Saturday, February 28, 2015

First Wives Club



I used to be able to count on one hand the number of women I personally know whose Saudi husbands married a second wife.  Those days are gone.  Sadly now that number exceeds all the fingers on both hands and all of my toes as well.  As many of you know, Saudi Arabia is governed by Sharia Law which comes from the Quran, the holy book of Islam.  Islam allows men to be married to up to four different women at the same time. 


Muslim scholars and Muslim men seem to be proud of the fact that the Quran is the only holy book that actually states “Marry only one (wife).”  I hear them boast about this all the time!  Why then are so many Muslim men taking on more than wife?  I find this amusing, since polygyny is permitted in Islam but not encouraged.  I just hate it when I hear men here saying that it is their God-given right.  Pfffft!

The original idea for this arrangement is centuries old and was borne out of the necessity of the times.  Men would go off to war, get killed, and there was an abundance of widows and orphans left behind that needed to be protected and provided for.  It was affirmed to be man's “social responsibility,” which begs the question:  Why exactly does a man have to marry a second woman to fulfill his social responsibility?  Especially when the Quran clearly says "Marry only one"???  Aren’t there other socially acceptable ways to provide for needy people other than marriage?  How about charity?  Why do men have to introduce sex into the equation in order to fulfill their social responsibility?

Many Muslim men like to make the claim that there are SO many more women in the world than men, and while that may have been the case centuries ago, statistically speaking, this is no longer a valid argument.  In today’s world, all recent statistics clearly show that men now outnumber women in births (107 to 100) and in the world population (101 to 100).

Yes, there are some countries in the world where women outnumber men, but in the total overall, there are more men.  And Saudi Arabia – where men can marry up to four women - is one of the majority countries that actually has more men than women - so this contention just doesn't hold water any more.

Another reason given for why polygyny is allowed in Islam is to allow a man whose wife cannot bear children to marry another woman who can have babies so he can produce heirs.  The problem with this assertion is that frequently the man is the one with fertility problems - so this excuse for multiple wives should at least have a provision that the man should be checked first to make sure he is not the one with sterility problems - don't cha think?  

 
I’ve even heard proponents of the multiple wives policy come up with the reasoning that there are so many gay men in the world - so obviously gay men don't count as eligible men in the marriage pool.  Hello?  They always seem to overlook the fact that there are also plenty of lesbians in the world too who don’t want to marry men either.  Moot point.  

And probably the most "honest" excuse I have heard for why polygyny is allowed in Islam is because men just naturally have a stronger sex drive and want to have sex with a variety of women.  So polygyny allows men to do this under the sanctity of marriage to prevent either of the participants from committing a grave sin, according to religion.  However, this argument totally discounts the female’s sex drive and presumes incorrectly that only men have strong sexual urges.  

So in Islam, a woman who becomes a second wife (or third or fourth) is considered by many as doing an "honorable" thing.  But somehow I really don’t think there are too many first wives out there who would actually agree with that statement.   

My thoughts on this are that there are three possible situations where a woman might become a second wife:  
1 – She is a desperate divorcee or widow and wants the security for herself and her children.  
2 – She becomes a second wife unwittingly because the man wasn’t honest with her.   
3 – She actively pursues a married man because she sees that he is wealthy and she doesn’t care that she is destroying a marriage and a family in the process.  

I personally know of women here in Saudi Arabia fitting all of these scenarios.  To be continued…

16 comments:

  1. Susie, there is absolutely nothing that surprises me when it comes to SA regarding the positions held by men and women. I would be stoned to death for the attitude I have regarding these issues. Over and over and over and over again....women are not respected. I feel sorry for them and wonder if they are so trapped they just have to give in to all these insane "traditions." How you are able to not only live there, but have to watch what is going on...amazes me. You are a very strong woman.

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    1. Hi Lori - Thank you. Surprisingly enough, many things that westerners see as being disrespectful to women are viewed as protecting the women here. It's all in the perspective. It is hard for westerners to see it that way.

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  2. Well written and explained for those who are "confused" about why this happens in Islam. Cant wait for part 2!

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    1. Thanks, Anonymous. I have avoided this topic for long enough!

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  3. Susie, I know westerners have a different perspective on many things, but I still find it hard to believe that all the discrimination is respectful. It appears to me that the men can do whatever and the women are very restricted (in the name of protection).

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    1. Hi Lori - I'm not by any means suggesting that the discrimination against women here is respectful. I'm just explaining that it is the way many Saudis see it, including many women. It is definitely a man's world here.

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  4. In my experience, people will come up with " reasons" for whatever they want to do. We practiced polyandry in some places around here...because " not all men are good at all things". Lol!

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  5. Thankfully I am glad to say that neither I or my husband agree that 2nd marriage is necessary in these times... Another issue is people practicing plural-marriage in places like Canada, usually being financially unstable immigrants who take advantage of the system. Or it's some goof who preys on naive Muslim women who are new to the religion or don't know any better and use them. The value and ideals of a solid-based marriage are constantly being manipulated and twisted to suit whoever benefits from it.

    Can't wait for part 2!

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  6. Interesting. Why do you think that it's changing. That men marry mutiple wives?

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    1. It's simple - because they can. I don't know that it is changing. I just didn't know that many women before that this has happened to.

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  7. Hi Susie, I am in a multiple wives situation and my co-wife and I are even building a house together (seperate of course). It is never the best thing, and men can be selfish, but I think there are reasons for it still in the world especially in an Arab system where men will almost never agree to marry a woman divorced or widowed if they have not been through the same. In Islam, this mindeset didn't exist but I see it these days and it breaks my heart, especially for girls divorced badly by a jerk. If their personality fit and my husband was financially capable, I'd be okay he marry two more women. Now you probably think I am a crazy weirdo, but I have never been desperate (financially or because of kids). I work, have a career where I have my own house, my own food, buy everything for my kids and myself (my husband offers, but I like the independence I have from this). My co-wife is also a working woman and not depserate. However, if we both were sick, our husband would only be able to cover the needs of two families (he isn't rich) and time-wise, with our ammount of kids, being a good father in terms of time would be hard if he had to keep working. If he was retired and had money that would be a different thing....

    (Islamically, infertility isn't a reason---the Prophet S.A.W couldn't have kids with most of his wives and his reasons for marrying them was never due to this fact)---I'd only say infertility was an okay reason to marry again if it was the first wife's suggestion---if SHE wanted kids and he could have but she couldn't. Since I know one muslim woman whose case was this, I think it is fine. I also know another muslim woman who had kids and a busy career and told her husband to marry another wife (who no one would marry because the girl couldn't have kids) so that she could share her security and happiness with another woman she cared about and yet keep a lot of time for her kids.

    I think it is only only okay when the husband marries an orphan (she can even be a convert with no family), a divorcee or widow. That's what the Qu'ran says. If a man just married a younger version of his first wife, I don't think I would ever be okay with that. Also hiding it---that is wrong since in Islam the point of the wedding feast is to make the marriage known and public.

    The reason men do it is simple, because they can, but the scholars should follow the restrictions the qu'ran made on it and the example of the Prophet S.A.W... and the marriage should be known to the first wife befor eit happens. She has the right to divorce if she doesn't like it, and should make a divorce payment in her marriage contracts so she has alminoy in this case---and the man man isn't allowed to pay the new dowry/maher until he pays the divorce settlement.... That's the best way, keeping with Islam, the sunah, and a woman's rights in Islam.

    And the culture of a virgin man can only marry a virgin wife should change. INsaudi arabia especially, there are many poor young men who want to marry---they should marry financially sound widows and divorcees, and would find, they have happiness in these women perhaps even greater than they could with a young virgin girl they would not be able to provide for.

    Like the Prophet S.A.W and his first (and only during her lifetime) wife, Khadijah, R.A.

    -from a woman pro polgyny (I have been at times, an only-wife, a second-wife, and a first-wife), but anti the misogynist version of it most often practiced.

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  8. [Quran 4:3] If you deem it best for the orphans, you may marry their mothers - you may marry two, three, or four. If you fear lest you become unfair, then you shall be content with only one, or with what you already have. Additionally, you are thus more likely to avoid financial hardship.

    [Quran 4:129] You can never be equitable in dealing with more than one wife, no matter how hard you try. Therefore, do not be so biased as to leave one of them hanging (neither enjoying marriage, nor left to marry someone else). If you correct this situation and maintain righteousness, God is Forgiver, Most Merciful.

    Anna Laura

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  9. My thoughts on this are that there are three possible situations where a woman might become a first and only wife in America:
    1 – She is desperate, a divorcee, old, ugly or a widow and wants the security for herself and or/her children.
    2 – She becomes a wife unwittingly because the man wasn’t honest with her.
    3 – She actively pursues a married man because she sees that he is wealthy and she doesn’t care that she is destroying a marriage and a family in the process.
    Its easy to talk bad about other cultures and faiths specially when you think you are far superior to them. Your post reeks of racism and feminism.

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    1. Hi PKA - Racism? I think not. 99.9% of the time when a man takes on another wife, it is for one of the reasons I mentioned. I doubt there are any statistics out there concerning this topic, but all the cases I personally know about were for one of the three reasons I gave. There are very few women on this planet, Muslim or otherwise, who willingly wish to share their husbands with other women. I am proud to be a feminist.

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  10. i also think that it is fading trend but maybe you start exposing your self to the society more or by chance you stumble into more cases.

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  11. Susie,

    I completely agree with you - Islam does not permit you to have more than one wife unless you can treat them EQUALLY in every way, which is impossible for men to do. There is no way I would accept my husband taking a second wife, and women that do become second/third/fourth wives are equally responsible for the heartbreak and suffering caused to the first wife.

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