Category Archives: Urfi Marriage

Polygamy: Infidelity with a License

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By: Alexandra Kinias —

Polygamy, a medieval practice, is still alive today in societies where sharia rules. And even in countries where the laws don’t permit it, the imams in the mosques perform polygamous religious matrimonial ceremonies. As the powers of the imams are stronger than secular laws, these religious marriages are valid without the need to register them with the authorities. So, an immigrant to a western society can have a registered wife in front of the law, and another one or two who are not. Even though polygamy is legalized in Islam, the most faithful women strongly stand against sharing their husbands with another woman. The fact that the law permits a husband to engage in a sexual relation with another woman, doesn’t stop the first wives from feeling betrayed and cheated,  by both the husbands and the state.

Islam permitted the second marriage under very strict conditions and terms. And against the beliefs of many, it was neither promoted nor encouraged. Justice between the wives is the foundation upon which polygamy was based. In the Quranic verse 4:3, Allah says, “….…if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with them, then [marry] only one….. That is the best way to avoid doing injustice.”

Islam permits a man to marry a second wife only if he is absolutely certain that he will treat his wives fairly, and that he would share everything equally between them. In other words, a man cannot favor one woman over the other, emotionally and financially, which in reality is impossible. Failing to do that precludes the validity that permits polygamy. Men’s rationalization of polygamy without following the clear guidelines that allowed it is a clear abuse to the rights granted to them.

Reasons why men marry a second wife?

With no consideration to the emotional, mental and psychological impact they inflict on their first wives and kids, men marry second wives simply because they can. With the premise that they have neither broken the law nor sinned, they practice their right to engage in sexual relations with multiple partners. This inherited medieval practice will not be obliterated in the near future. On the contrary, in societies where conservatism is on the rise and/or economy is declining, polygamy is gaining momentum.
In spite of the clear religious justifications that permitted polygamy, for most men it is just a fling. The ludicrous justification of their actions remains elusive; whether it is discontentment or boredom with their marriages, or a self-reward for life achievements. For some polygamy is a social status. With financial gains comes a new wife.

In crude terms, polygamy in reality is a license for infidelity. Polygamous conduct is propelled by men’s primal desire: sex, which is not only accepted by their peers, but is often defended too. Advocates of polygamy compare a man’s second marriage with extramarital affairs in western societies. Naturally, their ridiculous comparison favors and condones polygamy. They incriminate the western sinners who engage in extramarital affairs, while defending Muslim men for practicing a right granted to them by their faith. That’s an absurd and irrational argument, but expected from those who ignore the fact that extramarital affairs are neither accepted in western societies nor legalized by the law.

In Islam, the consent of the first wife is required for a husband to marry a second one. The first wife then has the choice to either stay married or get a divorce. And while a few men confront the first wife with their decision, the majority keeps the marriage secret in fear of confrontation that may lead to a divorce or social tarnishing, especially among family, friends or coworkers.

With the loose family laws in Egypt, men managed to keep their second marriages clandestine. But new laws were drafted to tighten the loopholes to ensure that wives are informed when their husbands register the second marriage. Inevitably, and in defiance to these laws, men either don’t register their second marriages – similar to what Muslims do in Western societies – or conclude an ‘Orfi’ marriage, which is a simple contract drafted between the bride and groom and signed by two male witnesses.

First wives vs. second wives

No doubt second marriages violate the trust between spouses, often lost forever in some cases. It is not just the jealousy from another woman that drives the first wives, but for most it is a manifestation of failure as a woman, a partner and a wife. Not to mention the tormenting emotional pain they endure. Sadly enough, and due to several factors, not all first wives choose to terminate this demeaning love triangle. Financially dependent women would resentfully stay in this hurtful relationship, accepting emotional crumbs from their husbands, with no one to thank but the lawmakers that drafted the laws that guaranteed women’s submissiveness. Had divorce laws granted women financial independence, not many would stay in a polygamous relationship.  The situation is even worse when kids are involved. Because of the loose child support laws in Egypt, many men abandon their financial obligations towards their kids, without fear of punishment. Some would do it out of negligence while others to pressure women to stay in a dysfunctional marriage against their will. Economically threatened women are compelled to accept the situation out of financial need.

Why women become a co-wife?

Women in Egypt are living under continuous societal pressure to get married, have kids and start a family. Some would marry incompatible partners simply to avoid staying single, even if it means that this marriage inevitably would end with a divorce. Divorced women are not in any better position than the single ones. They are also subjected to their share of societal pressure. How the society perceives and treats single and divorced women play a major role in spreading polygamy.

To be objective, and before throwing the blame on these women, it is important to consider thoroughly the reasons why they choose to accept a part time husband. Circumstances vary from one case to the other, and more important than denouncing these women, it is imperative to understand why they choose to become a co-wife, tolerating the social smear, labeled as home wreckers and husbands’ thieves.

There are multiple social factors that contribute to the existence and sustainability of this love triangle, on top of which is economical. Economic pressures compel young single women, divorcees and widows with kids, to accept becoming a second wife, in secret. For many, marriage becomes a necessity and becoming a co-wife and have emotional and financial stability is better than staying single. Having a man that would provide the emotional and financial stability to a widow and her kids is a dream come true to many. Also the societal pressures on single women, who passed their prime age, leave them with fewer choices of single men and more of married ones.

Conclusion:

While polygamy is no doubt an emotional crime committed against the marriage, it is more relevant not to blame the women who take part in it as much as blaming the laws that favor men. These laws force women into one form of submission or another. The sustainability of polygamy is an affirmation that society lacks empathy, fairness and understanding in treating its women. Eradicating polygamy will only materialize if collective efforts unite to combat the reasons that cause women to fall for such marriages in the first place.

However, it is unfair to assert that all second wives marry for financial reasons or societal pressure. In a society where out-of-marriage sex in still a taboo, marriage is the answer to both men and women who are seeking a good time, with no strings attached. Many of these marriages are short lived. When the sexual desire expires, so does the marriage. For some men with means, it becomes a way of life, always ready for a new adventure. And for a wide range of these men, such adventures take place with the knowledge of the first wives who would keep a blind eye, knowing that at the end the man always comes back to her nest.

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Forbidden Love

By: Alexandra Kinias

When Lena came to life she became a household name. She was not the first child to be born out of wedlock, but her mother, Hind Hinnawy was the first woman who publicly sued a man to prove his paternity. She stood up for her unborn child’s right to live, in one of the most controversial cases the Egyptian courts dealt with.

Costume designer, Hind Hinnawy, met actor Ahmed Fishawy on the set of a movie. They fell in love, draft and signed an urfi marriage document. And as always problems unfolded when Hind announced her pregnancy.

In a society where both conservatism and hypocrisy are moving parallel, premarital sex is forbidden, but urfi marriages are widely spreading between young couples. The disagreement among religious scholars over its legality is causing a lot of confusion and couples are using it as an excuse to legalize their sexual relationships.

In urfi marriages, two copies are drafted and signed by two witnesses. Each party keeps a copy, and the alleged husband is neither financially responsible for his wife nor kids, but the kids carry his name.

If a woman loses her copy, she can’t prove she was married. If the man denies the marriage, the woman has the entire burden to prove that the child belongs to him.

When Hind’s pregnancy was announced, Ahmed consulted a religious scholar who advised Hind to abort the child.  She refused and Ahmed stole her urfi copy to force her to terminate the pregnancy. It was ironic that the voices of the religious scholars that were preaching against abortion from the beginning of time agreed that aborting the child was less sinful than having one out of wedlock. The decision that was made by a man for the welfare of another man only proved how they are supportive of their own kind.

Destroying the urfi marriage paper is a good strategy that usually works. But Hind’s courage was unexpected. She informed her parents of the situation and in an unprecedented event they fully supported her.  When the story reached the media, Hind’s father, Professor Hinnawy was subjected to humiliation and hurtful remarks against him and his daughter’s honor which he tolerated with patience. After all,  Egypt had never witnessed before a man, on public television, discussing the circumstances of his daughter’s pregnancy out of wedlock.

Ahmed Fishawy, the father to be, denied all allegations of his relationship with Hind. And when Lena was born, he refused a court order to undergo a DNA test to prove his paternity. Under Egyptian law a child with no father’s name can’t have a birth certificate. Lena’s future was ruined before it had even started. Religious scholars insisted that children born out of wedlock have to pay for their parent’s mistakes.

Hind and her parents didn’t rest until the judge ruled in her favor and Lena was granted her father’s name, two years after she was born. Critics of the ruling warned that this would encourage more people of having premarital sex, but those who supported the ruling said that  men will think twice before abandoning their responsibilities.

In November 2008, shortly before Lena’s fourth birthday, Ahmed Fishawi publicly admitted that he is in fact her father.

Lena’s story had a happy ending, but unfortunately that was the exception not the rule. There are more than 14,000 similar cases being fought in the Egyptian courts.  To carry the message forward, Hind formed an NGO to help unwed mothers to fight for their children’s rights.

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