POLYGAMY is practiced in many communities across the globe but much more common in Muslim communities. Under Islamic marital jurisprudence, a man can take up to four wives, so long as he treats them all equally.
While it is true that Islam permits polygyny, it does not require or impose it: marriage can only occur by mutual consent, and a bride is able to stipulate that her husband-to-be is not to take a second wife.
But, as Zanzibar’s First vice president Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad puts it, the practice is now linked to violation of the rights of women and children because most men do not provide adequate care to the family as required in Islamic teachings.
Adequate care as a precondition to marrying many wives mean a man should provide essential needs such as a decent accommodation to each wife, clothing, food, medical care, and care to children.
“My fellow men let us stop marrying more than one wife, when you cannot take care of them. It is just humiliating them and violating their rights and that of children, he said recently at a meeting to discuss challenges in the society including violation of children and women rights.
He observed that when you cannot care for the family, it contributes to abuses of women and children in different ways including sexual violence and family abandonment.
“According to religious teachings, it is God who provides all the needs to every human being, but you cannot just sit and wait for him to give you food, you must work to earn money to be able to take care for your family,” said Maalim Seif. Maalim advised men not to marry many wives just for the sake of having them.
Men must understand that according to African culture and religions, the husband must provide all the essential needs to each women and children.
“This habit of marrying many wives when you cannot care for them, should stop because it is abusing them. Do not do it on the pretext of Islamic religion. The teachings are quite clear that it is only when you are ‘capable,’ many wives are allowed,” he said.
At the meeting with Maalim Seif some women rights activists and some victims of being second or third wife said sometimes it takes six or one-year without meeting their husbands. Ms Amina Ismail Juma a mother of four children and the first to a husband of three wives says her husband decided to marry more wives without consulting her.
“I would have advised him to stop his plans because he is financially unable to care even for one wife,” she said. She said that many women in polygamy, face many challenges which include insufficient support from husband who in most cases either provide completely no money or very little for the family.
“We ask the government to restrict polygamy. When a man wants many wives must prove that he is able, and those already having many wives, should be forced to provide sufficient support to all the wives and children,” she suggested. Mr Khatib Mussa Omar with three wives says he decided to have many wives to fill his sexual desire.
“And I am financially okay to handle them. But it is true that it is not good to marry many women when you cannot take care of them,” he said. But Mzee Kombo Mzee with four wives argues, “It is better for men to have many wives because they are many. We marry them and have to work to support them and children. Each man should have at least three wives.”
A Muslim scholar at the Zanzibar University Dr Muhyyidin Ahmad KHamis says that a man must be physically and financially capable to care for the family including being physically fit for the conjugal rights, providing decent shelter (home), food, clothing, and medical care and school for children.
“A man must also do justice to all his wives, and if you can’t or unable to fulfill that, then avoid polygamy. Abandoning them, or providing no assistance, plus leaving your wife for long (days and months) without sex is definitely violating their rights,” he said.