On Polygamy In Jordan

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.


  • ive seen a few episodes of big love .. theres a lot of sexual content in it .. other than that i wasnt very impressed :-/

  • honestly, any relationship that is based on consent of all individuals involved in it is fine by my standards but that’s not the way things go.
    On the other hnad people used to look down on polygamy for a long time now, it was always more prevalent in the the more rural population. people try to attribute its decline to the adoption of western ideals when in fact thats utter BS … since, atleast when it comes to my city and family, they always looked down on polygamy and felt sorry for the women that got involved in one, thats at the turn of last century so … yeah !
    Nowadays the divide is even less of a divide, since pretty much the overwhelming majority of women won’t agree to be sharing their husband with one, never mind another 3 women.
    So yeah … if no women is willing to get married into polygamy it really doesn’t matter what the men think 😛 and thats why its on a continual decline, not because of adopting a foreign ideal, urbanization or any other reason. its just women have more of a say nowadays and they never liked the idea to start off with. (all that is IMHO of course)
    can we discuss fun marriages 😛 (zawaj mot3a) next ?

  • First of all, I just want to apologize for this long comment

    Of course, it is an open-ended topic; anyway, talking about Polygamy can be viewed from different angles and according to the person’s involvement in the topic.
    Being a woman who has never been in such a situation, I will just say what I think….

    It is somehow complicated, when polygamy takes place, this means that there is a man and woman’s approval to this state at least we are talking about the second woman, or maybe third or fourth woman’ approval to this marriage without taking into consideration the opinion of the first woman, because logically, there is no woman on earth who would love to share her man with other women even if done according to religious doctrine.

    It has always been the case; however, women did not have the guts to spell it out and express their dissatisfaction since she was afraid to lose her privileges of being a wife to this man; thus, she prefers her husband to marry a woman and keep her in his house to be divorced and go back to her father’s house. This has been the case in the past for most of the polygamy cases; however, this does not mean that it does not exist anymore now, it does, but I like to think that it exists in fewer cases.

    Now as a woman, I would hate to be in a situation where my man, if I got married, remarry another woman, or I hate to be this second woman, simply, because in nature human being hates to be the second choice, or having someone else to be preferred over them. Why I am saying so, because I am very definite that the other woman will be chosen simply because she is younger, more beautiful and attractive, while the first woman is no longer appealing. I might be wrong, but I cannot think of a situation where a man will marry another woman unless he is looking for a better one to satisfy his needs.

    That being said, I prefer polygamy to adultery, if marrying someone else would satisfy the man’s sexual needs ; it is much better than committing adultery simply because , from a religious point of view, adultery is “7aram” while marriage will keep the man on the right track; though in both cases, a woman will be hurt and feel underestimated. I am not going to get into this here.

    On the other hand, some women are really bad-natured that they drive their men to take this step …..

    Now, some might argue that having more than one wife is not simply due to the man’s desire to satisfy his needs, he is doing this out of duty of “Sutrah” I mean some well-off men believe if he has enough money, why not, he can marry four women and has as many children as he wants out of his belief that he will be helping these woman out from being left unmarried “Spinster” as people call them, and this is actually the reason for many women to accept being the second wife, simply because she does not want to end up alone named “Spinster” by the society; but at the end of the day it all depends on the woman’s personality and mentality; no marriage will take place unless the woman wants to, unless in some cases where fathers, mothers and even brothers force a woman to marry a married man just to get rid of her….however, it is not the case I am talking about, I am talking about a woman who can make her own decision, and she chooses to accept such a marriage…

    The fact is polygamy is looked down at…well…for women I think it is clear why, like I said before that no woman on earth would love to share her man’s love with someone else, if we considered that “Love” still exists between the two. As for men, simply I do believe that there is no man who got married once would love to try it again 

    Come on, marriage is not an easy thing, when a man and a woman consider marriage, they should take into consideration that they are establishing the basis of a new generation, they should be vey responsible to bring to this world better people, it is all about “Responsibility” and believe me it is not an easy thing, it is not that fun to be married to one; how about more!!! I wonder how a man can manage between two, three or four, he must be a Superman…what I am trying to say that we don’t just get married because we want someone to cook for us, or clean the house for us, or bring us gifts or have sex with, it is more than that, maybe I am being too idealistic, but it is my belief that both partners should be so mature to be able to keep their marriage go, it is something you work on everyday to make it sustain or make it better, so maybe if the number of people rejecting polygamy is increasing, just because they are more aware of what marriage is, it is not something you have to do, it is something you want to do, you like to do…thus, I believe it is not that people are looking down at Islamic doctrines, though it might be somehow true, but I guess young generation is hopefully getting more mature , again I might be too idealistic, but I have met many young people who really impress me with their personalities and mentalities. I don’t believe that these are western ideas, to the contrary, Islam emphasizes the importance of marriage in raising a better generation, and I don’t think there will be a healthy family if there is one man and many women, the equation won’t work; besides it is so clear in Quran that man has to be fair among his women, and I don’t even think this is easy, it is even a bigger burden on his shoulder. In addition, we have to take into consideration the fact that women will turn his life hell due to the jealousy and hatred to each other; as we all know a woman biggest enemy is another woman; so imagine how healthy the family will be…

    I am not against Polygamy, like I said before having a legal wife is better than having a mistress, somehow, it gives the second woman more value, but the nature of our life and the way women are being raised up these days to be independent, intellectual , rational, make it even more difficult for women to accept this reality.

    If I ever would be in such a situation, I would rather leave and be divorced rather being one of “HIS” women, for me it is demeaning though I know it is legal and “7alal”.

  • @ Nada “I prefer polygamy to adultery”

    Why ? because one is thought to be religiously allowed and the other not?
    firstly i hate to see that people think it is allowed religiously when none of them (those who get another wife) match the condition mentioned in Quran. which is having an orphan to take care of and being afraid to steal his/her money that he is responsible for. (who on earth would admit he is afraid to steal the money of an orphan he takes care of). sadly some Muslims read the second part of the verse (two three and four), and leave the first part that contains the condition…

    Well if it is about sex then i think that adultery is way much better than polygamy, because the reason is clear, no need to mix targets, this just makes us a more hypocritical community than we are now. so if a man is not satisfied with his woman, he can simply drive a red-light street and do what he likes, but get another woman as a wife just for sex is too sad and just an uglification for the meaning of marriage, which you yourself have wrote its meaning in a very nice way.
    i think it is more “7aram” to get a wife just for sex, and hurt another wife (the first) than to make adultery…think of it, polygamy is an animal action, not for humans.
    by the way the prophet was ordered by God, for the some reasons mentioned in Quran, so he is not the normal case, he is the very special one.

  • As much as it struggles not be a religious subject, I am afraid polygamy in many cases is. While Islam made it clear to an extent that it is acceptable; the big majority of Muslims don’t necessarily see it in the same respect. The fact that Islam is a more practical religion (concerned with practice) than Christianity which tends to be more spiritual – makes it understandable that at some points the Sharia’s tolerant laws regarding polygamy had to be crucial in the early stages of Islamic state foundation. It’s the same in WW1 and WW2 in Europe, where men were scarcely available and absent to war all the time.
    Christianity however, still considers the spiritual sides of marriage, like acceptance and partnership, while Islam sees it as the beginning of the family institution which is more important to the stability of the Islamic community and state.

    I think in the Islamic thought nowadays, and even the Christian one; polygamy as a sole concept is a myth both in spirit and practice. In this day and age, where there’s a lot more going on, I think it is not just financially hard, but emotionally and mentally draining as well, and I can’t see it happening at all.

    Besides, life has gotten too complicated, for one to consider marriage as the only possible way of making relationships between people; men and women in particular. The advance of the world makes it as obsolete as anything to consider that any religion or any form of thought can govern how people should live their lives any more. Personal prefrences are liberating the world madly, and for us to argue what’s right and what’s wrong is just ink, paper and blogs!

  • Dear MD, I do believe that when Islam has allowed polygamy, it stated certain conditions, the most important of which, is that man has to be fair with his women, and with such a condition, I think that Islam is making it harder for men.

    Anyway, as for polygamy and adultery, I believe that if any man ever considered a second marriage, it is because of “Sex”, and I might be wrong here; however, if a man would do this behind his wife, it is even more difficult for a woman, it is not easy in both cases, but I am just saying if we want to think in the concept of 7alal and 7aram , marriage would be slightly a better option, and it does not mean I agree with that.

    You are right, being married for sex is not a human behavior to start with and that’s why I said if polygamy is decreasing, it is because people are getting more aware of the fact that having multiple wives is just inhumane at all, and this is exactly why I said that marriage is more than having someone to have sex with, it is a responsible action, that requires a lot from the partners; and that explains why many marriages are failing…people are just getting married for the wrong reasons, it seems…

  • Nas,

    Interestingly, I think the trend you mentioned (education -> urbanization -> “civilization”) applies to the Mormon Church in the US as well. Originally it was a well accepted practice within the bounds of the entire Mormon Church. However, with the increasing interaction of Mormons with others, it fell more and more out of favor. Finally, the US government placed pressure on the church to outlaw the practice (from what I understand). Currently, the mainstream Mormon Church does not condone polygamy. Typically it is seen only in rural, break-offs from the Mormon Church.

  • “I wonder how a man can manage between two, three or four, he must be a Superman…”

    One of the common jokes on Big Love is the husband’s constant need for Viagra. 🙂

  • Nas,

    I have studied Mormonism and have read about 1/3 of the Mormon Bible. As far as I know you 100% correct about them and their place in American history.

  • “Finally, the US government placed pressure on the church to outlaw the practice.”

    The State of Utah is, by far, the most Mormon state in America. For them to be let into America as a state they had to outlaw polygamy.

  • you know i’m loving the allusion that islam’s 7alal designation for polygamy is at the end of the day just there to tease men since they are never going to fully implement its conditions!

  • @ MD

    I love your concept of “more 7aram”. I’m a strong believer in a spectrum of wrong with shades of gray between black and white. Kudos.

    @ Nada

    “I prefer polygamy to adultery”

    I support the idea that if polygamy is being arranged so the man can have a new sex partner he will soon be bored of, adultery is better. I would also personally qualify such a man based on his income and ability to provide the exact same living standards for his multiple partners.

    Like MD, I think it is “more 7aram” for a man to use his second wife for occasional sex than actually meeting someone strictly for one-time sex when it’s declared and she knows that they are meeting for that and that’s it.

  • I’m not going to start a thread within this one, but I recently saw a very interesting blog by a wife who found out her husband is seeing another MAN.

    Apparently, knowing about honor and Islam and all that, the wife consciously sees her husband go meet this guy and come back to her and wants to do nothing about it because;

    1- A bisexual husband “destroys her reputation and both family honors”

    2- She needs his support, house, kids etc.

    3- She loves him and “can’t control what he likes”

    How’s THAT for polygamy!

    Nas should start on thread on this one. Oh lord the things that will be said. lol

  • “I prefer polygamy over adultry”

    that’s like saying I prefer a plane crash that kills 300 people over one that kills 400 people

    Both are horrible.
    Our society somehow allows a man to express his sexual desires and the fact that he continuously needs to have sex, even if his wife can’t have sex for a few months due to illness they’ll allow him to get married again because he really really wants to have sex, and being a wild animal he can’t suppress his exuality like that and so he needs to get married.

    Meanwhile women do not have any sexual desires at all. Her sex life should end with the death of her husband.

    Getting a second wife will break a family, it will create a wound that is very difficult to heal. Some families get over it, but most families cannot it. The dramatization that Arabic movies show is real. Women become miserable creatures when their husband gets a second wife.

  • Salam,
    The discussion here is very religious-based. But, keep in mind that polygamy was accepted even before Islam in Arabia. I think it’s necessary to think about it from a humanistic point of view. It was the norm for thousands of years. And now it is not acceptable.

    1- Polygamy was practiced almost every where in old times.
    2- It got banned with spread of Christianity.
    3- It is not acceptable generally in most societies today.
    4- polygamy is more practiced in less urban areas (even in old ages).

    Possible Reasons:

    1- Physical Strength
    Maybe the rough life of old times put the women at a physical disadvantage, deeming them ‘second class’ beings. Thus, a man could have multiple wives. In today’s ‘modern civilization’, physical strength does not provide a real advantage. This is why we don’t have polygamy today.

    However, as I’m reading “The Interesting Narrative” now, in Africa circa 1755 women were strong and fought in battles, yet were still considered 2nd class and had polygamy. But is “fighting in battles” good enough to say that “women were just as strong”.

    2- Scarcity of Men
    The male:female ratio was low in old times. Given old days low sanitary conditions, mortality for male newborns was higher. And due to wars, men tended to die in larger percentages. Thus, polygamy was a necessity due to circumstances. In modern day, the ratio is closer 1:1 (and higher in certain single-child societies). This is why polygamy is not needed any more.

    3- Dominance of Men
    Men dominated women in old times. Polygamy was man’s choice of pleasure. With women rights and equality, polygamy disappeared.

    4- Sexual Need
    Some men seem to have a higher sexual dive than women. Thus, these men needed multiple wives to “keep them busy”. This need is suppressed in today’s society due to women-rights-and-equality. Thus, we have this underground cult of “men always wanting to have sex” and “wives deciding when”.

    5- A Matter of Taste
    Maybe polygamy was just a fad – something that was acceptable, but then due to Christianity and European Global Civilization, got out of favor. Maybe if we wait for another 300 years it’ll come back (or marriage as a whole will get abolished :-)).

    I personally do not think it’s #5. I believe that any dominant human behavior has very practical origin.
    I think the real reason is a combination of 1-4. This requires a lot more investigation – and studying habits of different societies. I remember my islamic studies teacher in high school explaining reason #4. that was funny, but then, i think it’s partially true.

    what do you think?

  • i think that in cultures where polygamy is a cultural option. whether legal or not, the times, the war in countries where the death rate is high and polygamy is a religious option, and among some American Blacks who are Muslim or Rastifarian, a religion which influence far exceed its percentage in the population, economic pressures,
    particularly the impossible rent prices, will drive women toward polygamy whatever
    anyone thinks about it. Much discussion I see on the web raises issues that are moot.

    If a man has had two wives, say with six children all tolled, and both women are
    homeless or living with family who cannot provide an environment for the family,
    the pressure toward living together will impel women toward the practice.

    Women can only have state assistance for 5 years in my state and the level of
    chronic illness is very high–so there is a great deal of despair. Maybe if
    the US Government had not brought Polygamy so much under the spot light
    many who seem to be considering this now would never have thought of it.
    That cat is out of the bag.

    Polygamy is very easily to conceal and it will become worse as more families have
    to share housing. Is the new nieghbor a biological sister with a nephew and niece,
    or are these children the children of the husband who can’t be living on the
    streets with a mother with aides.

    It may not come for some years, but I think Polygamy, so persecuted by the
    churches, is on the comeback. The State and Churches aren’t going to want to
    support a growing indigenous population.

    I there were strong words in any Holy Book condemning the practise it might be
    easier to make condemnitory laws or rhetoric stick. The Romans introduced
    the practise to the 2nd Century Christian Church. For most cultures where it
    was practiced it was stamped out by the brutal killing of the family entirely,
    in the survivors it was forced out of prace ie. via cultural Genocide, from
    Church and State, after the 1990 US Census–this involved the theft and
    forced change of culture, language and tradition, leaving anger and bitterness
    in its place, as we have seen with the FLDS recently in Texas.

    I believe the trauma inflicted on Mothers and children alike will deepen religious
    convictions and increase the number practising the principle in the next
    generation. Traditional Fundamentalist Mormon people do not have sex after
    the birth of a child until it is weaned at about three, so in Mormon
    Cultural practise, sex could hardly be a strong motivator.


  • The correct term is polygyny, whereby a man has more than one wife.

    It is not the place of the Muslim to question God’s wisdom. Whether we follow the practice or not, it is not our place to criticize the laws of Islam.

    Unfortunately, in our ‘Muslim’ society, polygyny is misused and has gotten a bad reputation. There is still a place for it when practiced under Islamic guidelines. There still are men who fear Allah and are trying to provide for women who need protection.

    Really, before we start to criticize polygyny, we need to correct other problems in our society which lead to adultry and other sins. Muslims need to follow the basics of Islamic manners, namely men need to lower their gazes and women need to cover themselves properly. This would help cut down the ‘need’ for multiple marriages in this society.

  • A divide does exist, however, I think that there is also a third factor (besides urbanization and western ideals) that affects the issue: il-wajaha! While polygamy is relatively rare across Jordan, the number of polygamous parliamentarians in the last parliamentary cycle was around 40% if I recall correctly. I remember once in Ma’an some women joked that a wife of a candidate for parliament/mayor is always secretly praying he will lose, because a win surely means a dura!

    I disagree with Um Omar. I think it is very dangerous when we can not differentiate between God’s word as divine, and human interpretation of it as fallible. And I can not see the logic in linking whether women cover themselves or not with the ‘need’ for polygamy!! Negotiation and renegotiation have always been part of Islam’s legacy, taking that away would be like robbing Islam of its golden age. Islam was once synonymous with civilization; and civilization thrives on thought.

  • How did i ignore that post?!! but I must say Nas, since your naming of posts has been always very creative, i thought it was a political post, and thought… i’m not interested! after reading i was a bit dissapointed that no “physchological analysis” is provided… i’m sure you know what i mean… shock the world Nas….. LOL…..
    Nada: when are you gonna start blogging??? 🙂
    as for the ” polygamy or adultery”, I woudnt’ prefer any choice!! I would just quit the game!! and leave…
    you said: “As for men, simply I do believe that there is no man who got married once would love to try it again ”
    Nada, i’m sure you meant a smart man, those are rare my friend! 🙂

  • One factor in the decline of polygamy is likely technological change. Being the wife of an important tribal bigwig carried onerous responsibilities in most early cultures and many primitive ones today. People like to talk about the whole male domination aspect of polygamy, but women have frequently played their part in arranging polygamous households. In areas of rural India and Africa where polygamy is still common, it is often the first wife who encourages the husband to take a second. The first wife can then unload some of her more menial duties on the new wife. This motivation may outweigh any perceived risk of competition from the new woman. With technological development, household work is no longer as time consuming as it once was. Therefore, women have fewer incentives to tolerate polygamous relationships.

  • I am a simple American Christian married to a Jordanian Muslim. The thought of him taking a new wife is devastating to me. He has not mentioned taking a new wife but we have discussed the practice. I understand the conditions that must be met before a new wife can be acquired. I was wondering if we took away those conditions and turned this around and women were the ones who had the option to marry multiple men. I know there is really no good reason for that and the thought of having to figure out who fathered which child could be a nightmare. I am just wondering what would happen if women dominated the society. I personally frown upon polygamy but think it was intended as a tool to be used to keep the family unit strong. While I believe God is all-knowing and unchanging, society has changed.

    On a second note, the following was noted in a previous post:

    Meanwhile women do not have any sexual desires at all. Her sex life should end with the death of her husband.

    NOT TRUE! NOT TRUE! NOT TRUE! Women do have sexual desires and needs they are just different than those of men. It would sadden me to think I would never have sex again.

  • I’m glad and not glad that I missed this discussion.

    I just wanted to add to your post….that “division” that you were referring to with regards to “certain Islamic practices” is something that can be applied to other factors like hijab…to me that was one of the more obvious ones when I was in Jordan. Seriously, there were many instances when I felt more confident and generally comfortable as a mit7ajba in the US than in Jordan because of that division you’re suggeting.

    Now with regards to polygamy, to me rulings in Islam must be put in their context to be properly understood. Considering the environment of Arabia (and in much of the rest of the world as well) at the time of the revelation, the rules of polygamy in Islam were actually a LIMIT on polygamy! So it’s interesting that today the practice of polygamy is seen as an “Islamic practice”……..this is consequence of the fact that Islam is the least evolved of the major established religions of the world.

  • Who are the ones who marry second and third wives in Jordan? The millionaire in a three story mansion or the guy living in a shack too broke to afford birth control, and enough extra time to ride the two and have them pop a child every year or two? It’s wrong and retarded, and a burden to society..breeding children into traumatizing conditions and putting them out on the streets.

    The rich affluant guy won’t get a second wife if it’s about sex..he can afford a prostitute.
    The poor guy will manipulate a poor woman who is a burden on her poor father and marries for “sotra” and starts a breeding competition with the other wife to become more favorable.

    You dont want me to get into Utah and Texas style compund polygomy ….i dont have a single nice thing to say about those holy fuck farms

  • Hey,
    Great post. I am working on my Ph.D. in Psychology and my project involved a rural Jordanian population sample. I’m grateful for the perspective you all have offered on a fairly complex societal dynamic.

    As bizare as the show is, BIG LOVE has definitely caught my attention as I think the directors are asking some interesting questions about the various angles from which polygamy can be seen.

Your Two Piasters: