Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Take on Polygamy

I come from a polygamist family. My father currently has three wives and fifteen children. Do you find that incredibly weird? I must confess, occasionally I do too. Most of the time, however, I never really stop to think about it.

A few months ago, I was on a training programme with young citizen journalists from different parts of the world. On our first day I spent my lunch break with a Muslim girl from Europe. Halfway through our meal, she asked the inevitable question, “How many siblings do you have?”

After I answered her, she was silent for a few moments, and then whispered, “I've never met anyone from a polygamist family before.” She spent the remainder of the programme questioning me about what it was like. To be honest, she made me feel like I'd just landed from outer space. I've been thinking about it ever since. Is it really that unusual?

Polygamy has been practised in different cultures around the world throughout history and is still legal in most Muslim countries, with the exception of Tunisia and Turkey. Even though it is legal, I know it’s not widely practised outside the GCC.

In Oman, polygamy may have died out in most areas up north, but the tradition is alive and well here in Dhofar. I assume the reasons behind this are somewhat related to the stronger tribal ties at this end of the country.

Why do men in Dhofar choose to take on another wife? Islam allows up to four wives under certain circumstances and conditions.

Despite this, I believe very few men in Dhofar these days remarry for religious reasons. I hate to sound negative, but most polygamists I know (the number isn't small) remarried for entirely selfish reasons.

In many cases men take on a second or third wife to show off their wealth or to produce more sons who will carry on the family name. Some men who are unhappy with their first wives but can't divorce them due to family pressure choose to remarry. A large number of polygamists marry women half their age to help the men feel 'young' again. That seems to be the most common reason.

There are also a small percentage of men who take on a second wife for semi-acceptable reasons. For example, a former neighbour of ours took on his deceased brother's wife as a second spouse in order to take care of her and keep the kids in the family. I can't say it made sense to me, but it seemed to work for them.

Some men whose wives are infertile will marry other women to bear children while keeping their first wives. Divorced or widowed women also tend to end up being second or third wives since most single men here wouldn't consider them for marriage. Most polygamists take on a second wife after they hit 40 or 50 and realise they're not getting any younger. Having two wives isn’t uncommon in Dhofar. Three or four is rare.

The big question is, does polygamy really work? In my opinion the answer is a big no. A few years ago I was involved in a research project here in Dhofar on polygamy. After hundreds of interviews and months of work, it became obvious that women are victims when it comes to polygamy.

None of the women we interviewed were happy in their marriages. On the other hand, the men seemed to be fine and most had remarried for entirely selfish reasons. It was truly heartbreaking.

Polygamy may have worked for many centuries and it probably made sense in many cases. However, in this day and age I think it causes more heartache than happiness and I'm confident that no man is able to love and care for two women equally, let alone four! Furthermore, no woman in her right mind wants to share her husband with another woman. Men may fantasise about being the perfect husband who loves and treats his wives equally, but who are they kidding?

People may argue that I'm generalising and that they know a happy polygamist family. But are they really happy? When two wives live under the same roof, they are under enormous pressure to appear to live harmoniously, regardless of their feelings. I'm sure there are a handful of really decent polygamists out there who treat their wives equally and who manage happy homes, but I have yet to meet one!

Naturally, the law in Oman doesn’t protect women when it comes to polygamy. A man can remarry without even informing his first wife. That doesn't speak well for women's rights in Oman, but I'll save that rant for another week.

Many non-Arabs may wonder why the first wife simply doesn't ask for a divorce if her husband comes home with a young wife. If only it were that simple! Most women above the age of 40 are not educated. They have no means of supporting themselves and probably have at least five children. Where do they go? Do they head back to their father's house if he's still alive? Camp out in their siblings' spare bedroom forever? They have no choice but to stay with their husbands and endure the pain.

If you think polygamy will die out with the current generation of middle-aged men, think twice. I can think of three men I know under the age of 40 who have two wives. I also know two young women around my age who became second and fourth wives respectively in the past 12 months.

In fact, just a few months ago, a married man asked for my hand in marriage. I wasn't planning on sharing that piece of information with the world, but seriously…how could I not? Someone in this day and age assumed a young independent woman like me would be okay with being a second wife! Fortunately, I'm not. As much as I love my family and all my stepmothers and step-siblings, I am against the practice.

On a final note, a couple of years ago I read an article that suggested polygamy contributes to lower divorce rates in Oman. Whoever assumed that probably hadn’t had their morning cup of coffee. Polygamy will die out sooner or later. Until then, please say a prayer for all the women who've suffered through this bizarre tradition. And if you have a positive polygamy story to tell, do share....


  1. The question of whether polygamy should be allowed in Canada raised its ugly head recently, resulting in a 4-month hearing before Chief Justice Robert Bauman of British Columbia Supreme Court, who received Affidavits from many groups, both pro and con polygamy.On 23 November 2011, he ruled that polygamy harms ALL society in that it contravenes the equality rights of women, harms children, and also harms men in that, since the sexes are basically equal in number, it reduces the available pool of wives for poorer men. He ruled that polygamy is an anti-social act and that S. 293 CC, proscribing polygamy, should continue to be upheld in Canada. 82% of Canadians do not support polygamy, so we were very pleased by his decision. Polygamy comes from the dark ages when women were considered chattels and had no rights. It's high time it was kicked into the garbage can of history. The year is 2012 AD. not 2012 BC.

  2. It's not only women who are victims of polygamy, children are too.

    those Islamic reasons even seem to be unacceptable to me. There are 'Islamic reasons' because this society teaches women that they should marry someone to be safe and survive. If the society was just with everyone it would be very clear that polygamy is nonsense and no one will ever find any reason where a man can marry more than one woman.

    Ya3ni in the case of orphans for example, if men here can be good parents and take good care of their children and not consider raising children as women's duty only, polygamy will lose its justification as an acceptable thing. Ya3ni he can't marry a second wife and say he married her to take care of the children when the first wife passes away. The first option he should have is take care of his children by himself when his wife passes away. Marrying a second wife shouldn't be an option until his first wife passes away.

  3. And let me say that my mother is a victim of polygamy. My father is really kind though. He's a special man indeed but you know that polygamy doesn't work.

  4. I've met the children of polygamous families and the boys think it says something about their father's prowess while the girls are heartbroken at the effect on their mothers. I've also met a second wife who was very happy because it proved she was 'better' than the first wife. She had no answer when asked what would happen when wife number three appeared. I also knew a second wife who basked in the attention until she was divorced and her husband returned to his first wife. Oman is a civilised society and, if women were given support to bring up their children alone, they could refuse such offers and younger women should be educated that it's okay to be single. Also, the Islamic reasons for taking a second and subsequent wife should be strictly enforced.

  5. Hello,Susan. I follow a blog called Andy in Oman and noticed a comment from you on his latest post. Intrigued by the last name I saw, Mubarak, I clicked.(I believe it means "blessing",but I might be wrong). Thought I would mention how interesting and moving your writing is. Very open and honest. Thank you for sharing yourself. And with your permission, I would love to add your link to the blog I write. God Bless you.~hodgepodge4thesoul

  6. Jancis, I know alot of British Columbian Muslims. I know 2 couples in polygamous marriages where they are happy, first AND second wife, and the children. One set lived in BC. They had to come to Oman to be happy without someone arresting them. Where would they go and how would they live if you had the world be as narrow as you would have it be? Dark ages is forcing people to live without choice. Choice is certainly the key.

    Sad to see: I agree with alot of what you say, although I do support polygyny for Islamic reasons. I know many happy polgynous families. I would never break them apart, just because of the larger magority of unhappy ones I also encounter. Evil second wives though, I always want to go up to them and pull their hair out {I have anger issues}. No woman should be okay with being a second wife who is not okay with being a third in Islam. What kind of hypocrisy is that?

  7. One other thing, Sad to See, about women if they had the support, they could raise up their children alone... It isn't always about that. Sometimes women just need a man in addition to financial support. For companionship, love, having someone to talk to and... well, in Islam you can't date so what needs to change is men have to remember that marrying women who aren't virgins anymore is good and fine for them. Khadijah, the best of the women in Islam, was a widow, older, and not a virgin when she married Mohammed S.A.W. If that doesn't change first, you won't see a change in women accepting to become additional wives even if they know it will hurt the first wife and isn't what she wants.

  8. It is interesting to have a look at this from another point of view, I mean as an omani male, I have heard the argument both ways now.
    I think we as men like to Interpret islamic teachings to serve us the most. We tend to choose and amplify these teachings when/if it suits us. I won't get into rightness or wrongness of the TOLD teachings, but I would definitely won’t encourage anyone to it, for any reason, religion included. One can do good deed in many ways, without being destructive to his own.

  9. It is interesting to have a look at this from another point of view, I mean as an omani male, I have heard the argument both ways now.
    I think we as men like to Interpret islamic teachings to serve us the most. We tend to choose and amplify these teachings when/if it suits us. I won't get into rightness or wrongness of the TOLD teachings, but I would definitely won’t encourage anyone to it, for any reason, religion included. One can do good deed in many ways, without being destructive to his own.

    1. Maryam of Qatar

      I would like to understand that Polygamy is being practiced by men, I am speaking in general not only Islam. When you interpret the teachings (4 wives allowed in Islam), people will have their own interpretations - that is the sad truth. By human nature, you cannot serve or treat people fairly knowing that we everybody is so judgemental. For me, this subject is very broad to discuss and it will not end when you start pointing out rightness or wrongness of the situation. But it will all depend on the person's character and point of view if he will practice polygamy.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Hi Susan.Interresting is your article about polygamy in oman.I have a question which I would like you to answer very frankly: do you prefer a husband to have a second wife with all her rights secured or to have a mistress in secret? Ab.Boukhlet.

  11. ... My husband always says, having one wife is already all he can handle. Having 2 is just too much hard work!
    But seriously, I'm sure Omani men would find their relationships more fulfilling if they considered themselves equal to their wives/ sisters/ mothers. And let's be honest, women are just as interesting as men!
    Also, as a woman you can take a stand in this. Don't be lured by a big dowery. Then you're only marrying out of greed and only have yourself to blame if you're unhappy. If women would put their foot down collectively and turn down offers to be a second wife then something will change... slowly.

  12. @Ab.Boukhlet: What would you do if your wife had a secret lover?! if a woman is able to refrain from looking to other men (and it's a must for her), why a man could not do the same? and why don't you ask yourself - what if your 2nd or 3rd or 4th wife finds a secret lover - with the same seriousity you ask Susan about her man having a mistress?

  13. Susan, I really respect your views on all the matters that you put in front of us. However, I noticed that sometimes you are not fair to the subject in hand. If you want to talk about it fairly you should bring positives and negatives, and frankly in this subject you just attacked and you made it sound like the biggest crime of humanity and Islam. You did mention however that Islam permits it under cretin conditions; you didn’t bring these conditions to enlighten every one which made people think that it is the fault of Islam as a religion and not the Muslims who does not follow the roles of Islam. I hope you will take this in consideration. I just like fairness and like to see all aspects before I judge.


  14. Susan, thank you for sharing your view on life in Oman. As an American woman I find your world fascinating, and I applaud your independent thinking. It takes intelligence and guts to lift oneself above cultural traditions that are oppressive. You obviously have both.

  15. As an American, you have an interesting blog. I have long thought that polygamy would be difficult. Far too easy to have loads of emotions interfere all around.

    However, you did point out one area that I thought was interesting:
    That is, where the husband dies, and the dead husband family member marries her. I can see that in a nation where women do not control, that it would be useful.

    One other possible one, might be, if a husband dies, then wife might marry into her real sister's family, if the sister (and husband) want it.

    The final one might be where a wife might want another wife there and she picks, but that is hard to image.

    But the idea that the husband can simply chose this without input from wife(ves) is, well, incredible and selfish.

    However, I would say that the Canadian judge and yourself have it right.

  16. Polygamy is allowed in islam we cannot oppose that , but we can certainly restrict it to make sure that everyone involved get their fair share. The polygamy verse has the mention of "alyatama" meaning fatherless children in the beginning and ended the verse with saying fairness should be applied otherwise one is enough. Most of the time these are disregarded, have you ever heard of a polygamist man where he has been assessed if he has the ability to be fair NO , pretty much any man can go and have another wife he will not be asked if he has enough money or any thing about his ability to be fair. I am pretty sure we all have heard of men that cant maintain one family but goes finds himself another wife !! The only thing that scholars and religious men depend on is what the man thinks , does he think he will be fair if yes then the door is open.

    Its funny and sad at the same time how scholar/religious men say that a wife has no say in her husbands engagement in polygamy however she will have to deal with the consequences like division of time, division of money, division in emotions and so on. Apparently to these scholars fairness only means money and sex!! The women's emotions and time she spent and all the sacrifices(which we know all women have to do at some point in the marriage) is not taken into consideration, only the husbands wants/needs and the other women . And how contradictory is it of these men to say that a women is emotional and really needs love and appreciation and then say your emotions are not considered and not only that but the poor husband is not to be blamed if he likes one more than the other its beyond his control! Really!!
    The answer to these problems faced by muslim women is to stick together and demand to be protected like men are. Since there is no device to measure someone's intentions there is no way to tell if a man will be fair or not , so better be on the safe side. Also fairness is not only with money and sex also emotions are involved because we are humans and not animals. In addition to the wife's consent to be in a polygamous marriage how is it fair to drag someone to live a life style they do not want, right? No doubt there should be striker laws to govern polygamy for the good of the women and children who are usually victimized.
    By: Omani Girl

  17. Does polygamy work? NO - and for those who doubt this - would the reverse i.e. polyandry work? Answer that one honestly, apply the same basic logic to the first question, and you should have your answer!

    And no, the old theory about “men being naturally polygamous” doesn’t hold water. Sure, that may be true to a degree, but we’re not living in the Stone Ages any longer. Men are “naturally” (or traditionally) supposed to be breadwinners, but there’s many families (not necessarily in Oman, but worldwide) where women end up being the primary breadwinners, either by choice or compulsion. Times have changed, as have many customs throughout the ages – no reason why this one should be any different IMO.

    And finally, I really don’t think “love” can be shared between three, four, or more people – regardless of gender/sexual preferences. At least, not true love as I see it. . .

    In short – NO, it doesn’t work, period. . .

    Anonymous (my second post on your blog for the day)

  18. I read the whole thread of comments hoping that someone would correct a couple of things. Since I did not see it, I will provide:

    1) Polygamy refers to at least two possible forms of marriage. One is polygyny, and the other is polyandry. One post mentioned polyandry as an alternative to polygamy. Simply based on the definitions of the terms, this comparison would need to be revised. You can compare monogamy to polygyny, and you can compare polyandry to polygyny.

    2) At least one form of polygamy has been allowed in most of the world's cultures for most of recorded human history. That said, most men would seem to have been monogamous due to resource limitations. God did not ALLOW polygyny in Islam, as if every Muslim society was monogamous previously. Rather, God limited, and set regulations on polygyny. God further allowed the Prophet (PBUH) to further regulate polygyny in the life of observant Muslims. As so many comments indicate, there are many Muslim men and women entering polgynous marriages without seeming to follow the regulations set by Qur'an and sunnah. So, Islam is not the blame for these behaviors. Islamic teachings provide guidance for people's behavior, and practices that people can use to get our hearts in the right state. PEOPLE are to be blamed when we do not follow the guidance

  19. 3) About half of the countries where polygamy is legal are NOT majority-Muslim countries. They are not Muslim-ruled countries. They are often majority Christian or traditional/customary religion countries. And most are in Africa. African family tradition are the oldest human traditions. And they emerged in contexts where there was no debate: if people ran around focused on individual rights no one would survive. In evolutionary terms, that is probably exactly what happened to the overly individualistic folks. Later, those same folks would be at high risk of being enslaved, for sovereignty, protection, and sustenance would only be found in the kinship-grouping.

    To that end, marriage developed, not as something to provide romantic love to individuals, but as something to regulate human sexuality, to produce offspring, and to provide support to parents through family alliances. Long before there were separate spheres for political, economic, religious, educational, health-care, etc. functions kinship units performed ALL of these functions and more. To perform these functions more effectively usually required large families. Polygyny emerged as the method of choice for providing a kinship unit with a large number of people who could be deployed in the performance of all of the social functions.

    Gendered work also emerged as a way to more efficiently perform social tasks. While in many places affected by hyper-militarized cultures (especially, but not exclusively Western cultures), this eventually produced male dominance, male dominance was much less extreme in a number of pre-colonial societies. We know this because we have good documentation of the roles that women played and the cultural tools used to motivate people. Study the matrilineal cultures, especially of the Nile Valley. Many such cultures still exist elsewhere, such as today's Ghana and Ivory Coast. Polygyny was practiced in these societies, but women also had key social functions and real power. Indeed, women had their own governance structures to regulate their own affairs, and the women's queen was selected independently of the king. That is, the king's wife was (and is, as the contemporary practice of these traditions continues to the extent that so-called civilized state-governance structures allow) NOT the queen. Indeed, the king's selection required the approval of the queen, but SHE had her own husband.

  20. 4) So, no, polygyny is not an inherent indicator of societies that are oppressive to women. However, after Western domination of the globe, and especially after societies were turned upside down by Western colonization, polygamy was not updated to fit in with the new economic and political order. Rather, many societies tried to hold onto certain of their old family practices as a way of protecting their identity from complete annihilation. Cultural colonization was one of the most obvious threats to people in the form of family practices.

    5) But, yes, today it is quite difficult to practice polygyny without oppressing women. I think this has more to do with a need to update HOW and WHY we do it, though.

  21. I just want to share my experience and testimony here.. I was married for 6 years to my husband and all of a sudden, another woman came into the picture.. he started hailing me and he was abusive..but I still loved him with all my heart and wanted him at all cost? then he filed for whole life was turning apart and I didn't know what to do..he moved out of the house and abandoned the kids.. so someone told me about trying spiritual means to get my husband back and introduced me to a spell caster? so I decided to try it reluctantly..although I didn't believe in all those things? then when he did the special prayers and spell, after 2days, my husband came back and was pleading..he had realized his mistakes..i just couldn't believe it.. anyways we are back together now and we are case anyone needs this man, his email address, his spells is for a better life. again his email is

  22. Abdullah
    This is one of the most courageous views I have read by an Omani woman. Only independent person is capable of laying out the issue of polygamy in such eloquent and fair way.
    Just to reiterate on polygamy in Islamic tradition, it must be said that Sharia law itself is a human invention. There is nothing sacred about it whatsoever. Muslim jurists have superimposed their own views and customs on what later became known as Sharia law despite the Quranic context of where a particular “ruling” was mentioned. Polygamy, as rightly and precisely put by Susan, is a human invention that goes back in history prior to Islam. Moreover, contextually, the verses in Quran that talk about polygamy are confined to the sevenths century AD which means that Quran doesn’t permit this phenomenon in as much as it acknowledges it in the society of that time. Quran also makes it very clear for men that “you will never do justice” between your wives which discourages Muslim men from marrying more than one woman. The entire Sura of “Nisaa/Women” is meant to do justice to women and in that context polygamy was mentioned in order to protect the rights of the orphans who lost their fathers in “Auhud” fight.
    Muslim jurists have elaborated in Fiqh about polygamy extending the meaning of Quran beyond being the sacred word of God which should do justice for all sexes. Instead of contextualizing the verses in the 7th century AD and respecting that fact that polygamy was a phenomenon before Quran, they have manipulated the issue in favour of the masculine dominant societies adding their cultural customs to what they understood as Quranic “ruling” in the first place.
    Our society is racist and biased against all sexes and when it comes to women the suffering is even much more.
    If this part of the world is to make progress, men and women should unite to express and solve their problems collectively rather than fueling unnecessary debates about who is in defense of Islam and who isn’t! Because the actual problem at stake here is not the religion/Islam, rather the human being who is deprived of his/her senses and humanity in favour of familial, societal, and political “dictatorship” which believes that everything in place is just the right thing!

  23. Frankly I am disgusted by this one-sided polygamy. Yeah, I was one of the religious and submissive looking Muslim women who out of fear of being cursed in any way always spoke on polygamy in sort of positive terms, while blaming men for being unjust. Enough of this. Enough of pretending we are fine with 'legalised cheating'. Check this below article out for the statistics a popular polygamy website received when people searched on polygamy on google: