Polygyny in Russia: a women in such marriage isn’t protected at all

An expert about the necessity of state support to protect the rights of second and other wives in Islam

The Council of Theologians of the Russian Muslim Religious Directorate (MRD) adopted a theological statement on polygyny in contemporary Russia in late March. According to the management of the Russian MRD, simply coliving can be considered as polygyny in Islam, while fatwa can regulate the relations between the man and the woman when there is another religious marriage. Realnoe Vremya’s columnist, expert of the Islamic World Research Centre Karim Gaynullin explains in an article for our newspaper the meaning of fatwa on polygyny in detail.

It is legally impossible to prohibit polygamy for Muslims

I already expressed my thoughts about polygamy in a separate article written for Realnoe Vremya. But the Council of Theologians of the Russian Muslim Religious Directorate announced in March it would adopt a separate ruling (fatwa) on polygyne later.

While the Council of Theologian already had prepared a ruling on the prohibition of marriages with non-Muslims, which caused a rash of indignation about this issue in liberal circles. At the same time, we should say that Orthodox Christians and Jews also have rulings on the ban of marriages with people who don’t share the same faith.

Talking about polygyny, the regulation of such marriages is necessary, at least as a recommendation. At the same time, we should say that from a perspective of legislation of the Russian Federation, it is impossible to prohibit polygamy for Muslims.

Muslim marriage isn’t akin to legal marriage

There is a widespread conviction among Russians that polygyny is banned in Russia. It is negligence because the Muslim marriage is not akin to the legal one. A polygamic marriage cannot be celebrated in registry offices, but as a private Muslim wedding this cannot be banned. At least because according to the Hanafi law school of Islam no special institution is needed for a wedding: two male Muslim witnesses and the woman’s consent are enough.

In this respect, there is sense in thinking about how the state could protect the second wives’ rights. Here a joint work of Muslim theologians and Russian lawmakers is important because nowadays a woman entering into such a marriage isn’t protected at all.

Theologians can rest on the ayah: “If you fear you cannot treat so many with equity, marry only one, or a maid or captive. This is better than being iniquitous.”

However, Muslim men and women who decide to have such a marriage are perfectly aware of this ayah. Muslim men can be unfair to their wives, Muslims also can drink alcohol or commit other sins because Muslims aren’t perfect and often are guided by their passions.

“If a person doesn’t have conditions, a marriage isn’t desirable for him”

Islamic theologians say that a marriage can be desirable, undesirable and even prohibited. If a person doesn’t have conditions for a family life, a marriage isn’t desirable for him — no matter if she is the first or second wife.

Also, a polygamic marriage could be happier than a monogamic one and it better respected wives’ rights. It is hard to fit the complexity of human relations for one ruling based only on the social reality, not divine Wisdom.

In these issues, fatwa should consider this difficulty, and it is created beautifully, it will certainly become authoritative for all Muslim men and women. It will be a guide to decide of one should enter into such a marriage or not.

Karim Gaynullin

The author’s opinion does not necessarily coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya’s editorial board.