Recently, the South China Post (HK’s English Newspaper), wrote a long article on a muslim man’s right to marry 4 wives and profiled a man with his 4 wives, from Malaysia. It was refreshing to read an unbiased report on this social phenomena and its effects on the wives, something which many Malaysians may not be aware of. The reporter interviewed a Muslim wife who was filing for divorce, after “tolerating” her husband’s other wives. She explained that, although it is a religious right but her civil rights as a wife has been violated, since she had to share her man with another. I don’t know any saints would willingly (in mind and heart) share their partners with another, so I can understand her feelings.
I must admit that I’m not qualified to comment on this, I don’t know enough to make a judgement. However, I found this article very interesting and wanted to share my thoughts of it. From the little that I know about this muslim right, it does appear lop-sided. For e.g., a muslim man can divorce his wife by uttering a word (talak) 3 times in front of a witness. In fact the wife doesn’t even have to be present when he is saying the word, 3 times, he could say it over the phone (e.g.) and they would be divorced. However, he would need to confirm the divorce by filing the necessary documents in a Shariah court. If a muslim wife wants to divorce her husband, she would need to go to a Shariah court and give compelling reasons for doing so. In Malaysia, I heard that before a muslim man can marry no. 2/3/4, he would need to get his 1st wife’s consent. The twist is, she cannot reasonably withhold consent. If she does, then I guess that is grounds for him to divorce her. The woman that was profiled in the article said that although on paper, it appears that she has the upper-hand in giving/withholding consent for wife no. 2/3/4, however in practise, this is not always the case. The muslim wives are normally pressured into giving consent, often because of religious implications.
I’ve also been told that, in Malaysia at least, a muslim man must show that he is able to care for all 4 wives, fairly. My interpretation is that, in terms of wealth, the man must be of sufficient wealth in order to afford 4 families, in terms of his personal time – he must divide it equally among his 4 wives. The intention is there must not be any biasness in treating all his wives. The reality of it, is of cause different, with some wives suffering neglect, both financially and from lack of affection.
The US is currently showing a mini-series on a Christian sect that practises polygamy – Big Love. I’ve seen a few episodes and initially, it felt weird, seeing these 3 families live together and watch how they try to contain this secret from their neighbours. I think the mini-series attempts to portray the real challenges faced by polygamist, however for someone who has only known monogamy, I find it hard to understand. There was a roster, specifying each night & the wife that the man would stay over with, i.e. Mon was with wife no. 1, Tues with wife no. 2 etc. In one of the episodes, the man was so tired from work, that he chose not to stay the night with any of his wives and this caused the 3 wives to argue among themselves and with the man too. The idea I get from watching the few episodes was that, the 3 women believe that it is a religious responsibility to have 4 wives, in fact in one of the episodes, some of his wives were helping him to select wife no. 4! And maybe this is the reason that a woman would agree to share her man with another woman.