05 October 2009
Polygamy -- A Solution to Adultery and Divorce?
Keysar Trad tends to be a polarizing figure. The President of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia is renowned for speaking his mind. His views on polygyny and polygamy are likely to give rise to heated debate, or none at all, as to whether the practice of a man having two or more wives is acceptable within the cultural framework prevalent in Australian culture at the current time.
Trad's views are not anything new in the sense that he has held them for a long while and spoken of them often. Most recently at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney last weekend (3-4 October 2009 at the Sydney Opera House) as part of a presentation on polygamy and other Islamic values.
The idea that polygamy is an Islam or Muslim issue is not entirely true. So, it is always interesting that it is portrayed as such with comments like, in Judeo-Christian beliefs we marry one person for life. The Emperor Justinian introduced the concept of a legally enforceable monogamy in 534.
Nevertheless, where this gets all a little tricky is the suggestion that polygyny or polygamy might be a means of dealing with increasing adulterous behaviour and divorces that result as a consequence of such behaviour. This seems to me to be an over-simplification of a complex problem. That is not to say that sometimes the simplest of solutions are the most obvious, but it seems to negate our very nature as human beings to be jealous of others. It is not unheard of for people to kill one another of petty jealousies.
Yet, what is good for the gander must also be good for goose. Not only men have affairs, women have them too. So, if polygyny and polygamy are a means of reducing adulterous behaviour and subsequent conflict and divorce, then women who have affairs must also be afforded the opportunity to take on a second or third or a fourth husband as required. Let's face it, if the viagra is no longer cutting the slack, women have needs too (so I am told). Yet, polyandry is frowned upon.
It is worth noting that bigamy in Australia will set you up for a possible jail stint. Hence, it is much more practical to go and get a little bit on the side as an affair rather than marry to get it on the side. Nevertheless, the law recognizes that some people opt for long-term affairs and deals with the issues that arise with the existence of a whole other family. The new "mistress laws" as they are sometimes referred, are in fact an amendment to the Family Law Act of 1975. It is also worth noting that Australian law recognizes plural marriages for the purposes of the division of property when the plural marriage fails / dissolves.
Polygamous marriage occurs in Australia. The manner in which it is done shows a good deal of creativity in getting around the criminal provisions that prohibit plural marriages. In many ways it resembles the Indonesian practice of "kawin siri".
Kawin siri is a marriage ceremony that is witnessed and conforms to the standards imposed on Muslims with respect to being married in the eyes of God. It is, however, not registered and therefore is not legally recognized. In the Australian context something similar happens. The couple are married according to Islam. However, the marriage is not registered and in a very strict legal sense the husband and his second, third, or fourth wives are living in a de facto relationship and not a legally recognized marriage.
Nevertheless, as was noted, the amendments to the law would mean that the second, third, and fourth wives in the event of a breakdown of the marriage / de facto relationship would be entitled to claim property or support.
Trad relies on the "fact" that Islam demands very specific requirements from a man before he can enter into a plural marriage, including the permission of his first wife. The arguments as to whether the first wife really has any choice are arguments for another post, perhaps. However, it is interesting to read the argument characterized in this way:
"Yes, polygyny may lead to jealousy. We are all human. But in a caring and sharing world where we become euphoric when we give to those in need, sponsor orphans and provide foster care, the ultimate in giving is for a woman to give a fraction of her husband's time and affection to another woman who is willing to share with her. It is a spiritually rewarding experience that allows women to grow while the husband toils to provide for more than one partner."
I am not sure whether I have written this post to spark debate or merely because I find the arguments somewhat intriguing. In any event, perhaps the question must be, "should bigamy be a crime?"
(Picture courtesy of here).