Polygamy: An unfair affair during Coronavirus lockdowns

Polygamous men, and women who are married to these men are finding the current coronavirus situation a big road bump or perhaps even a road block in their path to marital bliss

Several studies claim men who have more than one woman for a partner tend to live longer and happier. While these findings are highly debatable, what isn't is that polygamous men and women who are married to these men are finding the current coronavirus situation a big road bump or perhaps even a roadblock in their path to marital bliss.

Although it is prohibited in several cultures and the law in many countries, polygamy is allowed in Islam. In fact, a Muslim man is allowed to have up to four wives at a time, provided he provide for them justly by giving them equal share of love, time and other allowances, to which degree, the Holy Quran says, "But if you fear you will not do justice, then marry only one," (Surah an-Nisaa, 4:3).

Polygamy in Islam

This means that if a polygamous husband buys something, let's say a dress for one of his wives, he will have to buy a dress for all his other wives too. Similarly, if he decides to build a house for one his spouses, then each of his spouses are entitled to get one for them.

Most importantly, the man should make sure he spends equal hours or splits equal days with all his wives. For example, if he has two wives, he can decide to spend alternate days with either, or if he decides to stay with one for two days, then he should spend two days with the other wife to be fair. The reason for this is to avoid jealousy among the wives.

Since polygamy is allowed in Islam and the Sharia law, most of the Muslim countries have no problem with their men marrying multiple women and it's considered mostly a personal choice how the man chooses to treat his women and the state seldom interferes in such matters.

Polygamy during lockdown – a butt of jokes?

ayopoligami indonesia
Indonesian women hold a sign denouncing polygamy during a protest by a women's rights group in central Jakarta, 24 November 2000. An Indonesian businessman's bid to make polygamy easier was rejected by the country's constitutional court on Wednesday Darren Whiteside/Reuters

However, the recent Coronavirus pandemic which has been wreaking havoc across the entire world, has made it difficult for men with more than one wife to attend to all their wives, especially so, with the restricted movements and lockdowns in place, making polygamy an unfair affair for both the men and the women.

Recently, a Dubai man became the victim of a media gaffe after he called up a radio station to seek permission to go between the houses of his two wives, from the Director of Traffic Department of Dubai Police who was on the local radio answering questions from callers regarding the COVID-19 lockdown in the city.

"I'm married to two women," the caller said. "Should I get a permit when I move from house to house?," to which Brigadier Saif Muhair Al Mazroui laughed with the caller and advised the man to use the opportunity as a good excuse to not see his other wife if he doesn't want to be with her. The police officer confessed on air that this was not the only such question and that the department was receiving several such queries every day.

Biggest dilemma for polygamists during curfews

The internal movement restrictions caused by the Coronavirus curfews and lockdowns seem to be holding many men in plural marriages from performing their religious obligation of frequenting between houses and giving equal time to each wife. And while the general public is busy abiding by the precautionary measures, a segment of polygamist men, who wives live in different parts of the city, are in a confused state and their biggest dilemma now seems to be sleeping arrangements for their co-wives.

While, a simple solution would be to get "locked down" with the wife he loves the most, but then there is the religious obligation of giving equal time to each wife.

Fatwa on sleeping in polygamous marriage during curfew

The State of Kuwait, which recently imposed a total curfew until May 30, has released a Fatwa (Islamic decision) about sleeping arrangements in multiple marriage under curfew. An article published in the Kuwait's Al-Rai newspaper, as reported by Gulf News, gives an insight into the life of a polygamist family during these difficult times and speaks about the Fatwa.

Justice in polygamous marriage is not in sexual relations

In the article which is in Arabic, Dr Ahmad Al Hajji Al Kurdi, a Member of the Kuwaiti Fatwa Committee and an expert in Islamic jurisprudence, says that justice in polygamous marriage is in alimony and good treatment and not in sexual relations and love.

The scholar suggests that the polygamous husband who had to stay at one of his wife's place because of the total lockdown should compensate the other wives by giving them the freedom to choose between acceptance or divorce.

'Buying time' from the affected wife

Another Islamic scholar, Prof Mohammad Abdul Gaffar Al-Sharif, former Dean of the Faculty of Sharia and Islamic Studies, said that according to the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, it is permissible for the polygamist husband or his wives to buy time from the affected wife or wives in return for money.

Pick a wife's name out of a hat

Dr Al Sharif's suggestion about buying time from the affected wife was agreed upon by Dr Issa Zaki, a member of the Fatwa Committee, adding that a "draw" or "raffle" can also be made, so that the polygamist husband can "pick a wife's name out of a hat."

However, it all scholars suggest it is obligatory for the husband in a polygamous marriage to spend equal time with each wife in any circumstance, other than restrictions due to travel, illness or fear.

"There may be circumstances of fear, travel, or illness, so the husband will have to sleep with one of his wives, and the second, third, or fourth wife must understand the situation of the husband so that he does not suffer harm, disease, or so," the article quoted Al Hai, an Islamic Preacher, as saying.

Compensate with equal number of nights

Al Hai further explains that according to the Hanafi and Shafi schools of thoughts, the husband must "compensate his wife or wives with a number of nights equal to those that were lost to them," adding that the Islamic law was fair among wives.

Abdul Mohsen Al Obeilan, a Saudi preacher is of the same opinion, suggesting that a polygamous husband who continues to live with the wife with whom he was staying when the curfew was imposed, until the curfew period ended, can compensate the other wives with the equal number of nights they have lost after the curfew has ended.

Former Kuwait Member of the Parliament, Abdul Latif Al Omari, has made an appeal to the Kuwait's Minister of Interior Anas Al Saleh to issue travel permits for men in plural marriages.

Should wives feel pity for husbands?

Meanwhile, in Africa, a continent that has a sizeable Muslim population, and where polygamy is widely practiced among the tribal clans as well, religious leaders are urging wives who have been caught up in separations due to the Coronavirus curfews to be patient and understanding with their husbands.

"The wives should feel pity for their husbands because it was not their wish for the situation to be the way it is," Sheikh Badru Hamisi, a religious leader based in Mombasa, Kenya told a local publication called The Star. Likewise, female clerics also advise women to be patient. "The wife should wait for her husband to finish the days because she will also get her chance," said Ustadha Shekha Abdhulahi.

"Everything in marriage is about having an agreement with each other. The best thing is to talk it out and agree," she said, adding that the affected woman should therefore, understand the situation and move on.

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