I usually don’t write these types of open-ended posts as I do have a bias towards sticking to Jordanian-related subjects, however polygamy is an issue that’s been on my mind these past few days after watching the first season of HBO’s “Big Love”. The series is essentially about a polygamist in Utah who is married to three very different women in the city and away from the ongoings of “the compound”. They try to blend in and behave as a normal family despite it being against the law (hence only his first wife is technically legal). According to the show, upwards of 40,000 Americans participate in polygamy.
I have to be honest and admit that it was kind of interesting to see how this TV family manages to maneuver through a Mormon society that is still Christian and fundamentalist, yet shuns the practice of polygamy. And despite the show representing nothing even remotely close to my own personal religious beliefs, I couldn’t help but compare, or at least draw a connection to Islam’s own practice and acceptance of polygamy. There are of course important differences between these two groups. Islam obviously emphasizes a lot more freedom of choice and equality, whereas these woman on “the compound” are assigned by a “prophet” and are ranked accordingly to their joining of the family. The practice of polygamy in Jordan is also different from other Islamic and Arab nations, as in Jordan (I believe) the sharia’ law can be overcome by any marriage contract that obliges a man not to marry a second wife (as an example).
Nevertheless, the way society views polygamy is a bold contrast. In Jordan, polygamy is rare yet relatively accepted to some extent. Here, rising economic concerns probably has the practice of polygamy declining as less and less people can afford it. Polygamy seems to be concentrated in the rural areas as opposed to the urbanized cities.
However, what I’ve noticed is that in the cities, the emerging generation is not too fond of the whole concept of polygamy. This naturally got me thinking, because when it comes to the anthropological dynamics and realities existing today, they stand out uniquely in Islamic history. It forced me to wonder whether we are coming to a point where the more “educated” and “urbanized” and therefore the more “civilized” are beginning to look down on certain Islamic practices, and whether we will ever get to a point where they are banned or at least those who practice it become ostracized or even the quintessential embodiment of an “uncivilized” segment of society.
Discussions on this topic that I’ve had with people have varied. In the village, polygamy is still rare, yet accepted. In the city, amongst my generation, polygamy is kind of looked down on. People have even argued human rights and woman’s rights, people, who are to an extent, religious or conservative themselves.
Even Arab TV dramas that involve the idea of polygamy will always do it in a shocking way; a dramatic and climactic point in an episode that leaves everyone shocked the male lead could ever do such a thing to his lovely wife.
And I don’t know what has caused that divide to emerge. Whether it is in fact urbanization, or perhaps the embedding of western ideals. But it is representative of a divide nonetheless.