Is it That Easy? The Laws of Polygamy in Pakistan

Posted on November 7, 2010 by


by Nadia Siddiqui

A 24-year-old-man in Multan married two women in 24 hours. This incident happened in Multan and the media presented it as spicy news for the viewers. We are living in an age where reality shows provide us entertainment. There is no surprise why as an audience we were not enraged by this incident. After all we are so used to have the dinner served with TV playing a live coverage of the sites where bomb explosion has left mutilated bodies and blood pools. We are a nation immune to surprises.  There is no shame in admitting that the entertainment standards have reached a limit that we regularly need to watch on our TV screens the maddening dance of death and the living realities of injustice and victimization. I read somewhere that there lies a deep pleasure for the audience to see torture and suffering inflicted upon others. I think we are seeking pleasure

The reason to raise voice here is not the media and its viewers. In fact I appreciate the resources that brought this incident on the surface and let us examine the laws for polygamy and their implementation.  According to the practice of Islamic laws in our country, a Muslim man in Pakistan is allowed to have four wives. It is important to mention here that the formulation of laws and their amendments do not come from people on whom these laws are implemented rather it is Quran and its interpretations that make laws for us. I am therefore not surprised why legal registration of marriage and divorce are loosely practiced. The reason is our preference given to the practice of having two witnesses for the marriage rather than some written documentation.  The practice of having two marriage witnesses is interestingly not mentioned in Quran; rather it has been followed since the times of Prophet and Caliphs when legal documentation was not in vogue.  Do we somehow think and believe even today that documentation is still impossible in the age of computers?

The traditionalist Islamic interpretation believes that the Quran allows men to have four wives.  As the permission exists, so all Muslim men have the allowance to marry more than one woman. The more rational support in favour of polygamy is given by scholars such as Dr. Zakir Naik. I heard him saying in one of his lectures how a society can be prevented from prostitution if polygamy is truly practiced. I wonder asking him if any Muslim man has ever married more than one because he intended to save the society from prostitution. I also wonder if marriage is the only practice that can prevent women from prostitution. As I know and I have heard that many married women are forced into prostitution by their husbands.

In 1961, the government of Pakistan introduced the marriage ordinance according to which a man required approval from the arbitration council before the second marriage and he was required to ensure that he would treat all wives equally. The amendments in the law have been accepted at the stage where a man requires having permission from his ex wife(s) to marry the other woman. The wife’s consent for her husband’s marriage is a legal procedure which requires documentation. Although, there have been a   case of Samina Khawar Hayat, a female legislator in the Punjab assembly pleading against the amendment in law for ex wife’s consent, the law is still binding men for the second marriage consent from their ex wife.

In the case of two marriages in Multan within 24 hours of time period, I wonder if all these legal actions had been ensured or not. If I come to know that the legal documentation was performed and it was insured by the man in front of legal authorities that his financial status would allow him to keep both the wives, I must appreciate the law systems in Pakistan for their quick implementation. I suppose the Multan case would be recorded in the Guinness book of world records for the most immediate legal action in the history.
The question is not only about the legalities of the procedure and their documentation, the point also arises that the practice of polygamy is so easy and therefore rampant in our society. The wife’s consent is an easy procedure as it does not require her physical presence in the court. There is no other procedure that can ensure that the consent was given without any pressure. In many cases other family members play their role and persuade or harass woman and even sometimes force a woman to abstain from a formal complaint in the court.

As I see this incident of the two marriages, it is an alarming stage where injustice is done in the name of religion. It is an image of disgust where women are subject to legal victimization. No doubt that the marriage involved consent of both the women in front of media, I would even then say it was injustice. The analogy to explain my point is that this legal permission given to Muslim men is just like availability of drugs in the society. I am sure an addict and a man with more than one wife would both abhor their action after committing it.  People indulge in drug abuse having awareness about the lethal results because they have access and means for using it. The legal permission of polygamy is taken as a granted right of Muslim men and I am sure that in maximum cases it is practiced not out of crucial need, but because it is allowed with minimal social and legal resistance.