Multiple wives often misunderstood, Muslims say

While the practice is not legal in the United States, polygamy is accepted in some parts of the world and permitted under certain circumstances in some religions, including Islam.

Abu-Ibrahim Mohamed, a member of the Islamic Society of the Seacoast Area in Dover, said Muslims look to their faith for guidance in life, including a perspective on polygamy.

“Islam presents a unique world view and a complete way of life,” he said in an e-mail to the newspaper.

Muslims look upon marriage as a scared institution and a serious commitment, he said.

Polygamy is a highly regulated contract that multiplies the vows of marriage. So it’s an additional challenge for the faithful, he said.

“Many times, polygamy is looked at as man’s right to legally marry more than one woman,” he said. “This is a totally flawed way of looking at the matter.”

He said people should consider looking at it as a woman’s right to be cared for and provided for, and to have the full legal rights of a wife.

The Quran regulates polygamy, like other aspects of life, he said.

There are conditions that make polygamy permitted at times and prohibited at others, and recommended for some and not others depending on the circumstances, he said. The issue is misunderstood by many, even some Muslims.

Stereotypes also cause misunderstanding. This has led many Muslims in the United States to take a defensive or sometimes apologetic approach resulting in more inaccurate representations, he said.

Mohamed said many Muslim Americans would agree that the outlawing of polygamy is denying certain citizens their full freedom of religion.

Also, he said, many Muslim Americans “can’t understand the reasons behind outlawing polygamy while tolerating other practices or affairs that are void of any legal commitments or moral values.”

But legalizing polygamy does not mean conditions are appropriate for its practice, he said. Prevailing cultural norms, economic conditions, or other regulations might not make polygamy viable.

That’s why it is “highly unlikely” that many Muslim Americans would practice polygamy even if it is legalized, he said.

Debra Majeed, an assistant professor in religious studies at Beloit College in Wisconsin, has conducted research on polygyny among Muslim Americans.

The practice of polygyny (a husband taking more than one wife) is limited to a minority of the global Muslim community, and less than 1 percent of the American Muslim population practices it, she said.

“Opponents of same-sex unions, rather than proponents of polygyny as practiced by Muslims, are the usual sources of arguments that a door open to one, would encourage a more visible practice of the other,” she said in an e-mail.

Many Muslim American leaders encourage their constituents to observe the law of the land and enter into only heterosexual monogamous unions, she said.

“My data suggests that the legalization of polygyny would lead more Muslims to ‘legalize” or register their marriages with the appropriate civil authorities,” she said. “I am not convinced that more Muslims would choose to enter into new polygynous unions if such forms of marriage were legalized.”

Yvonne Haddad, a professor of the History of Islam at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, agrees.

She said the imams she has surveyed will not sign a marriage contract for a Muslim couple unless it is approved by the American legal system.

Also, she said, “Muslims are adamantly against same-sex marriages.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday June 5, 2007.
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