Polygamy is widely practiced in Gaza—and the women (or “sister wives”) are not happy about it.
So says Asmaa Al-Ghoul, who has just exposed this practice in an article for Al Monitor. Al-Ghoul is a heroic feminist Palestinian journalist who, in 2009, was fired for her work in which she exposed honor killings on the West Bank and in Gaza; she was harassed, threatened, and nearly arrested by Hamas for this work. I interviewed her at the time by phone and published a series of articles about her.
Now, she reports that polygamy is practiced by both rich and poor in Gaza. Anecdotally, she describes “hostility” and “hatred” between a pair of “sister-wives” who visited a beauty parlor together. She also quotes a financially independent and professionally successful woman who chose to become a second wife but who now says:
Becoming the second wife is the worst decision that a woman can make. She will always live with the guilt of taking what was not hers. In most instances, the second wife discovers that 90% of the things her husband told her about his circumstances and his first wife were lies.
Another woman, a first wife, describes the enormous “pain and humiliation” that she felt when her husband sprang a second wife upon her.
|“Becoming the second wife is the worst decision that a Muslim woman can make.”
Polygamy is legally sanctioned by Sharia law, by the Hadith, and by custom. A man is supposed to treat each woman “equally,” something that is humanly impossible to do. The classic arguments in favor of polygamy are as follows: A man does not have to remain in an unhappy marriage—but he does not have to divorce the mother of his children for whom he remains responsible; if a woman has been widowed or has no husband and if she cannot support herself, a married man can extend the kindness of “protection” by marrying her; if she is poor and cannot afford a dowry, becoming a dowry-less second, third, or fourth wife will afford her the chance of marriage and childbearing; and, if a man’s first wife cannot bear children, polygamy allows her to remain part of an extended family where she may enjoy her husband’s children in her life.
This does not always work out. One might remember how convicted Afghan-Canadian honor killer Mohammed Shafia’s second wife, Tooba Yahya, tormented his first wife, Rona Amir Mohammed, who was infertile. Mohammed, Tooba, and their son murdered Rona and three of Tooba’s biological daughters who were all seen as “too Western” for Afghan girls who lived in Canada.
I once lived in a polygamous Muslim household in Afghanistan and, based on that first-hand experience, coupled with research and interviews, it is also clear that male lust, both for sex and for as many children as possible, is also a factor in the practice of polygamy.
It is also clear that in poor families, everyone lives in close quarters and the first wife uses and abuses the second wife as her indentured servant—until or unless the second wife begins producing high-value sons. Then, the tables may turn. Also, the half-siblings are in a dead heat competition for their father’s affections, attention, and for whatever inheritance there may be.
|Muslim polygamy is rampant in the UK, where the number of such illegal unions has been estimated to be at least 20,000.