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Shariah Allows Polygamy': Libyan Women Are 'Unsettled' by the Return of Polygamy


“All the girls are mad that he said that.”

Women in Libya and the allied countries that helped oust Muammar Gadhafi are feeling “unsettled” since the head of the interim government Mustafa Abdel-Jalil suggested last week that unrestricted polygamy will be allowed in the North African country where it’s been “limited and rare for decades.” Calling it “a sizable step backward for women,” the New York Times reports:

In his speech, Mr. Abdel-Jalil declared that a Qaddafi-era law that placed restrictions on multiple marriages, which is a tenet of Islamic law, or Shariah, would be done away with. The law, which stated that a first wife had to give permission before others were added, for instance, had kept polygamy rare here.

“This law is contrary to Shariah and must be stopped,” Mr. Abdel-Jalil told the crowd, vowing that the new government would adhere more faithfully to Shariah. The next day he reiterated the point to reporters at a news conference: “Shariah allows polygamy,” he said.

Under Islamic law, a man can marry up to four wives concurrently. New York Times correspondent Adam Nossiter gauged the reaction of university students and found that even the women who support Shariah law weren’t happy with the idea of polygamy:

“All the girls are mad that he said that,” said Bushra ben Omran, a 20-year-old English student. “I don’t want to marry somebody who is already married.”

Rehab Zehany, 20, who said Mr. Abdel-Jalil was merely following the dictates of the Koran, added, when asked if she would accept her husband taking a second wife: “Of course not! I would kill him!”

Polygamy is practiced in parts of the Islamic world. Multiple-wife families are also part of the fabric of the influx of Muslim immigrants to Europe, a phenomenon that is challenging both the rule of law and the welfare system. In a somewhat sympathetic look at polygamy titled “The British Muslim men who love 'both their wives'” the BBC last month reported the number of polygamous relationships among British Muslims is increasing, including among children of immigrants born in Britain:

Khola Hassan, a lecturer in Islamic Law and volunteer on the UK Sharia Council says she has witnessed a sense of a right to polygamy develop particularly amongst third generation British Muslims.

When she was growing up in Britain 20 years ago she says no-one talked about polygamy as it was incredibly rare. However in the last 15 years she has noticed more polygamous marriages taking place.

Bigamy is a criminal offense in Britain carrying a maximum jail term of seven years. BBC and other news outlets report that to avoid prosecution, already-married Muslim men may hold an under-the-radar religious ceremony called Nikah which is never registered as a civil marriage.

This practice provides opportunity to exploit the UK’s ample social benefits system, as described by the Daily Mail:

The social workers said the multiple marriages are encouraged by a welfare system which allows a second, third or fourth wife to be treated as a single mother who gets a house and an array of other state payments for herself and her children.

Controversially, it means that a man can take a new spouse (from anywhere in the world), sire any number of children with her, and yet have no responsibility for this family’s upkeep or care.

The phenomenon of Muslim polygamy is not unknown to North America, despite the illegality. NPR reported in 2008 that an unknown number of Muslim men in the U.S. “have quietly married multiple wives.” Last week, The Blaze reported on the polygamous Afghan immigrant who - along with his second wife - is charged with murdering their three daughters and his first wife, in what Canadian prosecutors are labeling an Islamic “honor killing.”

Just two weeks ago, Reuters captured this image of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sharing a wide smile and V for victory with the Libyan fighters. When she hears polygamy touted in post-war Libya, is this champion of women’s rights still smiling?

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