Living in the Middle East one does become accustomed to various traditions and customs surrounding Muslim life. Strict dress codes and religious practices become acceptable after a few years and you begin to stop noticing and marveling at the lives of your Arabian counterparts.
However, there are still aspects of the culture that don’t rest comfortably on western shoulders. Under Sharia law Muslim men are permitted to marry up to four wives. I should clarify that the men are permitted to maintain and sustain the four women all at once. All wives are entitled to separate living quarters at the behest of the husband and, if possible, all should receive equal attention, support, treatment and inheritance. In modern times, it is uncommon for a Muslim man to have more than one wife; if he does so, it is often due to the infertility of his first wife. This whimsical disrespectful attitude to the wonderfully restrictive institution of marriage doesn’t make for easy digestion especially to an Irish wife whose official post in the Middle East is as wife of her employed husband and sponsor.
Threatened by the very mention of polygamy, and jealous at the notion of my husband (should he convert to Islam and turn into an Arab) enjoying the company of three other women ( mothers, sisters and daughters excluded) I express my disapproval at the every opportunity and utter abhorrence for such a practice.
It wasn’t until I read an article in the Gulf Times that my strong opinions became slighted altered. The piece mentioned a female teacher in Saudi Arabia who received a proposal of marriage and would only accept if the groom married her two friends at the same time, also teachers. The groom subsequently came under significant pressure from her family and friends (different friends)to agree to the bride’s request. He then had to set each of new wives up in apartments of equal standard, incidentally he was able to secure three leaseholds in the same building, handy. The piece continued by saying that, “ the groom then had to treat them equally physically and emotionally and in regard to sustenance, expenditure, time and all obligations as a husband”.
Having a mild interest in the story, I have since been keeping a casual eye on the headlines to see if there is a follow-up story about how the foursome are working out. Neither “Man found dead of exhaustion in apartment block” or “Man sells vital organ to pay for wives shopping sprees” appeared on the pages thereafter so one can only gather that the arrangement is working well. So then I start ponder more deeply on the technicalities of the marriage. On a Saturday night does he book an intimate table for four at the local restaurant? Does he end up with 6 weeks holiday in Corfu, taking each wife for 2 weeks at a time or does be book a villa and bring them all? And what about the wives, is it a dream date to have your two friends come along or does the saying three’s a crowd come constantly spring to mind.
Not seriously considering the same course but nonetheless able to recognise the benefits, I begin to think which two friends I would welcome into the marriage and the advantages of same. The opportunity to share the chores, washing, ironing, gardening etc all began to sound agreeable.
As the children would come along, each of the women could take turns doing the school runs in the family 21 seater mini-bus and you would never be lonely again as you always have company and someone to moan about your husband to, someone who would completely understand because, guess what, she’s married to him too!
Then I thought of the reality of an Irish man being allowed to have three wives, it would mean, three women living in negative equity, three women to share in the Indian takeout on a Friday night and three women splitting the much deserved weekend bottle of red and I thought, no was Jose. Monogamy all the way.