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).


oigal said...

The fact that a man(?)like Keysar could get one wife would indicate that a hefty amount of duress is involved in these marriages.

Still all cultures are equal aren't they?

I do find your position that if the old man cannot satisfy the wife then she should be able to collect a couple of extra husbands on the side. Sounds fair to me!

Rob Baiton said...


I think it sounds fair on the very simplistic gander and goose analogy.

Not getting into the culture debates. I think that is the domain of Bill O'Reilly, isn't it? He is after all the self-proclaimed "culture warrior"...

Kay Danes said...

Oh come on he's just bragging that he can handle two women at one time!


oigal said...

Well handling something thats for sure. :-)

Culture debates? Actually its the elephant in the room is it not? How far should a society go to accommodate the social and cultural needs of new immigrants.

If multi wives is ok then female circumcision is ok..if thats ok then arranged marriages under duress is ok..if thats ok then...

Trouble is seems impossible to have rational debate about it which just provides the shock jocks with easy targets.

Rob Baiton said...


Don't know the fella. Maybe he is, but don't all men do that (or fantasize about being the stud)?


Maybe it is the elephant in the room.

Don't cultures "generally" absorb what they approve and reject that which they do not?

oigal said...

"Don't cultures "generally" absorb what they approve and reject that which they do not?"

That would be the more progessive view yes. I would suggest isn't happening for a number of reasons, leading to a backlash against immigration across the board. Which in its own right is a bad thing.

Rob Baiton said...


Does that mean I am a progressively liberal leaning lefty?


Anonymous said...

I would think little doubt about that..but it's ok. I like to have friends in leftist places I can call on if I end up on the wrong side of the revolution :-)

oops its me Oigal