Monday, April 21, 2008

The dynamics of polygamy

For those curious about the psychological and social effects of polygamy, I recommend the chapter on marriage and family dynamics in Now They Call Me Infidel, by Nonie Darwish. Darwish makes a number of points:
  • Because men can have more than one wife, "the stage is set for women always to distrust their husbands. Nor can they trust women friends," because of the possibility that the friend might marry the husband. "The end result is an environment that sets women up as adversaries against one another, causing much unnecessary distrust and caution. Competitive relationships among women also deprive them of forming support groups ... Few Muslim women venture to form relationships outside the family or clan..."

  • Next, "fear of polygamy makes it impossible for a wife to form a bond of trust with her husband. When a husband starts earning more morney, a warning bell starts ringing in a woman's head, since he can now afford the second wife ... Women's financial insecurity can affect many areas of family life, such as the raising of children, since child support can be very difficult to collect when there are other wives and their children involved ... Under Islamic law, a second wife - and third and fourth - are legally equal to the first in every way, including inheritance." Muslim property laws reflect this situation. Women keep the property they inherit from their family, because the families do not want the wealth to go to other wives and their children. "If a Western man chooses to marry his mistress, he must first obtain a legal divorce from his first wife and settle any financial issues with her before he can marry a second time. That makes all the difference."

  • The result: "In order for Arab women to live and function around the social injustice and oppressive marriage laws, they had to develop elaborate manipulative behavior to get a modicum of respect and power."

  • Nor are the women and children the only ones to suffer; "men are negatively impacted as well. Just as his loyalty to his wife is secondary, so is her emotional loyalty to him. "If she cannot feel secure in their relationship, neither can he." If husbands are shortchanged, it is even worse for those who do not marry. "Poor Muslim men have to compete with older, wealthier married men for single women."

  • Finally, polygamy affects the structure of familial loyalty, as "the woman ends up shifting her loyalty to her firstborn son and her own blood relatives ... frequently, a woman's father or brother will step in to settle disputes with her husband, even after many years of marriage ... The end result is that family cohesion and structure is fragemented, and loyalties become tangled in endless complications."


Always On Watch said...

Our media are obsessed with reporting on the polygamy compound in Texas, but will not discuss similar practices in the Islamic world--even though the parallels are numerous.

I have Nonie Darwish's book and will re-read the chapter you cited.

Anonymous said...

hi, new to the site, thanks.