Magazine article The Spectator

Islam and Polygamy

Magazine article The Spectator

Islam and Polygamy

Article excerpt

Not being religious, it never ceases to amaze me when I hear intelligent, well-educated people swallowing religious beliefs whole or allowing their lives to be governed by them. I just don't have the faith to believe the fairy stories of Christianity, for example. Nor can I adhere to any other religion. As Islam is our current rather necessary preoccupation, I was startled to hear the Muslim journalist Shagufta Yaqub saying on Radio Four that, when she got married, she insisted on the right to continue her education and to initiate a divorce, if need be, but 'the question of polygamy was more difficult to resolve. Should I insist that my husband never take another wife? In the end, I decided to leave the possibility open. If God has allowed polygamy, I thought, who am I to challenge it?'

In fact, she wasn't very keen on the idea at all. She concluded at the end of Inside the Harem, her two programmes about polygamy in the Islamic world last week and this (Wednesdays), that she couldn't tolerate her husband taking a second wife. As Yaqub talked to those in polygamous relationships both in Britain and in Pakistan, I couldn't help thinking - not for the first time - what a wonderful male racket Islam is. The Koran allows men to take up to four wives even if the secular law of the land doesn't. She found that the practice here was more common than she had hitherto thought. Harem is the Arabic word for sanctuary, and an Islamic scholar and imam in Cambridge told us that the Victorians had given it the image we have of it today, where we imagine lots of wives lolling about waiting for the Sultan to appear. In fact, he said, they were more monastic and spiritual. I dare say he's right, but I'm not sure I believed it.

Yaqub met Abdul (not his real name) from Birmingham who had taken a second wife. At first, both wives lived in separate houses with their children, but now they're all under the same roof. 'It's the nature of woman that they will only want one husband, and it's the nature of man that he will want more than one wife,' Abdul declared confidently. Yaqub wasn't sure about this, wondering if women had got it all wrong about giving their heart and soul to a man to be together for life. …

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