. It is not every 7 seconds it is actually every 2 minutes 1 women in 150 million is raped which includes by her husband or boyfriend. People in Utah do not marry mother, daughters, and wife sisters. It is actually a crime and you can be sent to jail as polygamy is against the law. Incest is also against the law in the US and guess what Utah is a state in the US.

        How is polygmy going to stop rape anyway?

        Next there are no reliable figures in the middle east on rape as many times women are honor killed for reporting it, beaten, disowned, married off to the rapist, etc. I would image the rape numbers to be astronomical in the Middle East but of course that is a taboo subject that women must suffer with as it is her shame that a criminal raped her. Heck she problem be stoned to death or put in prison for life. I believe they do such thing in the middle east to women who have been raped.

        Again, how does polygmy prevent rape? What a stupid statement. Either allow polygmy or get raped. Is that what you are implying?

        Reply
        • Uzoozy 02/02/2012 at 9:21 AM

          Looks like once the numbers do not work out for your liking , then it becomes incorrect.
          50 Million number is correct.
          In polygamy you have multiple wifes so does not lead to rape.
          1 rape in 7 seconds is correct.
          Mothers sisters, mother daughter, grand daughters are all fair game in Utah in this case you say its not possible.
          The law is for those who wish to follow it.

          One thing I do know anything to Islam pisses you off.
          Islam is a great religion from Allah so just lay off and mind your own business.
          King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines(founder of Judeo-Christain faith.
          Modern day thinking(only) is different, what you call polygamy its evryday life.

          Reply
      • gsw 03/02/2012 at 11:26 AM

        Actually, no, apart from a mild cold I’m fine. Thanks for your concern.
        Oh what do they teach these young people in schools today – obviously not logic.

        “In USA there is an rape every 7 seconds”: Them’s bastards and should be shot, I agree, you think it is because there is no polygamy? Then shouldn’t it be the women raping the men?

        “About 50 million women are not married”, and this is bad why? Women can have a wonderful life without a husband, millions do.

        These “people in UTAh” are polygamists, are you on their side or not?

        Lastly, I believe my stand is:
        a) Polygamy without Polyandry is unethical.
        b) Marriage is a legal agreement with the government involving tax and social benefits, this contract only works (financially) on a monogamous basis (hetero or Homo).

        Reply
    • Abu Muhammed 02/02/2012 at 5:06 PM

      As usually, if all women can’t use the little boy’s room it ain’t fair. I’m convinced.

      Reply
      • bigstick1 02/02/2012 at 5:44 PM

        Another absurd and pointless statement. It has no relevence to the topic. I have no problems with polygmy what I have a problem with is it is one sided. So if your going to do it for one then do it for the other.

        Studies have found that polygmy leads to high crime rates and a defunct society. I can get you the studies.

        Arguments on women being incapable of handling more husbands is fallible. Men have to take time to regenerate. A woman does not. She doesn’t have the need to getting certain blood to the female sexual organ as men do. Therefore she is quite capable of satisfing more than one husband at any given time. Your agruments are not based on fact only your perceived notions.

        Uzoozy:

        I sent you the information. It is in moderation. It will dispute your stats.

        Reply
  7. gsw 30/01/2012 at 10:55 AM

    Polygamy – per se – is not wrong. What consenting adults do sexually is their own business.
    What is wrong is polygamy without polyandry (special gender based privilege) and the assumption that marriage is the only acceptable career for women.
    Polygamy within a socialist system, where one man marries 4 wives, and lives from their child allowance and social security cheques, rather than all five working to support a large family, is just another form of pimping.

    Either way, the women must have exactly the same right to leave the marriage as the man.

    Reply
    • Abu Muhammed 31/01/2012 at 12:42 PM

      I can’t argue with you there– but what I am saying is that polygamy isn’t some out of control habit men indulge in to dog women in Islam. It does and can work. All we hear most of the time are the horror stories from mostly women with an issue or two about what they ‘think’ it says about their role in society or those who have felt screwed over because they felt they would have had a better time in a nuclear family growing up.

      I suppose this means one of us has to the show the other side of the issue.
      With regard to women having the same right to leave the marriage as the man, what happens when women have postpartum depression; mood swings as a result of menses, menopause and the long list of aliments women suffer through that periodically cloud their judgment.

      Women are permitted to ask for a divorce in Islam but there are legal mechanisms in place to make sure the decision isn’t the result of a temporary biological condition that not even the western judicial system holds them accountable when experiencing them.

      Women are equal to men but are not the same (as some feminist claim).

      Reply
      • bigstick1 02/02/2012 at 6:38 AM

        Wow. What a load of horse crap.

        Reply
  8. Abu Muhammed 29/01/2012 at 3:27 PM

    If you make a point to say something doesn’t work because there are a few cases of abuse; then monogamy doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

    You get the worst comments about the practice from Christians– despite most of the prophets in Judeo-Christian literature practiced it.
    It seems the last argument some people make with regard to a practice that western culture doesn’t like is that it isn’t’ ‘modern.’ Somehow the industrialists; politicians and the self absorbed have driven and convinced the uninformed west; despite their looming societal disaster of apocalyptic proportions, that the nuclear family is the right way to go.

    Some people think it is ok for men to cheat on their wives but polygamy is bigamy.

    Since most of the population on earth favors females, it is little wonder STD’s and out of wedlock births have become the ‘epidemic’ norm in the west, while (compare to the west) where polygamy exist, these plagues to ‘modern’ human populations are virtually non-existent.

    Go figure.

    Reply
  9. Uzoozy 29/01/2012 at 6:12 AM

    Polygamy is not restricted to the Islamic world, however the four wifes business makes a mockery of Islam, where harams are filled with women who have been divorced but living together.
    There are sects who marry many wifes including sister wives and wifes previous marriage daugthers, Someof them have have over 15 to 20 wives.

    The world has changed with Twitter , camera phones, internet and facebook news travels fast and Muslims need to be careful what they say or do.
    This is my view however I am open to honest critisim.
    ASAK

    Reply
  10. Uzoozy 29/01/2012 at 6:04 AM

    Polygamy at the time of the Prophet Mohammad(PBUM) , was an common occurance.
    Women whose husbands were killed in wars used to get remarried .
    As Women in Islam were not allowed to stay by themselves(unprotected).
    All of the Prophets wifes (except one) were over 50 yrs old.
    What I am saying those days are gone the new times requires mainly one wife, look after the children educate them well and make them worthy persons in life.
    Times have changed so should Islam and muslims.
    If everyone keeps quiet nothing s going to change in the Islamic world.

    Reply
  11. Simone 28/01/2012 at 4:03 PM

    Just as an FYI, we would not challenge a point of view in someone’s post. We sometimes write a post of our own in response where we feel strongly enough… but a person’s opinion is their opinion.

    Reply
  12. Yahya 28/01/2012 at 3:54 PM

    I kind of get this article is a personal appraisel of polgamy and an even handed, rational assessment of the pros and cons of it all are not where you’re coming from. What surprises me is that most of you’re assertions and judgements weren’t challenged by Mideast Posts? I am getting the feeling that if I wrote a piece that was on the level of this type of emotional tirade from the other point of view, it wouldn’t see the light of day. I thought one of the missions of Mideast Posts was to give voice to the voiceless in the Middle East.

    Reply
    • Simone 28/01/2012 at 4:01 PM

      Hi Yahya,

      Please do write an opposing point of view. It’s what we really want more of.

      All we ask is that it’s written well, makes a point, and that it is respectful of others (i.e. does not insult anyone). We do not take sides, we just want debate…

      Sim

      Reply

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