The Error In MURIC’s Defense of Emir Sanusi’s Pauper Polygamy Ban

Muhammad Sanusi II


In a matter as serious as this, public discourse ahead of a gravely impacting new legislation that selectively targets the poor section of Nigeria is requisite.

In an earlier write-up, I described several issues to consider ahead of the proposed pauper polygamy ban. See: “In Nigeria, Polygamy Shall Only Be Allowed For The Rich.” Unfortunately Emir Sanusi’s proposed ban is fodder for criticism and derogation of a fundamental symbol in Islam and the Biblical history of the Judeo-Christian prophets. Vanguard newspaper captioned it, “Law to ban polygamy: There’s a connection between polygamy, poverty, terrorism – Emir of Kano,” the US Atlantic Black Star had this header, “Polygamy Coming Under Scrutiny In Nigeria as Emir Proposes Poor Men Be Banned from the Practice;” the BBC put it this way, “Why does a Nigerian Muslim leader want to restrict polygamy?,” and NPR captioned the topic thus: “Muslim Leader In Nigeria Links Polygamy To Poverty And Terrorism.”

The reasons for the intentional or accidental “misreading” of the proposed ban scope are quite abundant. In Nigeria’s north, 77-81% live below the poverty line…under a dollar-a-day, according to 2015 UN Multidimensional Poverty Index data, some of the numbers in the north are: Kano -76.4%, Gombe -76.9%, Taraba -77.7%, Katsina – 82.2%, Sokoto – 85.3%, Kebbi – 86.0%, Bauchi -86.6%, Jigawa – 88.4%, Yobe -90.2% and Zamfara -91.9%. Banning the poor from polygamy is expected to ban the majority from polygamy. Religious recommendations are more often seen as solutions for the poor and not endowments for the wealthy. While the Emir is yet to lay down the criteria upon which the financially poor shall be discriminated, the worrisome challenges of such far-reaching and impacting ban if it comes into being can be anticipated.

In defense of the position of the Emir, Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC made reference to two Quranic verses which they suggested supported the Emir’s position. In Islam the Quran is utilized as the ultimate source of guidance in matters of all gravity. MURIC quoted “Let those who do not have the means for marriage keep themselves chaste until Allah gives them means out of his Grace.” (Qur’an 24:33). MURIC went ahead to interpret the verse thus, “It allows a man who already has one wife to take a second woman, a third or even a fourth but with the proviso that such a man must have sufficient wherewithal to care for them all.” I found it necessary to quickly correct MURIC on the errors in their application of the verse to defend the pauper polygamy ban.

Quran Refers To Wedding/Bride-price Not Family Sustenance

Contrary to MURIC‘s application, the verse above refers specifically to the singular “wedding” event and not the continuous “caring for family” process. The verse says, Let those who do not have the means for marriage (wedding)…stay chaste.” To expound on this point, I will reference two hadith (attributed sayings of the prophet of Islam) which appear to expatiate the same topic raised in the Quran verse:

“O young men, whoever among you can afford to get married, let him do so, and whoever cannot afford it, let him fast, for that will be a shield for him.” (Agreed upon, from the hadeeth of Ibn Mas’ood, may Allaah be pleased with him. (Al-Bukhaari, 4778; Muslim, 1400).

 Narrated Sahl bin Sad: A lady came to the Prophet and declared that she had decided to offer herself to Allah and His Apostle. The Prophet said, “I am not in need of women.” A man said (to the Prophet) “Please marry her to me.” The Prophet said (to him), “Give her a garment.” The man said, “I cannot afford it.” The Prophet said, “Give her anything, even if it were an iron ring.” The man apologized again. The Prophet then asked him, “What do you know by heart of the Quran?” He replied, “I know such-and-such portion of the Qur’an (by heart).” The Prophet said, “Then I marry her to you for that much of the Qur’an which you know by heart.” (Bukhari No 4695/61, 547)

The line of thought can easily be picked. The Quran verse and hadith refer to affording the wedding process (Nikaah in Arabic) with dowry transaction and not family life. Allah(s) provides sustenance for who He will and withdraws it at anytime for who He may have provided it. (Quran 39:2. Are they, then, not aware that it is God who grants abundant sustenance, or gives it in scant measure, unto whomever He wills?) No one can project what sustaining a family will cost and how his income shall remain for the period after the marriage to one or more women. The Quranic verse and hadith do not attempt to restrict man from his pursuit of marriage to one or more women; the verses only insist on the necessity for a man to pay the bride price. A man can never know what he will be able to afford of sustenance tomorrow as what he has today may be gone tomorrow (well, except he was in the Nigerian top government offices and stashed away billions), but he can know if he can afford a wedding and that is why the verse is limited to this singular event. And again, if this verse is of value in creating a pauper polygamy ban, why is its use reserved only for polygamy and not monogamy to which it actually directly referred? Should the Emir not regulate all marriages including to one wife until the fatness of pocket has been verified if this is the verse his law is based upon?

A second Quranic verse used by MURIC refers to the obligation to treat the wives equally if a man is to indulge in polygamy (Qur’an 4:3). This verse has no bearing towards the justification of the proposed ban. The verse refers clearly to equality and fairness and not financial upkeep.

We respectfully invite MURIC to reevaluate its press release that makes use of these verses in defence on the polygamy marriage ban for the poor. We also humbly plead the Emir justify his proposed ban from a religious point of view for the benefit and confidence of all.

Many aspects of the proposed new legislation are quite commendable and incontestable, especially aspects that pertain to the abuse of women and abandonment of children, however a ban that puts polygamy in bad light and selectively targets the poor and thoroughly oppressed segment of Nigerians needs proper consideration, especially in recognition of the complexity of its enforcement.

Again I refer to a verse in the Quran referenced on the banning permitted consensual conjugal practices.

Quran 5:87 O you who have believed, do not prohibit the good things which Allah has made lawful to you and do not transgress. Indeed, Allah does not like transgressors.

The verse warns: do not prohibit what God has permitted, while calling for sense and restraint.

This verse, in particular, was used not even for polygamy but in a hadith to defend the more controversial practice of “mutaah,” the act of temporary marriage as quoted below:

Reference: Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 139:
Narrated Abdullah: We used to participate in the holy wars carried on by the Prophet and we had no women (wives) with us. So we said (to the Prophet ). “Shall we castrate ourselves?” But the Prophet forbade us to do that and thenceforth He allowed us to marry a woman (temporarily) by giving her even a garment, and then he recited: “O you who believe! Do not make unlawful the good things which Allah has made lawful for you.”

Should we risk making unlawful what God has permitted or should we put in place strict regulations on how to treat the one or more wives and offspring with prison sentences for defaulters, while additionally firmly taxing the wealthy and corrupt including state administrators, presidents, central bank governors and the like who have mismanaged and misappropriated the endowment of Nigeria’s paupers?

And God knows best.

Dr. Peregrino Brimah; @EveryNigerian