Bill raises questions about polygamy

2011-04-15 00:00

AS new challenges arise in our lives — technology, raising children, inequalities in salaries, increasing cost, crime and corruption, to name a few — Muslims are faced with an added challenge in the form of the Muslim Marriage Bill (MMB). The many different voices claiming to represent Muslims makes it an even bigger challenge to confront.

The MMB is always going to be a source of conflict between Muslims and therefore an engagement process with the community, theological bodies and the government would be a pre-ferable option in order to maintain Islamic principles and the Muslim identity.

One of the clauses the contentious bill is under fire for is the issue of polygamy. The bill has made it extremely difficult for a man to take a second wife.

The Qur'anic verses pertaining to polygamy were revealed after the battle of Uhud, in which many men were martyred, making many women widows and children orphans. Polygamy in Islam is therefore rooted in the notion of community obligations towards widows, orphans and divorcées. It is tolerated as a way to meet the different situations confronting human beings.

Prior to Islam, in Arabia, men used to marry as many women as they wished without any restrictions or conditions. Once Islam was revealed, it set stringent conditions for polygamy, prescribing that the maximum number of women a man could marry at any given time is four.

However, a man can marry more than one wife only if he can truly be totally just and fair among his wives; otherwise he is not allowed to take another wife. The Qur'an states: "But if you fear that you will not be able to deal justly [with them], then only one…" (An-Nisa).

In addition to the above, the other conditions of every marriage must also be there, such as the ability to provide financially for the family and the ability to satisfy the sexual needs of all wives.

Islam is a way of life consistent with the intrinsic behaviour of the human being, providing practical solutions to different situations and avoiding extremes.

In Islam, polygamy is neither made obligatory, nor encouraged, but merely permitted, and is allowed only if the second woman consents to such marriage. It depends on the new women entirely. Monogamy is the rule and polygamy is accepted; and this acceptance has diverse advantages, social as well as other. For example, the first wife may be barren, and to her polygamy may be a better option than divorce. Or, if the first wife is seriously ill, resulting in the husband's sexual needs being unsatisfied then instead of committing adultery and exposing his wife to diseases, it is possible for him to marry a second wife and take care of his first wife also.

Among South African Muslims, it is not readily accepted by the woman, due to various reasons and thus some men engage in unIslamic practices, which harm or hurt women and the religion.

It is an unfortunate reality that many concessions are abused or are used in inappropriate ways and polygamy is no exception.

I know of a wealthy individual who has taken a second wife and keeps her in a substandard condition. There is absolutely no equality as demanded by Islam. In short the relationship to me is just like that of a call girl. If her husband dies, what is her position in terms of her maintenance?

This is only one example of what women face under men who do not fulfil their responsibilities and who are not just.

On the other hand, there are some pleasant-sounding polygamous marriages — although one wonders about jealousy, equality and dealing with children.

A woman at the time of her marriage can demand the acceptance and insertion of a clause into the marriage contract, stating that her husband will practise monogamy. Such a condition is as valid as any other condition of a legal contract and is legally binding on the husband.

Together with the correct legislation, it is also vitally important for us as Muslims to bring into our lives the spiritual aspect of our religion and to educate our community about marriage, its responsibilities and challenges and family law

principles.

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