Jordanian launches campaign to advance polygamy

Second (or more) wives club aims to solve the problem of spinsterhood, raise money to pay hold mass weddings, combat dowries.

Arab Muslim veiled hijab nikab niqab mask 311 (R) (photo credit: Ali Jarekji / Reuters)
Arab Muslim veiled hijab nikab niqab mask 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ali Jarekji / Reuters)
The wedding of Muhammad Hajaya last week was an unusual event. In the southern city of Karak, 170 miles south of the capital Amman, the Jordanian agricultural engineer married his third wife to make a political point: polygamy is good.
Polygamy is legal in Jordan, but rarely practiced. Frustrated with the growing problem of single women who can’t find mates, Hajaya established the Association to Advocate Polygamy. In its founding statement, the association said it wished to collect money in order to hold mass weddings and combat the mounting cost of dowries, which it claimed prevents men from marrying.
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"The majority of men, and some women, fear raising the issue, but their hearts speak differently than their tongues," Hajaya wrote in the association's opening statement.
Government statistics show that more and more Jordanians are opting to remain single. In 1997, marriage contracts were confirmed for 10 out of every 1,000 Jordanians, but that number dropped to eight out of 1,000 in 2006. Some 87,000 Jordanian women aged 30 and over are unmarried while the average marriage age for women rose from 21 in 1979 to 26.4 in 2008.
Polygamy had been on the decline in the Middle East throughout the 20th century, but the trend shifted in Saudi Arabia in the late 1970s and is now spreading to the rest of the Muslim world as part of the Islamic revival spreading across the region. A poll taken last year by of its members found that a majority acknowledged that Islamic law permitted it but only a third would enter such a marriage personally. A large majority of women respondents said they would never choose it.
"In a traditional Islamic society such as Jordan, spinsterhood is a real social problem," Fatima Al-Smadi, a journalism professor at Zarqa University and columnist for the Jordanian daily Al-Arab Al-Yawm, told The Media Line. "According to Islam, relations between man and woman must be within the framework of the family."
She said that there were even women in Jordan who have been propagating the idea of polygamy as a remedy to spinsterhood.
Leila Hammarneh, projects director at the Arab Women Organization of Jordan, said that her organization had tried to insert a clause in the new Personal Status Law of 2010 outlawing polygamy in Jordan, following a similar law in Morocco. She said, however, that Jordan's Ministry of Endowments refused the request, arguing it was "unimportant."
"I’m against polygamy in principle and believe it should be banned by law," Hammarneh told The Media Line. "It harms the woman's honor and adversely affects the children in the household."
She added that polygamy wasn’t limited to tribal areas in southern Jordan but was quite common in poor neighborhoods throughout the kingdom, including Amman.
But Smadi, the journalism professor, argued that it was rather the rich urban Jordanians who preferred to take more than one wife and not the agricultural rural inhabitants, where women were more independent and worked outside the home.
"The problem is there’s no scientific research on the issue. On both sides of the debate it's all personal impressions," Smadi told The Media Line.
She said that supporters of polygamy use religious justifications for their standpoint, whereas women's organizations who oppose the phenomenon tend to use secular argumentation, which rings foreign to the sensibilities of most Jordanians. But Smadi said that proponents of polygamy misinterpreted the text of the Quran.
"I believe Islam only permitted polygamy in very limited cases," she said. "Islam emphasizes justice, and when a male harms the family structure - he sins."
Smadi added that under Islam, women may insert a clause in their marriage contract prohibiting their husband from marrying a second wife, or allowing for automatic divorce in case he does.
Polygamy is a touchy issue in the Arab world. A provocative article published in 2009 by Saudi journalist Nadine Al-Bedair in the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm caused public uproar when she sarcastically demanded to marry multiple husbands. 
The Association to Advocate Polygamy admitted that on average Jordanian men remained single even longer than women, but did not explain how its proposal would affect male celibacy.