By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
With the announcement of Vision 2030, a new age has dawned on the Saudi social scene. As economic austerity begins to grab hold and restrain us from wild splurges, so does it arrest the inclinations of some Don Juans to take on multiple wives.
Until recently, it had become fashionable of late for middle-aged men in this part of the world to seek younger brides, while they were already married. In Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Gulf, it was not unusual for such men to chat about this prospect at their weekly diwaniyas or men-only clubs.
Fatwas or edicts issued on the matter by clerics encouraged this rapidly growing phenomenon. And to make matters simpler, fatwas identified several forms of marriage as perfectly acceptable within the boundaries of Islam. There was the misyar marriage, the weekend marriage and the friendship marriage. And more derivatives were being creatively added to this growing list. And by men!
At the time, I questioned whether such edicts served the national interest and wondered if our clerics should not pause to reflect on the effects of such righteous proclamations on our Muslim society. And our societies in the region are indeed fragile today as the Middle East is challenged by wars and threats of Islamophobia.
While Islam does indeed permit polygamy, the conditions are so restricted and severe that it is practically impossible for anyone today to adhere to them strictly. And while our religion sanctions such unions, it does not treat the matter frivolously. There must be clearly justifiable reasons, such as if the first wife is unable to bear her husband children or is averse to any physical advances by her husband.
Furthermore, equality in all matters is demanded when considering another partner, and while allowances are made for matters of the heart, in just about every other aspect one is required to demonstrate total parity. And in today’s times, that is easier said than done.
Stable family units become fragmented when men in the prime of their economic earning power and affluence decide to forsake their partners of 20 years or more who have borne them three or four children for younger and sleeker spouses. In most cases that I know of, most men decided against divorcing their first wives and instead chose to open new homes to house their latest ornament.
Often at the cost of seriously neglecting the first wife and the children, these men take to water like fish, seeking comfort in their new relationships, many of which carry preconditions of no more children. It is the women entering such unions who invariably pay a heavy price. Their rights are usurped subtly as they discover they are not much more than a pleasant pastime.
The dynamics that lead women to consider such unions are varied. In a strict Arab society, women’s roles often take a back seat to men. Without a man, any man, in her life, a woman feels vulnerable. Then there is the fear of spinsterhood, or the freedom from a very authoritarian father. And in spite of premarital agreements, the desire to bear children remains an unspoken desire burning within, and the woman feels that she may eventually get her way.
It would be interesting to note the findings of a social scientist were he or she to tabulate the growth trend of such marriages since Vision 2030 was announced. From a layman’s point of view, I can only surmise that the less one has to play with, the less one tends to party.
The author can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena