Islam is the only Mainstream religion to allow Polygamy under religious law, in the past it was a part of Islam’s exotic mysteriousness. Thinking back on a childhood of stories about Sultans and Harems guarded by Eunuchs’…..of course these are stories and the older I got and more I began to meet and eventually live around many Muslims, did I realise that most Muslims are pretty much Monogamous especially in the mainly working class Bangladeshi community in this area.
The laws of Islam mean that a man can have up to four wives but only if he can a) treat them equally and b) support them all, all wives must have their own residence. I do not think there is an officially coined term to describe women married to the same man but I have seen Co- wife used occasionally.
Differences between Islamic Polygamy and Mormon Polygamy
Functionally Islam and Mormon fundamentalism are both Patriarchal religions which allow for Polygamy, however that is where the similarities end, a Muslim is a Muslim is a Muslim, in theory at least, all Muslims are treated the same, they are committed to doing good works and following the laws as written in the Quaran. You need not be a Polygamist and you are not a better Muslim for being a Polygamist. All marriages undertaken are separate and distinct. The laws governing Polygamy were put in place to kerb the excesses of the men in that region before Islam came along, wives could be turned over, her circumstances reduced when her husband brought home a new wife. Islam, compared to the culture that preceded, it was very woman focused, gave women rights that far exceeded surrounding cultures including Christianity.
What we think of now as Fundamentalist Mormonism was originally the only Mormonism and had Polygamy written into its scriptures in the Book of Mormon (before the church split off eventually and adopted Monogamy for life) Polygamy therefore becomes not just something that a Mormon can do but actually became a fundamental aspect of their faith compared to, and distinct from other Christian sects that developed in early 19thc. America as well as mainstream Christianity. As such, a complex culture of Polygamy has come into being. The preferred model is they function as a whole which comprises of distinct marriages within a family unit, the wives are encouraged to develop a sisterly relationship and have created the term Sisterwife for that purpose. Wives are encouraged to see the benefits of having a sisterwife, sharing resources and household duties, or allowing a wife who wants to work the opportunity to do so without needing institutional childcare.
Mormonism and the Secular Polygamy/ Polyfidelous movement
As evidenced by the name of this website, Mormon Polygamy and Modern America’s fascination with their previously closely guarded private community have brought Polygamy into the mainstream. . The rush was started with the HBO series ‘Big Love’ and continues with ‘Sisterwives’ which has encouraged non fundamentalist Mormons to model their ideals of Polygamy on the Positive aspects of Mormon Polygamy relationships such as, a strong united family, all wives mothering all the children and a sisterly bond between the wives.
This model has also been patched on (to little success as far as I know) to relationship models of bisexual females who wish for both a sisterwife relationship and a sexual relationship without any great thought as to whether these models are compatible.
However, Mormon Polygamy should be credited for bringing many people into the greater Poly movement and instead of women seeing a woman having a sexual relationship with ‘their man’ as a threat, women especially are often the leaders in the rush towards Polygamous living.
Islamic Polygamy: an observers view
In her book We Want for Our Sisters What We Want for Ourselves, Polygyny~Copartnering: A Relationship, Marriage and Family Alternative Professor Patricia Dixon compared Muslim Polygamous people with two other Polygamous African American communities. Islam came out very unfavourably for several reasons:
1) The women were often unprepared for the notion of Polygamy in their marriages. Often not knowing about the marriages until they have, or are about to, happen.
2) They were often ethically opposed to Polygamy.
3) They often felt their husbands were not in any financial position to care for two families and therefore were actually acting contrary to Islamic law, as one Muslim woman put it “It’s Hislam, Herlam and Theirlam, not Islam!”
4) They receive no community/religious support or advice about how to live in Polygamy.
5) As the relationships often start out with deceit, women often feel hostility to each other.
6) The wives are often living apart (as dictated under Islamic law) and therefore often see no practical benefits to having a ‘Co-wife’ but are well aware of the absence of their previously Monogamous husband.
UK media about Polygamy is almost exclusively about these ‘back door’ Polygamous unions, which, are terribly destabilising and often end in divorce. Polygamy is almost always seen as dysfunctional and an aspect of the abuses of patriarchal religion (often covering thinly veiled Islamophobia) rather than a lifestyle choice any (sane) woman would choose for her family. Positive Poly imagery in the UK comes exclusively from the Polyamory scene. Which offers little support for Islamic Polygamists due to the religious objection to homosexuality and Polyandry acceptable within the Polyamorous community.
It remains to be seen whether the media exposure of the Polyamorous community and their stressing of ‘Communication, integrity and honestly’ and the Mormon Polygamous One big family and Sisterwife relationships will have an effect on the way Islamic Polygamy has been practised so far. Seeing as Muslims have a mandate to practice Polygyny under Shariah law, women in Islam in favour of the practice can push for more community support, classes at Mosques to help first and subsequent wives, which can only be a benefit to how they choose to practice it. In the traditional Islamic manner of the wives operating mostly separately or whether they start to take advantage of the benefits to Poly living and start utilising the resources which enable us to have the skills to function successful in Poly relationships.
So, open floor, what do you think? I have not seen many Muslim women seeking out Polygamy, just often Muslim women who are in it.
Has any Muslim women noticed any impact of the Poly revolution in their community?