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Polygamy and contemporary morals

By Keysar Trad - posted Friday, 27 June 2008

The debate over the last couple of days on the issue of plural relationships has highlighted a number of very interesting paradigms.

First, if you are an Australian Muslim, make sure that you do not offer a faith-based solution for a social problem, this may hurt the cause, because the reaction is likely to be hysterical and some in the political establishment will have particularly interesting ways of looking at the matter.

Second, there are social practices which society is unwilling to address, people know they exist, some practice them, but overall, society lives in denial and blissful ignorance.


In February this year, the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Right Reverend Rowan Williams, suggested recognising aspects of Sharia to address problems that women face in the UK. He was lambasted all over the media, there was a hysterical frenzy because he had the audacity to suggest that the Divine teachings in Islam could, because some people believe in them, offer real solutions to these adherents.

Recently, there were several reports about the UK government considering the recognition of plural relationships, which for lack of a better idiom, are referred to as polygamy.

When we refer to polygamy, for the purposes of this article, we are not referring to a secular marriage, but to an amorous union among a group numbering more than two consenting adults. The term polygamy covers both polygyny which is a union of one man with more than one woman and polyandry which is a union of one woman with more than one man. In essence, this term is gender neutral in that it does not give preference to one gender over another but includes relationships between one person of either gender and more than one of the other gender.

The UK government did not state that it would encourage the practice, rather, it said that it would grant official recognition to such marriages where they take place outside the country. While most articles focused on the entitlement to welfare, little discussion has been accorded to a recent Sharia court decision in Malaysia to delay approval for such a marriage to a man unless he proved that he had the financial and physical ability to support such a relationship.

The Old Testament raises the issue of numerous historical figures who had supported more than one wife. Their polygamy is not criticised in the Bible nor does the Old Testament in any way restrict the practice. Some verses in the New Testament seem to present the celibate ideal of Saint Paul, glorifying a monastic tradition and only suggesting marriage if the person would otherwise burn with passion. There is also the statement of Christ describing divorce and remarriage for any reason other than infidelity as adultery. This discouragement of divorce is also seen as a monogamous restriction by some.

Googling the words "Christian polygamy" will reveal several Christian websites, not just Mormon Christians, who support polygamy through the Christian scriptures.


In practice many people support simultaneous amorous relationships with more than one partner. A number of websites on infidelity suggest varying percentages of men and women have engaged in extra-marital infidelity, one website suggesting that 45-55 per cent of married women and 50-60 per cent of married men have engaged in such relations with 37 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women admitting to having affairs.

Some Muslim scholars estimate that only 1 per cent of men in Muslim societies make a legally recognised commitment to more than one wife. This suggests that the religious teachings reduce the incidence of plural relationships.

The potential of the UK decision, despite the theatrical hypothesising of the media about welfare abuse, is that individuals may eventually be protected, the welfare system will be protected and children will be recognised and theoretically, be able to grow up in a loving relationship where both parents commit to their full responsibilities.

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About the Author

Keysar Trad is the spokesperson for the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia Inc. which he founded.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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