TEL AVIV – Saudi Arabia has recently become embroiled in a debate over the idea that polygamy can provide a solution to the problem of single women in the kingdom, with some proponents saying men should take three wives – a single woman, a widow, and a divorcee – thus alleviating the burden of spinsters on society.
The hashtag “#One Third Of Saudi Women Are Unmarried” trended on Twitter in Saudi Arabia sparking fiery debate, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported. Breitbart also reported on a similar hashtag trending on wider Arab social media. Earlier this year, Alarabiya reported that a group of marriage officiants in the Gulf kingdom had started a WhatsApp group named “Polygamy” and within a month 900 women had joined.
Statistics in the country regarding the phenomenon vary greatly, even among government ministries. In 2014, the Saudi Planning Ministry reported three million single men and women, double the number from 2010. The Saudi General Authority for Statistics reported in 2016 that the number of single women above the age of 15 was approximately 2.3 million, but noted that unmarried women aged 32 or older only numbered 230,000. Saudi law, which forbids women from driving, permits polygamy – as does Islam.
Hawazin Mirza, a lecturer at King ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz University in Jeddah, took to national television earlier this year to promote the establishment of a “polygamy academy.” Mirza’s institution promises that within a single month, any man requesting its services would be provided with three wives – a single woman, a divorcee, and a widow. If such a marriage would prove itself a decade later, the husband would be provided with a fourth wife – free of charge. In return, the man would be expected to attend a six-month marriage prep course.
Writing for the Saudi daily Okaz, columnist Abdallah Omar Khayat wrote that while women may feel that the idea of polygamy is “loathsome,” it has become “a social and moral need, required in the interest of the homeland and of the citizens.”
He conceded that a man’s first wife will “always considers herself abandoned and unwanted” after her husband marries a second woman, and that her existence is only valued to the point that she may raise their children. According to Khayat, these are thoughts that “Satan creates in her imagination.”
“Polygamy is one of the ways that can lead to eliminating spinsterhood,” concludes Khayat.
There are however, several voices of dissent within the country, particularly from more liberal women. Writing in the Al-Jazirah daily, Saudi journalist Samar Al-Muqrin said polygamy as a solution to the proliferation of singlehood reflects a fundamental “misunderstanding of the institution of marriage.”
According to Al-Muqrin, such ways of thinking stem from the idea that marriage concerns sex alone, and not a shared life which, in her view, “cannot have more than two people in it.”
She adds that many women today are not marrying out of choice because they “do not want to throw [themselves] into the arms of just any man, no matter what he looks like.”
Columnist Salma Al-Qusheiri agrees with her counterpart, but in harsher tones, calling Mirza’s proposal for a polygamy academy as “oppressive” and “misogynistic.”
“While the world around us advances and tries to develop day by day … in our society we do the opposite!” she wrote in the Al-Watan daily.
According to Al-Qusheiri, polygamy is “nothing but legal adultery … that no sane person who has reached adulthood would consider.”
Mirza, who as a lecturer at a university should know better, is turning “Saudi woman into cheap – very cheap – merchandise – [and all] in the name of Islam,” writes Al-Qusheiri.
Also writing for Al-Watan, columnist Fahd Al-Ahmari took a slightly different view, claiming polygamy poses health threats, particularly to the husband. The reason for this is he is now expected to provide for several families at once – both from a financial and emotional aspect. She brings proof of her claim, noting a 2015 study conducted at a Saudi hospital and medical research center that showed men with multiple wives suffer from heart problems four times more than the rest of the male population.