Saturday 19 December 2009

Thoughts on Polygamy - 1

The recent outbursts of some fairly violent reactions regarding a comment I left on Al'Arabiya website concerning Female Polygamy, led me to delve into the subject matter deeper...

I left a comment following an article by a daring Saudi female journalist who argued that women too, have the right to marry more than one man as part of gender equality.

And I shall reprint some parts of it below.

The author asks :  " why men have the right to get bored of being with one woman and therefore have the right to marry another three, while women do not.

" But a woman does not cheat, not because she is not bored. In fact, she might have not felt one ounce of pleasure since the very first night of this arranged marriage. But traditions and the clerics force her to stay at home and shut up "

“A man would say, ‘I am bored. She has become like a sister to me. I am no longer sexually attracted to her.’… Here's what I call cheating begins since traditions and the clerics provide men with the remedy to the ailment of boredom,” the article reads.

Bedair then asks what happens when the woman gets bored as well or rather if she has not been enjoying her marital life from the very beginning

She then concludes the article by proposing that either polygamy be sanctioned for men and women alike or a new map for marriage be drawn to defeat men’s "lame" excuses.

“Until then, the question remains: What happens when I am bored of him or if I feel he is like a brother to me?”

Needless to say lawsuits have started falling on the newspaper that published this article and the BBC picked up the story as well. A sign that the shit hit the fan.

I find all of this quite amusing....

This is indeed a vast subject and an non exhaustive one...and by coincidence I fell on an article today as I was flipping through some magazine at my friend's place, and the article was on polygamy.

It heavily relied on zoological observations, meaning on behavior of animals, probably derived from some Darwinian background, where it was argued that this whole polygamy business is Nature's way to ensure the reproduction of species, and by which not one female mammal/primate is left out from the reproductive cycle.

That article then gave a few figures, and it seems that 82% of male animals are polygamous and 1% only of female animals are polyandrous (polyandry is female polygamy).

Unfortunately I could not finish the article as my friend barged in from the kitchen with a tray of goodies and as I picked the delicacies and stared into his eyes, I wondered if he was part of the 82% ...and of course that got me thinking if I was part of the 1%...

However, I do remember quickly reading through the conclusion that stated that monogamy was an unnatural state of affairs. The magazine by the way was a European  one.

I had to remind myself that neither he nor I were primates...but who's to tell ?

Just to tell you that this is a complex subject and am not even sure why I started it...and it may very well be that this post will be totally incoherent as thoughts are racing through my mind...

So if you can bear the incoherence read on and if you can't, leave me to ramble by myself...

It is a complex subject for many reasons...

It touches at the core of gender relations (East and West), it touches on religion, culture, biology, socialization and the big S, the taboo word -- SEX.

In one of my posts on Iraqi widows, I advocated for a return of male polygamy -- not that it ever left...

In re-reading the surat Al -Nisa from the Holy Koran, and the ayat/paragraph dealing with the issue of 4 wives, I can't help but notice that this particular paragraph starts with "the Orphans"

Orphans here can mean orphaned children with a widow for a mother or it may also mean an orphaned woman. In the Semitic world view, a woman who has no male supporter is considered an orphan as well. The ayat then concludes--  if you fear you cannot treat the women equally,with justice, then only one woman is allowed.

Treat the women equally is a very important sentence. Some interpret that as the man should provide equally to the 2, 3, or 4 women. This presupposes that the man has the means to do so. But then treating equally or with justice is not only about material provisions, that would be a very literal reading of the ayat.

So a further interpretation would mean --  there must be an equal sexual treatment too. Meaning that none of the women are to be neglected sexually. In other words, the man has to have sex with the women in turn. No favoring one over the other. This again presupposes that the man is physically and sexually fit.

To treat equally may also mean to love and care for equally and this is where it gets really tricky, because this is an almost impossibility.

I would personally favor the interpretation that deals with widows and orphans and as I have argued in my post on Iraqi widows, these women have the RIGHT to a partner. And at times of war, and God knows that the Arab world has known many, it is a FACT that women outnumber men. It is also a fact that women outnumber men worldwide...These left out women have the RIGHT to partners and to sex as well. (Now this is what I call true "sisterhood")

Moreover in the Sharia, the body of Islamic Jurisprudence, the first wife needs to give her consent for a second marriage first. Moreover, a woman can stipulate in her marriage contract that if the man marries another woman she can divorce him. In other words she can stipulate her right to repudiate and divorce him.

On the subject of consent, it is interesting to note that in Osama Bin Laden wife's memoirs, she states that Osama asked her permission before marrying a second wife and she even went so far as to find him a suitable second wife.

Furthermore in Islamic law, if a man repudiates his wife 3 times, and then the couple wants to get back together again, the woman MUST marry another man before returning to her husband- it is called "tajheesh". And in tajheesh, sex must take place...

This is a punitive action against the husband for usurping his repudiation rights. What currently happens though  is that tajheesh does take place without the sex. In other words, a loophole is found in the law, to protect the former husband from an extreme bout of possessive jealousy. But in any event, the former husband has to wait the 40 days Idda period  before re-marrying his former wife, to ensure that she is not pregnant from the other man.

This is all  to show that men cannot do as they please with the women they chose as partners.

But since I do not wish to ramify the subject too much, I will stick to polygamy for the moment, both male and female.

So as I argued or tried to argue, male polygamy in Islam is condoned with the intention of keeping the social order, particularly at times of war. I gave Iraq as an example. And in that sense, I find that "clause" quite merciful towards the women who no longer have a man in their lives.

And before I go for the jugular, I must also say that I noticed something quite positive in conservative traditional Saudi Arabia - namely that "toutes les femmes y passent " meaning that all women there get to get married (bear in mind that sex outside of marriage is prohibited in Islam), older women with younger men, older men with younger women --- all women there get married...Something that you do not see in the rest of the Middle East, or the "Levant" as they call it, where people have more hang ups about marriage if the man or the woman does not fit the right "profile"...