Survey finds 70 per cent of Malaysian Muslim women believe polygamy is a right for men


Suggested reading: Polygamy in Islam: What It Means?  The Muslim Times has the best collection on women rights

Prominent women’s rights activist Marina Mahathir says there is a disconnect between what Muslim women expect and what happens in real life

By Tashny Sukumaran

A whopping 70 per cent of Malaysian Muslim women believe that polygamy is a right for Muslim men, according to a survey released by an Islamic women’s rights group in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

But despite the widespread acceptance of polygamy, only 32 per cent of the 650 respondents in the study by NGO Sisters in Islam would allow their husbands to take another wife.

A common complaint in the 176 polygamy-related divorce cases handled by Telenisa, the legal aid clinic run by Sisters in Islam, was that men had entered into subsequent marriages without the knowledge or permission of the first wife.

Another issue was that of financial maintenance: 9.7 per cent of Telenisa’s clients in polygamy cases said their husbands no longer supported them, and 10.8 per cent said their children did not receive any financial support from their fathers.

In some cases, these marriages were done in secret at the border of Malaysia and Thailand, bypassing domestic laws, Sisters in Islam said.

In Malaysia, Muslim men are allowed to marry up to four wives. Although the law previously stipulated that men would have to maintain their wives and show that subsequent marriages were both “just and necessary”, amendments allowed for marriages to be registered without the court’s permission as long as a small fine was paid, and removed the requirement to maintain the current wives’ standard of living.

Previous Sisters in Islam studies revealed that 65 per cent of legal aid clients were unaware of their husbands’ subsequent marriages, and that 40 per cent had complained of reduced monetary contributions to the family.

The latest survey, titled “Perceptions and Realities: The Public and Personal Rights of Muslim Women in Malaysia”, found that gender inequality was still a pervasive problem, with Muslim women facing realities starkly different from their expectations of an environment where Islamic rules are followed.

A rise in extremism has also had an impact on individual lives, said Sisters in Islam executive director Rozana Isa.

Despite the recent change in government, there were insufficient efforts to reform the law to protect women and children, she said.

About 32 per cent of women felt they did not have the right to decide on sexual relations within their marriage, while 62 per cent said it was not acceptable for wives or mothers to be the household breadwinner.

‘This is a sin’: why are turbans in Malaysia so divisive?

The study found that 96 per cent of respondents agreed that they had to obey their husbands, something that could potentially lead to reluctance to leave violent household situations. And 21 per cent believed that a husband had a right to beat his wife.

But 94 per cent of those surveyed said they expected to be treated fairly and 88 per cent expected to be treated gently, while 81 per cent thought their husband would share in household responsibilities.

However, the reality was that 82 per cent of respondents felt their emotional wellbeing was ignored and 83 per cent said husbands left all chores to their wives.

Marina Mahathir, activist, writer, and daughter of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Photo: Handout

“There is a disconnect between what Muslim women expect and what actually happens in real life to them,” said Marina Mahathir, a prominent women’s rights activist and member of Sisters in Islam.

“The disconnect is further pronounced because people have come to think that this is the way things should be.”

Marina, who is also the daughter of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, urged policymakers to read the survey in full.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Survey finds most Muslim women accept polygamy


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7 replies

  1. ok, these are facts of life. I would have liked the author however to point a bit more what is correct according to Islamic law and what is not.

    ‘Secret marriages’ are not according to Islamic law. The whole idea of the marriage ceremony is to make it public.

    And of course husbands must comply with their financial obligations.

  2. Well hey, if women allow it in actuality?

    All the power to it and them plus the lucky men.

    If they are forced to do it against their wills by laws, fake polls and otherwise?

    Not cool, oh and make sure they are over 18, let kids be kids before womanhood.

  3. Polygamy in Islam is not a right for men. It is only a permission limited by regulations.
    Permissions are given for exceptional and unusual circumstances. The regulations with permissions must be followed.
    Before a man can have a second wife, he must have a medical examination to rule out any illnesses causing his increased sexual desire. Then he must pass a means test. He must have financial means to reasonably support two wives. He must also have permission from his first wife too. Then he must be monitored afterwards for his fair treatment of both his wives.
    Otherwise he should fast to control his sexual desires.

    • nearly agree. Most scholars however say that permission of first wife is not essential. Problematic in any case. Financial means comes and goes. Health too.

  4. There is a general misconception that men among the community look to plural marriage as a means to satisfy their lust and exploit and degrade women. It is this stereotype that we would like to dispel.

    Polygamy is the best solution to end prostitution and teenage pregnancies and abortions. Every male must be allowed to have at least four wives to eradicate immoral behaviour in the society. A former Dutch MP has admitted that recognizing polygamy in law is the next logical step after redefining marriage to include same-sex couples. Speaking to the French online magazine, Yagg, Boris Dietrich said there was now a movement in the Netherlands to introduce multi-partner marriages. The Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, has expressed fears that politicians would redefine marriage to include “multiple partners” after same-sex ‘marriages’ were introduced in the state in 2011.The youth wing of the Finnish Green Party also proposed the legalisation of polygamy in the country in July 2011, whilst the Toronto District School Board in Canada came under fire after releasing a poster in schools promoting polygamous marriages.

    Have you seen the conditions for having four wives? Have you read up on anything? The Prophet was brought to this Earth as an example to the rest of us on how to live our lives. There were four distinct examples of women in the women he married in his lifetime. He did not marry them because of lust or whatever you’re insinuating. He treated every woman in his life with complete respect and kindness.

    The British law does not recognize a second wife as a legal wife where as Islam does. If the British law can accommodate common law arrangements between long term partners and same sex marriages then why can it not also accommodate a second wife of a Muslim male as his legal wife? How does making this provision for Muslims affect non Muslims in any way?

    Muslim immigration to Britain is a relatively recent phenomenon from 1945 onwards. I can see from various discussions on this thread that there is an unease about allowing separate laws for the Muslim community in accordance with Islam.

    What about Roman Catholicism which was if I am not wrong the religion in Britain until the separation and formation of the Church of England by Henry the eighth? Do the British Roman Catholics follow the laws of the country or are they allowed some contracts and laws in accordance with their faith?

    The British identity is not based on religion and therefore its easy for them to accommodate different religions. Islam came under severe criticism after 9/11 and a deplorable act by a bunch of terrorists led to this unfounded fear and distrust of all Muslims in all the Western countries which is unfortunate to say the least. What about the Jews? Are they allowed separate contracts/laws in accordance with their religion?

  5. The British and European identity is fundamentally based on Christian teachings, whether Catholic or non-Catholic, the same as Muslim identify with the teachings of Islam, although not all people necessarily adhere to those teachings in either case. So far as Polygamy is concerned, it is not allowed in the Christian-based world. You can argue that some men have multiple relationships, but that goes against the principles of the laws. If there are problems in a marriage, then the law now allows for divorce, although that was not always the case, and even now is sometimes frowned upon, but it is sometimes the best solution for all parties concerned, However, divorce is often not without consequences, there are children and finances to consider, perhaps not too difficult for richer people, but not easy for the poorer. There are no easy answers, as to so many questions. And Polygamy (which I am opposed to) would have much the same issues, especially in the Western world. I know of several Muslim people who took another wife, and it caused tremendous misery to the families concerned. Again, if you live in another country, you should live by that country’s laws. What may be acceptable in a Muslim country with it’s particular culture, should not be thought as acceptable in another country with a different culture and laws. That can only lead to problems for all concerned. And again, a question I have asked before, how is it that if I were to go to a Muslim country, such as Saudi Arabia, I would be expected to conform to their standards, but when those Muslims come to the so-called ‘West’, they bring their culture with them, usually do not adjust, except where it suits them? That attitude is not acceptable. Although I believe there is an ambition by some to convert the Christian-based world to Islam. And with the large number of mosques springing up, that is not surprising. I just hope that the Muslim world will be able to cope with that, considering how disunited they themselves are. For my part, I just wish to live in peace and harmony, not be forced to adopt another culture. But life is complex!

  6. The problem with religion is its interpretation. If we understand that religion is a personal matter then everyone can live with it. But if we start making rules, regulations and laws based upon our interpretation it is bound to cause conflict and misery. This is the history of theocracy.
    In my interpretation of Islam, permission of Polygamy is restricted and comes with strict regulations. Moreover the second part of the verse used for Polygamy tells the believers that monogamy is better and preferred.
    @ Iftekhara: After recognizing gay marriage, the push is for multiple partner relationships or open marriage. These are very different from Polygamy.

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