Marriage is a beautiful, sacred ritual which binds two lovers together for the rest of their lives, building a future and raising a family together. But is it still sacred if it is between more than two people?
Polygamy is a phenomena whereby a man has married more than one woman, having two or more wives simultaneously. In the Islamic culture, polygamy is legal, and a man is allowed to marry up to four women, however a woman may only marry one. The reason being that if a man can afford to have more than one family, then he should do so to further carry out his name and take care of as many children and women as he can.
Furthermore, Islam recognizes that men have a stronger sexual desire than women, and so by allowing polygamy, the man can have multiple wives without feeling the guilt of cheating on their only partner. In Australia, it is believed that around fifty or more Muslim families are polygamist, and this is a growing minority as stated by Islamic Friendship Association of Australia president, Keysar Trad. Majority of women who are married to a man with multiple wives feel it is unfair, and feel as though they by themselves are not good enough for the man.
Polygamy is illegal in Australia, however continues to be a growing issue. The question remains then, how are they getting away with it? It seems that some Muslim men marry multiple women in their country of birth, or at a Mosque so that they are not breaching the Australian law. It is worthy to mention though, that this issue does not only occur in Muslim cultures.
Housewife and mother of three Shenny Gale has been devastated since April 2007, when she came to find out that her husband had married another woman whilst remaining married to her. “He had actually been married since 2005…I found out through a family friend two years later what had happened”. Shenny and her husband were happily married for eighteen years prior to the second marriage of her husband. “I was so shocked and confused, I would cry every night to sleep”.
Shenny had been a close family friend to the second woman, the mother of three daughters, and believed her husband was only going over to see the woman to help her out with her marriage problems. “She divorced her first husband after a year and married mine. They married the Islamic way, but ‘til this day I still don’t understand how they have done this”. When Shenny tried to get a divorce, the lawyers insisted on Australian proof of her husband being married to a second woman, which she did not have. “No one is happy in my home. Not me, not my kids. But we can’t do anything about it”.
Feeling helpless and frustrated, Shenny says that she tries to pretend everything is okay for the sake of her children. “It’s ten years later and I still wonder how someone can do this. I don’t have any answers…all I can do now is pray to God and hope things will get better”. According to Shenny, she believes that in Islam a man is allowed to marry another woman simultaneously only if the other woman is desperately in need, unable to have a family, or is disabled. But in this situation, this was not the case.
According to the Islamic religion, in order to avoid feelings of hatred and betrayal if ever finding out that a wife has been cheated on, polygamy is implemented so that the husband does not secretly have an affair. By allowing a man to marry up to four women, the relationships are made public and there are no secrets in the marriage. Islam recognizes that this may be troubling for a woman whose husband has just married another woman, especially if the man is unable to treat both wives equally. And for this reason, even though divorce is frowned upon, it is permitted in such cases.
Dr. Shenaz Zia, wife and mother of two daughters shares her perspective on polygamy in Australia. “I don’t think that this level of relationship can be shared, and the one aspect of the Quran which does allow you to have a second, third or fourth wife says that as long as you share the relationship equally, then it is acceptable. Which means sharing love and wealth equally, and I feel that the emotional aspect cannot be shared equally”. Dr. Shenaz feels that marriage should strictly be between one man and one woman, unless it is absolutely necessary to marry another, and if so, it should be done right. “It is supposed to be the husband’s right after taking permission from his current wife”.
Some men seem to have taken advantage of the allowance of marrying more than one woman, hence no longer being moral even according to the Islamic religion. “The same sentence in the Quran which allows a man to have four wives elaborates on equality and justice… equality at every measure”. Dr. Shenaz explains that whilst there may be exceptions for polygamy, it is emotionally unacceptable. “Equality can be granted financially yes, but I do not feel that equality can be granted at an emotional level… Personally, I do not believe that my husband can love me, and another woman at the same time equally”.
Polygamy within the Islamic religion in particular, is still an under-recognized issue in Australia making women in these situations feel helpless and of less worth. Majority of these women live without a voice, forcing themselves to deal with the situation as it is permitted in their religion. But what the men must realize is that they are not to take advantage of this aspect, and if they are going to marry more than one woman, they must follow the guidelines which mention justice, and emotional equality, for the sake of all their women.