Monday, September 05, 2005

No Woman wants to share

Going to attempt to comment on two broad themes today, first on this issue of polygamy which has been going strong in Today for quite some time now and then a little bit about Sharia (Islamic Law).

The issue of polygamy is somewhat of a touchy topic, especially since the early proponents to the forum of Today were using very horrid arguments based upon the nature of Males being unable to control themselves and as such, polygamy would be a better alternative than presumably having affairs or visiting prostitutes.

But the issue really is broader than the above proposition i.e. marriage is not simply about sex and neither is being human (although the more sex, the happier the populace, the less hang-ups, the less conflicts).

But back to the topic, I think the question should be, whether a group of people who love each other sufficiently and want to share each other in a formally recognised and sanctioned form of union should be allowed to do so. Being the good liberal that I am, I think framed in this manner, my answer would be yes. But then comes the automatic follow-up, would this be a stable form of 'family'? And the use of quotation marks is very important because of historical factors and in fact, simply history. The notion of a nuclear family is a relatively recent concept dating back to the 1950s, of course this is simply referring to the concept of inter-generation families rather than polygamy per se.

But, the notion still stands for two reasons. One, what are we talking about when we refer to the words marriage and family. Secondly. polyandry and polygamy have a very very long history and monogony seems limited to those of a Judeo-Christian background (as opposed to Abrahamic religions).

On the first issue, it seems terribly odd simply to think of the relationship in a polygamous/polyandrous family as simply different binary sets coexisting at the same time. Why are we fixated merely upon the attention the husband/wife can give to each wife/husband and totally neglect the fact that the two ladies/husbands should have their own relationship and must get along as well. It's inconceivable that in today's era, when huge strides have been made with regards to the economic independence of both genders that a relationship cannot be worked out to the mutual benefit of all parties. In a manner of speaking, monogamy is an odd concept which does presume that one can only love one person and that somehow, those two persons will have all the capabilities to raise a family.

If the contrary seems odd, we've probably been cultured into thinking in this fashion the great likelihood is that should we like another person while in a relationship, we would attempt to turn it into a platonic one for obvious reasons (assuming that you don't simply dissolve the one that you're in or simply have an affair). We probably wouldn't have such notions if we were brought up on a society which encouraged such relationships.

Similarly, a stable family is not a nuclear family which has been forced by economic necessity to foster their children out. There is a reason why it takes a village to raise a child and arguably a polygamous family can demonstrate not just simply the merits of cooperation and how to resolve personal conflicts but also by having more people around in a loving relationship.

On the second issue, polyandry is possibly the oldest form of relationship and predates even polygamy. Which makes sense when one thinks about it. A culture based upon matrilineal inheritance is more sensible because it's much easier to tell who is the mom of the kid rather than his paternal heritage. If so, polyandry would be a natural consequence of such a particular arrangement, much like polygamy only exists in a patriatical society.

However it must be said the reason such relationships existed was one of pure economic need. When the manfolk were sent off to die, someone had to take care of the widows. Note that this was after all, a period before the notion of a state and welfare. Women didn't quite have any other choice.

But nevertheless, we still end up with the original issue framed above, whether a group of people should be allowed such a particular freedom in the first place.

Which brings me to Sharia and in particular some interpretations of that bit about the Koran on polygamy. There have been some interpretations that attempt to argue that what it really means is that given the impossibility of equality amongst the man's relationship to EACH of his wives, that it should actually be read as an injunction against polygamy. Of course the fact that the Prophet was involved in such a relationship does tend to throw a spanner into that argument somewhat. But what can be taken from this episode was that it was done so as an act of charity and perhaps should not be read as a marriage per se.

But the biggest difficulty when one approaches the Koran with regards to law as we understand it (a set of rules back by sanctions) is really its complexity and its very different fundamental nature. For one, Sharia does not make a distinction between law and morality and like Talmudic law, governs almost every aspect of a Muslim's life. But at the same time, it's a very sophisticated 'law' in that not everything is forbidden (haram). Sharia is actually divided into 5 class: Encouraged, Permitted, Neutral, Discouraged, Forbidden, of which only the two extremes are enforced. The rest is really a matter of societal disapproval or approval and a matter between the individual and his conscience/god. *cough* Not to mention the fact that the Sharia that we know of in Singapore is a pale, whittered version of what is really meant by Sharia *cough*.

Anyway, I don't see this going anywhere for the time-being.




At 7:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, if society were as good as you imagined...

You know that joke about there being not enough nice guys? Same goes for nice girls, because they are either:

(a) married,
(b) attached, or
(c) lesbian,

so that you can't possibly date them (safely).

Now if the world ran according to your utopian vision, we can remove (b) from the list. If only... :)



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