The British Muslim men who love 'both their wives'
By Perminder Khatkar
BBC Asian Network
26 September 2011
I love both of them. Obviously you can love one more than the other.
"I spend one day and one night with one, and one day one night with the other," says Imran (not his real name), one of the growing number of second generation British Muslim men who have two wives.
Imran was born and brought up in Birmingham, where he runs his own successful business manufacturing Indian desserts.
His first marriage was arranged at the age of 18. However, seven years into the marriage Imran says he fell in love with someone else.
Instead of having an affair he did the honourable thing in the eyes of Islam and married her - thus taking a second wife.
"It's better than a man being married and then having mistresses on the side when we can do it legitimately and it's perfectly allowed," he says.
"God has created us the way we are, that mankind desires more in wealth in sexual desires.
"The main thing is as long as you are 'just' among them, Islamically what can be more right than that, if you are taking care of them, fulfilling their rights," he says.
But Imran did not tell his first wife that he had taken a second wife.
His first wife lives with her in-laws. Imran admits the relationship between his second wife and his parents - who are originally from Pakistan, where monogamy is the norm - is at times strained.
Initially, Imran didn't tell his first wife he had remarried, but eventually she accepted it and now she gets on with his second wife. The wives regularly go shopping together with all his children.
He has four children with his first wife and two with his second wife.
And Imran says a number of his friends now also have second wives too.
Khola Hassan, a lecturer in Islamic Law and volunteer on the UK Sharia Council says she has witnessed a sense of a right to polygamy develop particularly amongst third generation British Muslims.
When she was growing up in Britain 20 years ago she says no-one talked about polygamy as it was incredibly rare. However in the last 15 years she has noticed more polygamous marriages taking place.
It is not known exactly how many British Muslims are involved in polygamous marriages. As they are illegal they are not being officially recorded.
Bigamy is a criminal offence which for those convicted could mean a maximum jail term of up to seven years.
To avoid this, Muslims already legally married instead have a religious ceremony known as a Nikka, which is not registered as a civil marriage, but rather recognises the union in the eyes of Allah.
When a Nikka breaks down or someone wants a divorce, it is the UK Sharia Council some Muslims turn to.
Its 2010 figures show while domestic violence is the most common reason for divorce cited by women, polygamy is now the ninth most common.
But it is not only men who are choosing to live in a polygamous relationship.
Aisha (not her real name) works for the NHS, has her own semi-detached house in Birmingham and is a divorced mother of three girls. Eight months ago she became a second wife after having a Nikka ceremony.
Her first marriage broke up after she discovered her husband had been having an affair. But three years later she had an affair with a married man.
Her new partner wanted to divorce his first wife and marry Aisha. But she had another idea.
"(I said) 'I don't want to be with you 24/7. I appreciate you want to leave your wife but I don't want you to leave your wife'.
"But he said 'I want to be with you. I want to be married to you'. So we sat down and I just said I want to be a second wife."
Her husband had to break the news to his first wife who was very unhappy with the situation but eventually agreed to it rather than divorce.
He agreed he would still support his first wife and their children, but she in turn said she did not want to know anything at all about Aisha, and she certainly did not want to become friends with her.
Aisha's wedding ceremony was very small and held at home, and not all of Aisha's husband's family even know about her. She says it works well most of the time.
"I have asked my husband if he loves his first wife, and he does say 'I do care about her' and yes he loves her as well.
"That's the only time I do get jealous, but she was there before me, and you know I didn't want to take that away from her.
Some Muslim women want nothing to do with their husband's second wives
"I've not totally taken him away from his first wife."
Khola Hassan's research has shown her that there are predominantly three types of men who are involved in polygamy.
"There are the radicals, the orthodox who think polygamy is compulsory, almost sense of bravado or competition - 'oh he has second wife and I haven't'," she says.
"The second group are those who have been forced into unhappy marriages usually to cousins from abroad, tried to make the marriage work, have children, and don't want a divorce as their parents will never speak to them again, so have taken a second wife.
"Then there are those who have got a parent living abroad and want someone to look after them."
Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, a member of the Muslim Council of Britain, says polygamy is something Islam permits as it is in the Koran.
He says in the chapter on women, one verse details how men can marry up to four wives at any one given time.
The situation came about in the 14th Century when there was a battle in which many Muslim men were killed, resulting in many widows and orphans.
In order to safeguard their property and wealth it was suggested other men should marry them.
But according to Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra there is more context which some Muslims are choosing to ignore.
The Koran goes on to say if a man cannot treat his wives fairly, justly and equally then he can only marry one woman.
Although Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra is not against polygamy, he believes in reality very few men can treat even their first wife equally and justly.
"The moment it becomes secretive, or you start treating one less well than the other then you are contradicting the conditions that the Koran sets out.
"And if it's purely done for sexual gratification then that in itself is not a valid reason," he says.
Police question Muslim man in polygamy firestorm over new allegations by ex-companion
By Pierre-Baptiste Vanzini (CP)
August 8, 2010
NANTES, France — Immigrants who practice polygamy or female genital mutilation should have their citizenship revoked, France's France's interior minister said Saturday, going beyond President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to strip the French nationality of foreign-born people who endanger police.
Brice Hortefeux spoke as a Muslim Frenchman at the centre of a firestorm over polygamy was detained for questioning by police.
Preliminary fraud charges were filed in June against Algerian-born Lies Hebbadj for allegedly collecting too much state aid for up to 15 children he reportedly had with four different women. The case became public last April when his veiled wife was issued a traffic citation for driving with apparel that hinders vision.
Hebbadj was being questioned Saturday over a former companion's claims of alleged acts of rape and violence from 2003-2007, prosecutor Xavier Ronsin said.
Polygamy charges were never filed against Hebbadj, who lives in the Nantes region in western France. Because the women and children live under separate roofs, investigators could not prove polygamy as defined by law. Hortefeux said at the time that, regretfully, "no one or almost no one is judicially speaking polygamous in France" under the penal code as it stands.
On Saturday, the minister, speaking on RTL radio, reiterated his wish to see Hebbadj's nationality revoked if found guilty. L
ater, speaking to reporters in Perpignan, he said that he also wanted "the possibility of revoking nationality in cases of polygamy, female circumcision." The president has said the move to revoke citizenship, denounced by immigrants' and human rights' groups, was part of a "national war on delinquency."
Prosecutor Ronsin said Saturday that Hebbadj was detained for questioning Friday evening. His detention period was extended until Sunday, according to his lawyer, Cecile de Oliveira.
The lawyer said her client was being "tracked by unrelenting police."
"This comes at a good time," she said, referring to Hebbadj's detention just as the minister spoke out again against polygamy. "It comes at even too good a time."
Hortefeux said he would submit his proposal to the government by the end of the month. However, Immigration Minister Eric Besson raised questions about the legal possibility of including polygamy among reasons to revoke nationality, saying the subject is particularly "complex."
Some profit from wives despite French polygamy ban
By ELAINE GANLEY (AP) – May 1, 2010
PARIS — The burqa, or face-covering veil, is getting all the attention in the debate over Muslim immigrants in France. But another controversial tradition among some immigrants is less noticed and far more widespread: Polygamy.
The issue resurfaced last week after a woman received a traffic citation in the western city of Nantes for driving with a veil over her face. Officials then accused her husband of having at least three other wives, and said he may be profiting from them financially while the state pays the bill.
Polygamy is one of several issues, like forced marriage or genital mutilation, that France and other European nations face, as immigrants arrive with customs that conflict with the law of the land. But experts say polygamy in France can also be linked to fraud, where husbands hijack a generous social welfare system to line their pockets with state funds from each of their wives.
"They practice polygamy just for that," said Jean-Marie Ballo, founder of an association that helps women escape from polygamous situations, Nouveaux Pas, or New Steps. "I'd go so far as to say that polygamists here (in France) are breeding for cash."
Ballo said he's even aware of cases where a legal wife's papers are used for hospital care for a second — a health risk as medical records intermingle.
It's hard to count how many polygamous families live in France because of the secrecy of the practice. But the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights in a 2006 report made a minimal estimate of 16,000 to 20,000 polygamous families in France, or some 180,000 people, including children. That compares to fewer than 2,000 women who are thought to wear burqa-style garments.
For decades, polygamy was legal in France for immigrants arriving from any of about 50 countries where it is legally recognized. Historically, taking numerous wives was either a social and economic necessity in poor countries with high death rates, or a sign of external wealth or male domination.
France banned polygamy in 1993. At the same time, it launched a process of "decohabitation" to help multiple wives trapped in small apartments with numerous children to move into their own homes. Experts say that system has been largely successful.
But abuses thrive. Especially vulnerable are women who arrived in France after 1993 — often here illegally and, therefore, with limited means to extricate themselves.
The state "minimally resolved the problem of polygamy but didn't provide the means to resolve it completely," said Catherine Quentier of the association Rajfire, which helps women in distress negotiate French red tape to gain legal status or state-funded housing.
It's hard to interview women who live in polygamy because associations say the current sensitive climate has aggravated their daily fears of being caught or their sense of shame. But the human rights report recounts a story that shows how multiple wives and children can lose their own identities.
A woman from Mali, where multiple wives are legal, arrived in France in 1981 at age 14 as wife No. 2 — using the documents of wife No. 1, whom the husband sent back home.
The woman, identified as S.Y., had three children under her new identity but bolted when wife No. 3 arrived. She could not reconstitute her real identity for herself and her children.
When the report was written, S.Y. had lost her job, was living in a room provided by an association and could not access her bank account. Officially, she no longer existed, the report said.
Chantal Brunel, a lawmaker from the governing conservative UMP party, called last weekend for a region-by-region examination of the family subsidies program to stop corruption by men profiting from state aid to illegal wives. Brunel, who has written a book about violence against women, said she has polygamous families in her district east of Paris "and since 2004-2005 I have asked that the state stop closing its eyes."
"To have children cannot become like having a salary," she said.
Other countries in Europe also struggle with polygamy. Fines and prison sentences, in some cases up to seven years, are the norm for those convicted of polygamy in Europe. An exception is Norway. In France, marriage to more than one person is punishable by a year in prison and a euro45,000 (almost $60,000) fine.
However, the law is being challenged in Ireland. And in Cyprus, with a 5-year prison term, the court can take into account arguments that the accused's culture or religion permits polygamy.
Carina Hagg, a Swedish lawmaker for the opposition Social Democrats, warns against mixing notions of polygamy and culture.
"You have to be careful not to make it an issue about ethnicity," she said. "Fundamentally it's about women's rights."
Those who deal with polygamy also note that in Europe, numerous children can be found living in small apartments with two sets of fighting mothers. They take turns using the kitchen, the bathroom and sharing sleeping space.
"Polygamy is not at all adapted to the context of life in the West," said Ballo. "There are conflicts, catastrophic hygienic conditions. Kids do poorly in school as there is nowhere to study."
Ballo, whose Malian father and grandfather were both polygamous, said he helped "decohabit" 12 households with 26 wives and 145 children in Les Ulis, south of Paris, where his group is based.
The human rights commission report notes that "there is, of course, no question of generalizing and considering all polygamous men as executioners."
Ballo is more cynical: "There are always people in life who defend hell."
Associated Press writers Karl Ritter in Stockholm, Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin, and Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, contributed to this report.
Muslim revival brings polygamy, camels to Chechnya
Wed Dec 16, 2009
GROZNY, Russia (Reuters) - Adam, 52, keeps his three wives in different towns to stop them squabbling, but the white-bearded Chechen adds he might soon take a fourth.
"Chechnya is Muslim, so this is our right as men. They (the wives) spend time together, but do not always see eye to eye," said the soft-spoken pensioner, who only gave his first name.
Hardline Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov is vying with insurgents for authority in a land ravaged by two secessionist wars with Moscow. Each side is claiming Islam as its flag of legitimacy, each reviles the other as criminal and blasphemous.
Wary of the dangers of separatism in a vast country, Moscow watches uneasily as central power yields to Islamic tenets. It must chose what it might see as the lesser of two evils.
Though polygamy is illegal in Russia, the southern Muslim region of Chechnya encourages the practice, arguing it is allowed by sharia law and the Koran, Islam's holiest book.
By Russian law, Adam is only married to his first wife of 28 years, Zoya, the plump, blue-eyed mother of his three children, with whom he shares a home on the outskirts of the regional capital Grozny.
His "marriages" to the other two -- squirreled away in villages nearby -- were carried out in elaborate celebrations and are recognized by Chechen authorities.
The head of Chechnya's Center for Spiritual-Moral Education, Vakha Khashkanov, set up by Kadyrov a year ago, said Islam should take priority over laws of the Russian constitution.
"If it is allowed in Islam, it is not up for discussion," he told Reuters near Europe's largest mosque, which glistens in central Grozny atop the grounds where the Communist party had its headquarters before the Soviet Union fell in 1991.
"As long as you can feed your wives, and there's equality amongst them, then polygamy is allowed in Chechnya," he added.
Islam is flourishing in Chechnya which, along with its neighbors Dagestan and Ingushetia, is combating an Islamist insurgency which aims to create a Muslim, sharia-based state separate from Russia across the North Caucasus.
Though Islam first arrived in the North Caucasus around 500 years ago, in Dagestan's ancient walled city of Derbent on the Caspian Sea, religion under Communism was strongly discouraged.
Kadyrov, like most of his region's one million people, is Sufi, a mystical branch of Islam which places a greater focus on prayer and recitation.
Political analysts say that in exchange for successfully hunting out Islamist fighters, the Kremlin turns a blind eye to Kadyrov's Muslim-inspired rules.
Today Grozny's cafes hold men sipping smuggled beer out of teacups as alcohol has been all but banned, single-sex schools and gyms are becoming the norm and women must cover their heads in government buildings.
Clad in a tight hijab, Asya Malsagova, who advises Kadyrov on human rights issues and heads a state council dealing with the rights of Chechen prisoners, told Reuters: "We believe every woman should have a choice -- but we prefer she covers up."
Against the backdrop of a bubbling Islamist insurgency, Islam's revival has also brought violence against those who do not live by sharia law in the North Caucasus -- a region the Kremlin has described as its biggest political domestic problem.
Islamist militants, who label Kadyrov and other regional bosses as "infidels" for siding with Moscow, have been behind attacks on women they say worked as prostitutes in Dagestan and murders of alcohol-sellers in Ingushetia.
In Chechnya and Ingushetia, rebel fighters who regularly carry out armed attacks on police are celebrated as "martyrs" by Islamist news sites with links to the insurgency.
Dirt roads lead the way to Chechnya's first camel farm, about 55 km (34 miles) northwest of Grozny, where 46 of the two-humped creatures munch on salt and grass while they are groomed to be gifts for dowries and religious holidays.
Considered holy animals in Islam, they sell for 58,000 roubles ($1,886) each, said Umar Guchigov, the director of the farm, which opened just over a year ago under Kadyrov's command, and plans are in place to build three more in Chechnya.
"So many people, simple people, congratulated us for bringing back this ancient tradition," Guchigov said.
Animals are also being used to reintroduce Islam at Chechnya's round-the-clock Muslim television channel, where 60 young bearded men and headscarved women create children's programs in large studios adorned with photos of Mecca.
A bevy of bumble bees joyfully scream "Salam Alaikum" (Peace be with you) upon entering the studio of Ruslan Ismailov, who is making a full-length cartoon on hi-tech Apple computers for the channel, which is called "Put," meaning "The Way" in Russian.
"The bees appeal to children, and they will teach them how to live properly by the Muslim faith," Ismailov said.
Set up two years ago by the state and broadcast to thousands across the North Caucasus, instantly becoming one of the top channels in the region, it also features programs for women on how to keep home and reading of the Koran throughout the night.
"It's no secret what Chechnya has been through," said the channel's general director Adam Shakhidov, sporting a ginger beard and traditional black velvet cap.
"Two wars, the Soviet Union and today's Muslim extremism... it's time to show the true beauty of Sufism and install the basis for sharia," he said.
Polygamy club draws criticism in Indonesia
By ALI KOTARUMALOS (AP)
October 25, 2009
How polygamy fuels
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
AFTER ALMOST four years of dealing with al-Qaida, jihad, Iraq and Muslim terrorism, it is obvious that we are up against something we have never encountered before in our history.
We have fought and defeated a Nazi regime that was unprecedented in its cruelty and intent on wiping whole peoples from the earth. We fought and defeated an Imperial Japan and helped turn them into a modern nation. We fought the Korean and Vietnam wars and saw how the portions of Asia we rescued thrived while those that fell under communism turned into bleak totalitarian societies.
But we have never fought an enemy so utterly "in love with death," as the terrorists themselves put it, so willing to commit suicide and take the whole earth with them in pursuit of their cause. All this demands that we take a look at Muslim society to find out what makes it so different. This does not mean we should desist in our efforts to bring democracy to Iraq or end terrorism. But it would be useful to find pressure points that might make our task easier.
What differentiates Islam from the world's other great religions - Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism - is that it sanctions and practices polygamy. How did this happen? The consensus among anthropologists is that humanity spent the first 4 million to 5 million years of our evolutionary history living monogamously in small hunting-and-gathering tribes. We know this because the few hunter-gatherers that remain - the Kalahari bushmen, the pygmies of Africa, the Australian aborigines – are all monogamous.
What is so important about monogamy? Its principal advantage is that monogamy guarantees every man an equal chance of having a wife. For small, tightly knit bands of humans surviving in perilous environments, this was crucial for maintaining group loyalty. If a dominant male took more than one wife while others were left with none, dissension would arise and the solidarity of the group would be destroyed.
Polygamy eventually did arise in nearly all parts of the world, however, and anthropologists believe it had to do with growing prosperity. When the first farmers and herders began to accumulate fixed wealth, women began to be bought and sold as wives. The "brideprice" - a payment the wife's family demands of the husband's family - is universal in polygamous societies. As the accumulation of wealth grew unevenly, wealthier men took more wives while poorer men were left with none.
Polygamy is still practiced widely in West Africa, where leading men sometimes take as many as 30 to 50 wives. This leaves a huge residue of unattached men. It is probably the principal reason why so many African countries are beset by "revolutionary armies" living in the bush and raiding rural villages to steal women.
By the 5th century B.C., most of the world's major religions had been established and had rejected polygamy as part of their social contract. When the Prophet Muhammad founded Islam in the 7th century, however, he inherited the polygamy that was still being practiced by desert herding tribes.
Although Mohammed limited each man to four wives and required that he treat them equally, he did not abolish polygamy. That decision has had a tremendous impact on history.
The prohibition against more than four wives was not always honored anyway and the "Sultan's harem" became a staple of Muslim culture. The counterpoint has been the large populations of unattached warlike men that populate Islamic history.
Islam has a long history of conquest, but it has also been plagued by revolutions from within. Typically a band of unattached men will go into the desert, decide that the faith being practiced by the urban elites is not the "true Islam," and burst back upon the cities to conquer them - and take their women as well.
"Jihad" has always been the faith of these efforts.
Today polygamy is not practiced widely in Islamic countries, but there is a firm residue of about 10 percent of all marriages. The country where the distribution of wives is most unequal - Saudi Arabia - seems to be the best at producing roving jihadists who roam the world in search of conflict.
The absence of a norm of a "man for every woman, a woman for every man" also creates an entirely different male psychology. At one extreme, men consider their own lives to be worthless and expendable because they will not have the chance to reproduce. At the other extreme, they are promised "72 virgins in heaven." Sometimes the extremes converge.
Polygamy creates dysfunctional societies. "Jihad" and its perpetual social unrest are unlikely to disappear until it is eliminated.
I would suggest the United States propose a "right to reproduce" be added to the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United Nations would be the perfect place to initiate a global debate.
William Tucker is an associate at the American Enterprise Institute. His column appears Tuesdays.
French minister says polygamy to blame for riots By Martin Arnold in Paris Published: November 15 2005
France’s employment minister on Tuesday fingered polygamy as one reason for the rioting in the country.
Gérard Larcher said multiple marriages among immigrants was one reason for the racial discrimination which ethnic minorities faced in the job market. Overly large polygamous families sometimes led to anti-social behaviour among youths who lacked a father figure, making employers wary of hiring ethnic minorities, he explained.
The minister, speaking to a group of foreign journalists as the government stepped up efforts to improve its image with the foreign media, said: “Since part of society displays this anti-social behaviour, it is not surprising that some of them have difficulties finding work ... Efforts must be made by both sides. If people are not employable, they will not be employed.”
The riots, and the government’s slow reaction to the violence, has led to widespread criticism that France’s ruling class is out of touch with the rest of the country. Mr Larcher’s comments could further fuel the debate and are likely to outrage Muslim and anti-racism groups in France.
They also come as the government considers tightening visa-granting rules and a possible clampdown on polygamous families already living in France.
Although polygamy is illegal in France, visas were granted freely to family members of immigrants until 1993, when visas were banned for more than one spouse. Many wives continued to enter illegally, however and a clampdown, if enforced, could affect families that entered the country before 1993.
Politicians estimate there are 10,000-20,000 polygamous families in France, most from North and sub-Saharan African countries such as Algeria, Mali and Senegal, where the practice is legal.
Polygamy is a taboo subject for most mainstream French politicians. Far-right groups, however, have seized on it to argue that immigrants abuse the French social security system by collecting state benefits for several wives.
The government has also been criticised for refusing to closely analyse demographic patterns in France in order to better integrate minorities. But Mr Larcher said France was so traumatised by the Vichy government’s expulsion of French Jews to German concentration camps during the second world war that it still found it unpalatable to allow information to be collected on people’s ethnic origins.
He acknowledged that the unemployment rate among young people in France was twice the national average, but said other European countries faced similar problems. He also pointed the finger at the US, where he said the unemployment rate among blacks aged 16-19 was twice that of their white counterparts.
His comments came as Dominique de Villepin, prime minister, made his first visit to the poor Paris suburbs since rioting erupted almost three weeks ago.
Although the unrest has abated substantially in recent days, the French parliament on Tuesday approved a law prolonging by three months the life of a controversial 1955 curfew law.
Wives in fear that spouses will remarry (out of Africa)
In the ongoing debate over the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) (Amendment) Bill 2005, an important aspect that has not been discussed is that the new provisions have made women more vulnerable to mental abuse.
Husbands can now enter polygamous marriages readily if not easily by a mere word "or".
The provision that used to demand that a decision to take on another wife must be "just and necessary" has been deliberately amended to "just or necessary".
A man then does not have to prove that his second (or third, or fourth) marriage is just and that he will ensure that all his wives will receive equal financial and emotional support and love.
He just has to prove that it is necessary for whatever reason.
From Women's Aid Organisation's (WAO) work with domestic violence for 23 years, we found that many married Muslim women live in fear of their husbands entering polygamous marriages.
This fear can be so crippling that it stops them from being able to live normal and happy lives.
Some of the women experience fear of being abandoned and loss of love, on top of the fear of deep hurt and, in many instances, of being beaten by their husbands.
Living in fear is a form of domestic violence.
It constitutes emotional and psychological abuse. This will affect the children, and ultimately it affects the institution of the family itself.
December 29, 2006
WHO else has more than one wife? That's the question Jakarta's political elite are asking amid a furore in the world's largest Islamic nation about polygamy.
The latest name to shock the country's feminists is the Indonesian Parliament's deputy speaker, Zaenal Ma'arif, who is in strife with his Islamic Reform Star Party (PBR) after he married a second woman last week, a 48-year-old school teacher with three children.
As Mr Ma'arif rejected calls for his removal from Parliament, his party's chairman, Bursah Syarnubi, told journalists that he personally was not against polygamy. But Mr Syarnubi said Mr Ma'arif "should have been more prudent by not publicising his second marriage because he is part of the leadership of the Parliament and the PBR". The party will decide Mr Ma'arif's future today.
Controversy about Indonesian men having more than one wife erupted in mid-December when popular and influential Muslim cleric Abdullah Gymnastiar shocked audiences on 150 local radio stations when he told them he had a younger, second wife.
Hundreds of women marched through Jakarta's streets in rallies for and against multiple marriages. The reverberations spread to the presidential palace where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he would consider expanding a law that prohibits some public servants from having several wives to cover everyone in the public sector, including soldiers and police. It is not known how many people this would affect as no government agency accurately tracks polygamy rates in the country of 210 million.
But government officials admit the practice is common, particularly in rural Indonesia where culture and religion attaches little or no stigma to women who marry a man who already has one or more wives. The only stipulation for a man is that he has the money to equally provide for all his wives.
But in cities such as Jakarta, where people tend to talk about the practice in whispers, the sense of humiliation women feel if their husbands marry again appears to be particularly acute.
Prominent Indonesians have been practising polygamy for decades. Former vice-president Hamzah Haz openly acknowledged a few years ago that he has three wives. Indonesia's founding president, Soekarno, practised polygamy; Megawati Soekarnoputri, who also became president, is the daughter of his second wife.
Some foreign businessmen in Jakarta — all converts to Islam — have what are known as "first" and "second" wives, including children with both. They divide their time between the two houses that they maintain.
Siti Musdah Mulia, a feminist author and academic, disagrees with interpretations of the Koran that men can have up to four wives. "Men who practise polygamy lack faith and cultural perspective and have something wrong with them — or are unable to refrain from — their sexual desire," Ms Mulia said.
"Women often consent to the practice of polygamy because of financial problems, marrying a man they believe will support them," she said.
What To Expect When You're Expecting a Co-Wife
Why American Muslims don't care to legalize polygamy.
By Andrea Useem
July 24, 2007
This article appears in conjunction with a special weeklong series on Islam published by On Faith, the Washington Post's religion blog. To read more, visit On Faith.
So, you're happily married to the Muslim man of your dreams when, suddenly, he drops the p-bomb: polygamy. For Aneesa Azeez, a 23-year-old Muslim convert and college graduate, her husband's announcement of his intention to marry a second wife devastated her. "I am shocked, hurt, angry and confused, all in one," she wrote in a letter to him.
Seems like a recipe for divorce, right? Polygamy is illegal, after all. But Azeez didn't play that card with her husband, 15 years her senior. Under the law that mattered to her—classical Islamic law—she accepted her husband's right to take up to four wives, as allowed by the Quran, as long as he could treat them equally.
At first, Azeez wrestled with jealousy toward her co-wife and pined for her husband on the nights and weekends he stayed with his second wife, who lived half an hour away. But eventually, a peacefulness settled in her heart and a friendship with her co-wife blossomed: "I am in polygyny because I want to be," she wrote on her blog, Polygynous Blessings, whose initial entries are collected in a self-published book of the same title. (Polygyny is the more precise term for the type of polygamy in which a man marries more than one wife.) Azeez's blog is just one of several in which American Muslims write thoughtful, sometimes wry, but usually positive commentary about living polygamously; other notables include Thoughts of a First Wife and Big Faith.
Azeez, who works from her home in upstate New York as a newspaper copy editor, could be a poster child in the movement to legalize polygamy—the Muslim equivalent of the poignantly normal gay and lesbian couples lining up outside San Francisco's City Hall in 2004. But she won't be marching in the streets, calling for the legalization of polygamy, as some Protestant and ex-Mormon polygamists have been doing. For the tiny minority of American Muslims who engage in polygamy, its illegality is close to irrelevant. And for mainstream American Muslims, who are dealing with enough negative publicity as it is, let alone the fact that polygamy gives many of them the heebie-jeebies, the legal status quo suits them just fine.
So, while the existence of Azeez's book, which had sold 150 copies as of mid-July, won't necessarily prompt the Department of Homeland Monogamy to raise its threat level to yellow, American Muslim polygamists are still a group to watch.
For one thing, they may be almost as numerous as the fundamentalist Mormons who make all the headlines (and score big ratings for HBO). Debra Mubashshir Majeed, a religious studies professor at Beloit College who is researching a book on American Muslim polygamy, estimates that less than 1 percent of American Muslims indulge in the practice—and these practitioners are most often African-American Muslims or recent immigrants from West Africa. That percentage may seem infinitesimal, given that the most recent estimate of the American Muslim population puts their numbers at 2.35 million, but it does mean there are perhaps as many as 20,000 American Muslim polygamists. In comparison, the current best guess about the number of fundamentalist Mormons involved in polygamy in the United States, Mexico, and Canada is only 37,500, according to Brooke Adams, who covers the polygamy beat at the Salt Lake Tribune. (Yes, polygamy has its own beat—in Utah, at least.) And while Muslim polygamists are quiet now, their political awareness may grow over time; after all, fundamentalist Mormon polygamists lived for decades in disparate and secretive communities, only recently emerging to claim their place at the civic table.
American Muslim polygamists are unafraid of prosecution, and they sometimes seem almost puzzlingly unconcerned with the illegality of their conjugal life. Azeez takes only minor steps to conceal her husband's identity, and only then to ensure his job is not jeopardized. "It's not like everyone is being rounded up and thrown in jail," she says—in stark contrast to fundamentalist Mormons who recall the raid of the Short Creek, Ariz., polygamist community in 1953. Similarly, Senegalese-American hip-hop star Akon casually revealed to a New York radio host in late 2006 that he not only had four mothers growing up but also currently has several wives at home in Atlanta. (He said he would go public with his "multimonogamous" family only if he had his own reality show. Just imagine it: Big Love meets Run's House.)
And prominent American Imam Siraj Wahhaj, who was the first Muslim cleric to ever offer the invocation at the U.S. House of Representatives, was quoted in Paul Barrett's 2007 book American Islam* as saying that he performs polygamous unions at his Al-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn, N.Y. "If a man can have a hundred girlfriends, and it's legal, I don't say you can't have more than one wife," he reasons. Of course, Wahhaj is in the minority on this point; most mainstream imams would not condone the open flouting of the law. Tahir Anwar, imam of a well-established San Jose, Calif., mosque, writes in an e-mail that he would discourage any Muslims seeking a polygamous marriage and would not perform the ceremony: "It is not allowed in the land that we live in, a land to whom we have promised that we will follow all of its laws."
This idea that Muslims are contractually bound to follow the laws of the country in which they live—an idea rooted in the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed—is theologically sound, but only up to a point. It presumes that the laws of the land are immutable. It presumes that America is not, in fact, a place where a motivated group of individuals can mobilize others to change laws and social mores.
So, why aren't all American Muslim leaders jumping on the "legalize polygamy" bandwagon? After all, Muslim parents have banded together to call for public schools to recognize Muslim holidays, and Muslim cabdrivers are trying to protect their right to refuse alcohol-carrying passengers; shouldn't American Muslim leaders step in to secure the rights of their co-religionists to exercise their marital preferences?
As urban anthropologist Robert Dannin points out in his 2002 ethnography, Black Pilgrimage to Islam, some of the most intense and divisive feelings about polygamy are found within the Muslim community itself. Many Muslim women, of course, are frankly relieved that the law of the land forbids husbands from taking multiple wives. But Muslim religious leaders, who are by definition male, may have slightly different motivations in accepting the legal status quo. At a moment when leading presidential candidates can suggest the routine wiretapping of mosques and nearly half of the American public has a negative view of Islam, championing polygamy hardly seems like a winning strategy.
Back in 1890, when the federal government was preparing to dissolve the Mormon church, confiscate its property, and possibly even disenfranchise all its members in large part because of polygamy, the church's then-president, Wilford Woodruff, publicly declared his advice to all Latter-Day Saints to "refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land." Although American Muslim leaders have not been backed into such an uncomfortable corner, they are quietly issuing their own 1890 manifesto: consenting to theological accommodation as a price of American belonging.
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