Addressing the perceived misuse of polygamy ‘problem’ and abuse of the religio-social instrument in Nigeria’s north requires careful thought in adherence to religious rules. People of religions understand that God’s wisdom supersedes theirs. It is therefore not expected for mere mortals to block the rich or poor from the beautiful things the all-knowing Lord has permitted in effort to control problems that may have other more important causes and existing doctrinal solutions. It is God that provides and God did not say he will not provide if you marry two women with good intention.
Many of us object strongly to his royal highness, Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi the second’s proposed pauper polygamy ban. I have discussed this in at least two articles.
The abuse of women and abandonment of children has more to do with the lack of women empowerment than the alleged misuse of polygamy by the poor. The wealthy also maltreat women and abandon their children. The wealthy sometimes heartlessly divorce one woman just to create space to marry another fresh one and repeat this severally without good intention. Family social problems in the north of Nigeria will best and properly be addressed when women are empowered as recommended in Holy scripture.
This piece proposes safer and religiously prescribed methods of checking the abuse of polygamy in the north without discriminatorily restricting access to polygamy in possible violation of the Islamic scripture.
Enforce Laid Down Women’s Rights
There are several women’s rights that have been ignored and discarded in the north that if applied and enforced will be much more effective in checking the polygamy issue than the proposed new legislation that plans to check every man’s wallet before marriage.
1. Women’s Right to Reject Additional Wives:
In Islam the first wife is given the right to reject a second wife is she so states ahead of her marriage with him. Once this clause is put in the marriage contract, the first wives must give their approval before a third or fourth wife can be introduced into the equation. If the earlier wife refuses the man cannot go ahead and marry by force and has to consider divorcing the wife/wives that disagree first. Questions on Islam cited where the daughter of the prophet of Islam upon whom be peace objected to the prophet’s nephew, Ali RA when he desired to marry a second wife. According to the account, the prophet advised Ali RA to divorce Fatima RA due to her objection/displeasure before marrying a second wife if he was so bent.
The Holy Quran says to marry one, two or more if you can treat them justly. There is no justice in carrying out the decision to add a third party to the family without their approval. That is an injustice. Therefore consent must be obtained before any new nuptials. Women should be introduced to this concept and encouraged to add the permission clause in their wedding contract.
If women’s rights to approve is taught in all institutions, thoroughly encouraged and enforced strictly by Kano courts, the incidence of the ‘abuse of polygamy’ would drastically decrease.
2. Women’s Right To Reject A Suitor:
A second categorically laid down women’s right is the right to reject a spouse. This right must be promoted in pulpits and all educational institutions and enforced at the court level. Even young brides are granted the full independent right to approve or reject marriage in Islam. No parent or potential husband can force a woman into marriage. Emir Sanusi’s new laws should make a trenchant precondition of weddings for the potential bride to be asked in confidence by professionals if she honestly and truly agreed to be wed. In any case where force is suspected, jail sentences should be recommended. This will drastically reduce unhealthy polygamous relationships.
The prophet of Islam completely rejected forced marriages. A Muslims Against Terror Press release listed several evidences supporting Islam’s staunch rejection of forced marriage:
Khansa Bint Khidam said “My father married me to his nephew, and I did not like this match, so I complained to the Messenger of Allah (May Allah bless him and grant him peace). He said to me “accept what your father has arranged.” I said “I do not wish to accept what my father has arranged.”He said “then this marriage is invalid, go and marry whomever you wish.” I said “I have accepted what my father has arranged, but I wanted women to know that fathers have no right in their daughter’s matters (i.e. they have no right to force a marriage on them). (Fathul Bari Sharah Al Bukhari 9/194, Ibn Majah Kitabun Nikah 1/602)
In other accounts:
Aa’ishah reported that a girl came to her and said, “My father married me to his brother’s son in order to raise his social standing, and I did not want this marriage [I was forced into it].” ?Aa’ishah said, “Sit here until the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) comes. The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) came and she told him about the girl. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) sent for her father, then he gave the girl the choice of what to do. She said, “O Messenger of Allaah, I have accepted what my father did, but I wanted to prove something to other women.” (Reported by al-Nisaa’i, 3217).
Volume 7, Book 62, Number 67: Narrated Abu Huraira:The Prophet said, “A matron should not be given in marriage except after consulting her; and a virgin should not be given in marriage except after her permission.” The people asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! How can we know her permission?” He said, “Her silence (indicates her permission).”
The Quran, Islam’s most superior source of jurisprudence reproaches the forced marriage/inheritance of women:
Quran 4.19: O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion. And do not make difficulties for them in order to take [back] part of what you gave them unless they commit a clear immorality. And live with them in kindness. For if you dislike them – perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good.
Rather than banning the poor from polygamy which is permitted in Islam, if the above stipulations on women’s rights before and during marriage are enforced as in hadith and the Holy Quran, the desired effect and change will be realized.
3. Ban Sending Children Out To Beg:
The blessed prophet of Islam is noted to have said: whoso opened unto himself the door of begging, God will open unto him the door of poverty. Child abandonment and sending children out to beg is not abhorred in Islam. Once the state clearly outlaws such practices especially the Almajiri system, the motivation for unhealthy polygamous relationships will cease drastically.
Again the prophet is quoted to have said in relation to begging, “Verily it is better for any of you to take your rope and bring a bundle of wood upon your back and sell it, in which case God guardeth your honor than to beg of people, whether they give or not; if they do not give, your reputation suffereth, and you return disappointed; and if they give, it is worse than that, for it layeth you under obligation.”
And, “Whoever hath food for a day and a night, it is prohibited for him to beg.”
“Every man who shall beg, in order to increase his property, God will diminish it.”
“Verily God loveth a Muslim with a family, who is poor, and witholdeth himself from the unlawful and from begging.”
The Quran promises that it is the Lord that provides:
Quran 17:31 “And do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them (your children) and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.”
If a man is found to have sent his child out to beg, the man should be ordered to stand at the side of the road for twice as long as his child was out, with a begging bowl fastened to his neck and a sign detailing his shame above his head.
Additional important rights to be enshrined include women’s rights to divorce; to full receipt of dowry if husband is contract-breaker, (The dowry is called a gift in the Quran, and is exclusively the right of the woman. She doesn’t have to spend it on the household, she doesn’t have to give it to her father or anyone else but can keep it as security.); the right not to spend a penny of her income on the household even if she is wealthier than her husband; the right of a widow or divorcee with children to ‘child support,’ and so forth.
I believe if these and other legally enforceable processes that empower and protect women are put in place, the need to discriminate and disallow the poor –many of whom have good intentions– from polygamy, would be avertible. With the complexity of enforcing the proposed new law, and penchant for abuse of judicial processes, Nigeria’s poor should not be victims of further targeted discrimination.
Dr. Peregrino Brimah; @EveryNigerian