There is a whole legal debate that could be had on this topic from the perspective of legislation already enacted to govern the relationships between men and women. However, this would be no where near as fun as a rant and call the debate on this as one sees it! So, it is a rant in preference to a 'fair & balanced' examination of the pros and cons.
The recent release of an Indonesian film, Ayat-Ayat Cinta (Verses of Love) has struck a chord and is doing the rounds of the blogs and other sites. This debate is providing interesting and impassioned responses, so here is mine!
I have just read a blog by Ubergirl87. I am guessing the girl means she is in fact a woman and 87 refers to the year she was born. Assumptions can always get you into trouble but in any event it is an enlightening post. It relays a recent occurrence where some one asked a cleric about whether the husband and his two wives could engage in a threesome.
Aside from the obvious spice this might add to a presumably dull marriage, the question was how does Islam respond to such an encounter. As the cleric sees it, why not! Always conditions of course, and here the condition is that the partners (the wives in this case) cannot see each other -- modesty! I have to assume that the husband is allowed to look otherwise it could provide new meaning to getting knocked-up and a bruising encounter! Three people running around blindfolded might be too much to handle for some. This idea of modesty might also give meaning to the paper bag over one's head during the act of love making!
But back to polygamy. So, who wants to be the second, third, or fourth wife? Even the stars of the movie, all of whom seem to support the practice, seem to agree that they do not mind polygamy but are not so keen on being wife No. 2!
Is polygamy a form of exploitation and violence against women? In the al-Quran it is clear that there is an honourable element to the practice, or at least this is what I am told (I have read the relevant parts myself), men that are financially well to do marrying widows. But there is also a much more objectionable component in that it can be done for political reasons such as suring up familial alliances. This might not be such a prevalent aspect of the practice now but the question remains, why do Muslim men marry more than one wife? Is it purely altruistic or is it that men do so to give themselves some variety in the sexual partner category?
Indonesia has some well-to-do and famous polygamy practitioners such as the King of Dangdut, Rhoma Irama, and more recently AA Gym.
Remember it was not so long ago that the Vice President of Indonesia was on the record saying that he had no problem with Arabs coming to Indonesia and entering into temporary marriage contracts with Indonesian women. His rationale was that the women got some benefit out of this in terms of an improved financial position. The marriages might be legal according to religious laws but a two week marriage where the women gains a financial benefit at the end (and well deserved no doubt) is this really just a two-week stand, instead of the one-nighter, and in essence a form of legalized prostitution!
Personally, I think prostitution should be legalized and that way it can be better regulated and the harm of such things as human trafficking in girls and women can be reduced. It would allow the government to enforce better occupational health and safety standards, enforce age restrictions, and regulate where prostitution can occur. In other ways it is sure to be an exceptional revenue raiser for governments as they tax the proceeds. They do not call prostitution the oldest profession in the world without reason.
But once again back to the topic, polygamy! If women are prepared to enter into polygamous marriages then shouldn't this be their personal choice and their right? How far do we want the State to enter into and regulate our personal affairs? Why do men do it? The answer to this question might be as simple as, because they can!
But in the end, this is really a matter of to each their own! If you agree with the practice you can make your arguments for its maintenance and similarly if you disagree with the practice you can make equally convincing arguments for its prohibition.