Saturday, June 28, 2008

COMMENT: Polygamous ponderings ...

It seems Keysar Trad just can't get enough of polygamy. Just when Aussie Muslims were enjoying the calm of a Howard-free existence, with no Ministers breathing down their allegedly non-integrating throats, Keysar managed to manufacture a completely unnecessary controversy and make us all look stupid in the process. You can read Keysar attempting to undo the damage (only to make things worse) here. The nerve of him to write these lines ...

From my perspective as a Muslim, I really do not wish to rock the boat. I am happy not to talk about the issue and not to disturb the status quo ...

It's true. Keysar doesn't wish to rock the boat. He'd much rather sink it.

A more nuanced and sensible approach to the topic comes from Melbourne researcher Rachel Woodlock. Writing in The Age, Wooklock acknowledges (and asks her readers to perhaps grudgingly acknowledge) that there may be grounds for polygamous marriage. She then tells about her own experiences and those of the people she knows ...

... since embracing Islam I have become friends with about half-a-dozen different women who are co-wives (none of them with each other). Tellingly, all the relationships involved include at least one convert, which means that polygamy is not merely the preserve of refugees who can barely speak a lick of English and who know nothing of our culture or way of life.

Whether or not we like to admit it, polygamy is part of the diverse fabric of family life in 21st century Australia, although admittedly a minority practice. This is partly because although Australian multiculturalism requires assent to the law of the land, many groups (for example, Jews, Catholics, Baha'is and Aborigines) also operate under community-imposed religio-legal codes, particularly when it comes to family relationships.

Religio-legal codes. I like it. Though I prefer to use the term "sacred law". But do all Muslims insist on the right to polygamous marriage? Or rather, how many Muslims want polygamous marriages recognised in Australia under the Marriage Act?

When news started filtering around the Australian Muslim grapevine of lobbying for polygamy to be recognised, reactions ranged from outrage to ambivalence to cautious approval. If ever there was evidence that Muslims do not speak with a single, homogeneous voice, this is it.

Muslims come from many different cultures, some of which historically viewed polygamy with great disapproval and imbued it with social stigma, and others that considered polygamy perfectly normal, although it seems the practice is becoming less popular even in many traditionally polygamous countries.

Woodlock even claims a possible feminist argument in favour of polygamy. You'll have to read the article yourself if you want to learn more.

Now for those who, like me, prefer to laugh than engage in serious discussion, Lisa Pryor's column in the Sydney Morning Herald is essential reading. She begins her article with this profound observation:

Keysar Trad, you cheeky old fox.

Her summary of current marriage practices is a gem:

Australia has been well served by the Judaeo-Christian interpretation of marriage, in which two people fall in love, commit themselves to each other for life, pop out some sprogs, get divorced, shack up with someone younger and bitch about child support.


Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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