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Arab World: Article on polygamy causes a stir

weddingrings4Saudi Journalist Nadine al-Bedair has caused a stir after writing a controversial article published in Egyptian Newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm entitled “Me and my four husbands”[AR].

The article, which was published on 11 December, has sent ripples through the blogosphere due to its provocative content and tone. In the article, Nadine asks why Muslim men are allowed up to four wives, while women must settle with one husband. She opens:

ائذنوا لى أن أزف إلى أربعة.. بل إلى خمسة. أو تسعة إن أمكن
أختارهم مختلفى الأشكال والأحجام. أحدهم ذو لون أشقر وآخر ذو سمرة. بقامة طويلة أو ربما قصيرة. أختارهم متعددى الملل والديانات والأعراق والأوطان. وأعاهدكم أن يسود الوئام.

Allow me to pick up to four, five, or even nine [husbands] if i so wish…
I will choose them in different shapes and sizes. One of them will be blonde and another dark. Tall in stature, or maybe even short, i will pick them from different denominations and religions, races and countries. And i promise you there will be harmony.

Al-Bedair goes on to question the reasons traditionally used to support polygyny and prohibit polyandry, such as issues over paternity, stating that they have little validity in the modern world of science and DNA-testing.

Al-Bedair's article has been met with much criticism, as has al-Masry al-Youm, with news headlines such as al-Arabiya's “Egypt paper promotes polygamy for women” circulating in December.
In fact, al-Bedair's article has caused such outrage that a lawsuit has been filed against al-Bedair by a member of the Egyptian parliament. The article has been seen as anti-Islamic and al-Bedair could face prosecution unless she retracts her article in the same paper. The newspaper is being charged with ‘promoting vice’.
Culture et Politiques Arabes writes:

Et c’est naturellement sur ce terrain que se sont déchaînées la plupart des critiques, celles d’hommes de religion mais aussi celles d’hommes politiques, à l’image de Khaled Fouad Hafez, le Secrétaire général du PND (le parti du président Moubarak), trop heureux d’épouser ( !) cette bonne cause et qui a déposé plainte, considérant que de tels propos ne sont pas loin du blasphème.

Of course, it is on this topic [of religion] that most of the criticisms have been let loose;- those from religious men but also those of politicians, such as like Khaled Hafez Fouad, Secretary General of the NDP (the party of President Mubarak), all too happy to jump on the bandwagon and file a complaint, considering such remarks as close to blasphemy

There have been numerous comments on the article criticizing al-Bedair, accusing her of everything from blasphemy to loose morals and perversion. However, there have been those who have defended her article, stating that it has reopened the debate on polygamy and served the purpose of highlighting how badly some husbands treat their wives.

Aisha Gawad at Elan, an online publication on global Muslim youth culture says:

Both the newspaper and the author should be commended for not being afraid to spark honest (even if controversial) conversations. Especially as a woman working in the public sphere (as a TV journalist) Al-Bedair is kind of a baller for writing something she knew would be greeted with more scorn than applause. I think we should all tip our hats/hijabs/kufis to her.

Joseph Mayton at Bikya Masr wrote a piece on the article. The first comment, left by ‘an Egyptian’ states:

No, polygamy should not be allowed for both men and women. It should be banned for both.

-But is that perhaps the point that al-Bedair was trying to highlight all along?

Marwa al-Bahraini, in her blog has the overall reaction that people have been too quick to judge the article without fully understanding its intent.

اثبات عقد النكاح لا يتم الا باثنان الزوج و الزوجة ، اذا لم لا يشركها الرجل في قرارته او حتى في مشاعره…

هذا هو المقال للكاتبة نادين البدير

هذه وجهة نظري للموضوع ، الجميع لم يتعمق بقراءة المعنى الحقيقي المقصود من وراء عنوان اثار الجدل، ارادت اثارة الجدل لأن ما يثير الجدل يرغب القارئ بأن يقرأ ، للاسف الجميع غض النظر عن القراءة و راح يهاجم العنوان.

…Fulfillment of a marriage contract depends on two people alone: one husband and one wife. If not, the man is not sharing his decisions, or even his feelings with his wife.
This is [the meaning of] Nadine al-Bedair's article.
This is my view on the matter. People have not read the article carefully, have not seen the true meaning intended behind the controversial title.
They have sought out contoversy because that is what they want to find;- in doing so they have unfortunately turned a blind eye to the text and gone straight to attacking the title of the piece.

It seems this is a view supported by others, who are keen to point out that much of the coverage of the issue has jumped on the controversy without understanding the intent of the article.
Hiba comments at Meedan:

يفتقد تقرير البي بي سي لطبيعة المادة في المقالة الأصلية. لازم عليك أن تسأل: ” هل تدعو البدير فعلا النساء إلى طلب السماح لهن باتخاذ أكثر من زوج, أو أنها تحاول إعادة قضية تعدد الزوجات إلى الأضواء؟

This BBC report misses the tongue-in-cheek nature of the original article. One has to ask “Is al-Bedair really asking for women to be allowed to take multiple husbands, or is she trying to bring the polygamy issue back into the spotlight?

(The BBC coverage she is referring to can be read here.)

Egyptian Ahmed Zidane comments on a piece [AR] written by Mahdi at MidEast Youth, entitled “Multiple spouses-for one wife!!!!”, which is highly critical of al-Bedairs article, stating:

يا أستاذ مهدي
مقالة السيدة نادين هي مقالة هزلية، وأندهش كيف لم تدرك هذا من بين سطورها؟ كل ما تريده هي المساواة بالرجل، أي قانون زواج وضعي “برسم خارطة جديدة للزواج.” أما إذا لم يستغنِ الرجل الشرقي عن حقه الديني في أربعة زيجات، فلما لا يتم إعطاء الحق بالمثل للمرأة؟؟ أراني أتفق معها يا أستاذ مهدي… أتفق في أن أن تساوى الرجل بالمرأة… كل له زوج واحد، وفق قانون أحوال شخصية وضعي. تحياتي

Mr Mahdi, Ms Nadine’s article is a sarcastic one. I am astonished you could not read between the lines. All she wants is equality with men; a marriage law that “re-maps marriage. If the Eastern man cannot give up his religious right to four marriages, then why not give the same right to women??” I believe I agree with her, Mr. Mahdi…I agree that woman should be equal to man; each should have one spouse, in accordance with secular personal status law. Regards.

And finally, in Ontd Political, commenter leprofessional reacts in frustration to the misunderstandings, by pointing out:

I love how everyone, including Egyptian clerics to Western commentators completely MISSED the mark on Nadine al-Bedair's article…
The word SATIRE is not even mentioned once in the article or in the comments above– whereas her writing SOUNDS JUST LIKE “A MODEST PROPOSAL”.

She's criticizing polygamy, but I guess it requires one to be able to think a bit more abstractly.


  • anngell

    Maybe, she was just challenging men to behave as expected from women. It takes two to a tango. Three is a crowd.

  • Hi Katherine,

    Thanks for quoting my comment on Mideast Youth.

    At the last line of your translation, you said “personal status law.”

    However, I’ve meant a secular status law.

    I totally support Nadine!

    Greetings and thanks for the great article!

    • Hello Ahmed,
      It was an interesting comment and certainly an interesting debate has been reignited by the article.
      Regarding the translation, “قانون أحوال شخصية” is what is referred to in English as “Personal status law”; that is, it is the section of law that regulates marriages and divorces, child custody and other related matters. Is this what you were referring to? From what i understood you were speaking of thesection of the law that deals with such issues, but please let me know if i have misunderstood.
      (The body of personal status law may be moulded by either secular or religious influence, and then is incorporated into the written (civil) law;- the “personal” in the translation is referring to the “status” rather than the “law”.)

      Personal status law is actually really interesting in the Middle East. We do not really have an equivalent in Common Law or European Civil Law, in that a lot of provisions are made in many ME systems for different religious denominations etc, leading to a lot of plurality within the law, whereas that flexibility does not exist in Europe. But that is another debate-!

  • […] Arab World: Article On Polygamy Causes A Stir 1/12/10 Global Voices Online: Saudi Journalist Nadine al-Bedair has caused a stir after writing a controversial article published in Egyptian Newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm entitled “Me and my four husbands.” […]

  • M.V.Sankaran

    In India, following the policy of the British, the erstwhile colonial rulers of the country, we do allow the Muslim community to follow their ‘personal law’ with respect to limited matters like marriage, divorce, custody, maintenance, inheritance, and the like. This has been the position since independence from the British rule because the Muslim community constitute a large minority spread across the nation and are vocal about protecting their customs and traditions in spite of attempts by the majority to have a uniform civil law.

    • Manzoor H. Sarkar

      India has inherited the old British India Family Acts ( Moslem Family Law , Hindu Family Law ) and subsequently incorporated the same into its Legal System even after the independence which is continuing till today with some little amendments made during the last sixty years . The basic point is that India although proclaimed as a secular state is in fact running by old traditional religious family laws ( both Moslem & Hindu Family Acts ) and did not bring any modern secular family laws as in Europe which could be valid for the entire country for all religious groups and communities . I guess India is still a country of age old traditions and the Authority is afraid to ignite both the Hindu & Moslem communities for any major change in this field and finds it easier to continue with the old British Family Acts .

  • Hello Katherine,

    I meant a \secular\ personal status law. I mean that your translation didn’t have the word secular, which is a very important component of my comment.

    The Personal Status Law in Egypt, likewise all the Arab countries, is totally derived from Islamic teachings.

    And to give the woman her full right, we should quit depending on such backward outdated teachings as source for our constitution.

    I fully support modern secular law.

    That what I meant by

  • Manzoor H. Sarkar

    Excellent provocative article . I agree with above bloggers that it has to be read in between the lines . The message is very clear . Women should have equal & same rights like men in a modern society. So , many men find it very embarrassing to acknowledge it and are unwilling to sacrifice and hand over its century’s earned privileges in the man dominated society .Salute to the Author & The News Paper .

  • women are no need this law. she knows how to manage this side . U understand or not .

  • S. A. Khan

    I agree with M. H.Sarkar but both must have equal responsibility also. Both must share the responsibilities of marriage in way of house hold expenses, child care and many other things. Men alone are compelled now to suffer under heavy burden of most of the responsibilities of the marriage.
    Although rare in Bangladesh- Polygamy must be outlawed in all countries. “Muta Marriage” followed in some Mid-east countries must also stop. Mormons should be persuaded to take one wife only.

  • Marta

    Hi Katherine,
    Did you mean polyandry instead of polygyny in “Al-Bedair goes on to question the reasons traditionally used to support polygamy and prohibit polygyny (…)”?
    Please correct me if I’m wrong but polygamy is a “form of marriage in which a person [has] more than one spouse at the same time”. It divides into polygyny (one man having more than one wife) and polyandry (one woman having more than one husband). Thanx.

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