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The impact of polygamy in Malaysia

PETALING JAYA, 21 July 2010: A landmark study on polygamy in Malaysia has cast doubt on whether husbands in polygamous marriages are able to treat their wives and children equally as intoned by the Quran.

The study, conducted by Sisters in Islam in collaboration with academics from several local universities, found that while almost 80% of husbands interviewed said they could be fair, their wives disagreed.

Researcher Masjaliza Hamzah said just over half of the second wives interviewed in the study said their husbands could be fair. Among first wives, only 35% shared this view.

“Among the wives, the first wife is the most dissatisfied. She experiences the strongest effects as she is able to compare the polygamous marriage with when she was in a monogamous marriage. In many cases, they expressed sadness, a sense of being wronged and betrayal,” Masjaliza said.

Even though polygamy is seen as a male right provided for in the Quran, in some Muslim communities, including in Malaysia, there are other interpretations of what is permissible in Islam. Several Muslim countries either restrict or ban polygamy and cite Surah al-Nisa 4:3, which states that if a man fears that he cannot deal justly with several wives, he should only marry one.

Rashidah Shuib

Associate Professor Datin Dr Rashidah Shuib, one of the study’s researchers, said a proper understanding of polygamous families was needed to enable policies to be formulated based on facts.

For example, she said that “giliran”, or taking turns equally and fairly in a polygamous marriage, was ideal, but in reality, it is difficult to carry out.

“Policies should be formulated not based on ideals, but on reality,” she said.

Masjaliza, Rashidah and four other researchers presented their findings from the peninsula-wide study, titled The Institution of Polygamous Families and Marriage, at a forum in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia on 15 July 2010.

First wives most impacted


(Courtesy of Sisters in Islam)

The study indicated that a majority of first wives suffered negative social impacts after their husbands’ second marriages, although there were others who were satisfied with the situation.

Of the first wives interviewed, 45.6% were dissatisfied with their polygamous marriages, compared with 39.3% who were satisfied. This was in sharp contrast with second wives, 68% of whom were satisfied with their marriages. Only 18.8% said they were dissatisfied.

Additionally, when a man took a second wife, his first marriage was often put under strain. Over 40% of first wives in the study said they argued more with their husbands after finding out about their husbands’ intentions to marry again.

A majority of them also indicated that their love, respect and trust for their husbands deteriorated after discovering their intentions.

Men benefit most

Masjaliza Hamzah

Masjaliza Hamzah

“The husband is the family member who is most successful in fulfilling his needs and desires. He has access to more than one sexual partner every night, whereas his wives will need to take their turn,” Masjaliza noted.

Hence, it comes as no surprise that 65% of the husbands interviewed would recommend polygamy as a family institution. But only 25% of first wives and about 50% of second wives held this view.

Impact on children

A majority of the children of first wives also demonstrated negative emotions towards their fathers marrying again.

Up to 60% said they were disappointed when they found out about their fathers’ polygamy. More than half were angry and sad. Hardly any felt happy, proud or loved upon hearing the news.

Interestingly, the study also revealed that in time, the children of first wives recorded “indifference” as the dominant emotion towards their fathers’ polygamous marriages.

Norani Othman

Norani Othman

Head researcher Professor Dr Norani Othman said during the in-depth interviews conducted with children of polygamous marriages, they explained that being indifferent was a way of coping emotionally with disappointment and distress.

Meanwhile, more than 55% of the children of second wives said they were “indifferent” about their fathers’ polygamy upon first knowing about it. This figure rose to over 60% when asked how they felt about it currently.

Despite different emotions expressed by the children of first and second wives, over 90% of both groups of children said they would not contract polygamous marriages, based on their own experiences.

Reasons for polygamy


(Courtesy of Sisters in Islam)

The top three reasons cited by husbands for marrying again were to validate their love for their second wives, and to avoid adultery and khalwat. This was roughly echoed by second wives.

A majority of first wives, however, cited “to satisfy lust” as their husbands’ main reason for marrying again, followed by to avoid adultery (46.3%), and then only to validate their love for their second wives (36.3%).

The study showed that almost half of the men and women interviewed either rarely or never told their friends and colleagues about their polygamous families.

“The survey is not just about women’s or men’s experiences with polygamy, but to find out the challenges of living in a polygamous family,” said Norani.

The first-of-its-kind study examined the effects of polygamy on family members – financially, emotionally, as well as socially. At least 1,500 interviews were conducted among husbands, first and second wives, and children in their adulthood from first and second marriages.

The interviews were conducted since 2007.

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25 Responses to “The impact of polygamy in Malaysia”

  1. frags says:

    Interesting. So the men are too embarrassed to tell their friends about their polygamy, but they are perfectly fine with putting the first wife in an emotional quandary.

  2. Farouq Omaro says:

    If one were to read the Quran, it says “You cannot be equitable in a polygamous relationship, no matter how hard you try.” (4:129)

    By allowing and promoting polygamy, we are making a mockery of the sacred institution of marriage. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tunisia and Turkey are among Muslim nations which ban polygamy.

  3. tat2 says:

    If it’s so fair, then let the wives marry more than one husband too.

  4. zen says:

    It all depends on how fair your husband treats you. If he’s not fair, consult a syariah lawyer and ask for your rights. Also ask yourself, is he worth fighting for? Visualize your life in a polygamous marriage and your life as a divorcee. As a wife you must carry out your responsibilities in a loving and caring manner with full sincerity towards your husband but you don’t live for him. You live for Allah.

  5. Gloria Ayob says:

    The Sisters in Islam videos feature two economically self-sufficient, independent minded women. If they are at all representative, one wonders: how is it that polygamy could exist in a society that is otherwise gender-equal, in which women are allowed to go to work and to earn their own keep? What mind-games are we playing (in school, in courts, in mosques) such that women who do not depend on men for their survival would nonetheless tolerate such an arrangement?

    • farha says:

      It’s a mind-game alright. All Moslem women irrespective of their stature (independent and self-sufficient or otherwise) have been told by the ulamas that a verse in the Quran (Surah An-Nisa 4:3) validates a Muslim man’s right to marry more than one wife. She has to tolerate it because if she doesn’t, then she will most probably be condemned as someone who is not ‘redha’ (accepting of her fate) and therefore her ‘muslim’ness is questionable.

      • Gloria Ayob says:

        Yes, there does seem to be an urgent need to disambiguate (1) ‘right’ in the sense of a right to life, which we all have by default, and (2) ‘right’ in the sense of a right to buy a big mansion with a swimming pool and surrounded by two acres of forest, a right which we may all have in principle but which we can only enjoy if we meet certain pre-conditions.

        The demand for fairness (not just of financial but emotional resources) seems to me to make the ‘right’ to polygamy a type-(2) right: not a right that every man has by default (in virtue of being a man), but a right that a man has to earn. And furthermore, it seems to me that if his wife says she feels wronged by the whole thing, then that automatically discounts her husband from counting as having earned that ‘right’. So the woman’s objection to her husband’s plan to re-marry is not un-Islamic; rather, it is precisely a crucial factor in determining whether the man is behaving in an Islamic way, when he makes such plans.

  6. kpl says:

    When a man has the intention to court another woman (or man!), he will. Whether or not his wife is willing to “release” or “permit” him to do so is irrelevant. Polygamous legality is simply a way to regulate his actions and ensure his offspring from his second (or third etc) marriage has legal and social stature.

    • Ida Bakar says:

      I supposed, in your view, some sins are greater than others. It is fine for a man (though not a woman) to let his urges dictate his actions because the alternativeis commiting a sin. However, the grief caused onto the preceeding wife or wives and children are considered lesser sins. This is not what Islam is about.

  7. Frodo says:

    How can men ever be fair … women just complain a lot! Even first/only wives also komplen, komplen,komplen. – look at the facts: men tend to die earlier than their wives. Of course there are bad men; but there are bad women too! SIS agenda is to prohibit polygamy by law; hence this report is just biased – not reporting on or giving us the formula of sucessful polygamous families. Note: the researchers are all women – in-built bias!

    • farha says:

      Is it true women “komplen, komplen, komplen”? Perhaps what you take as “komplen” is an outpouring of emotions… women tend to be more confessional compared to men (I’m speaking from experience, I’m a woman).

      SIS, biased? The report indicates that they questioned men as well – 80% said that they can be fair, though fairness here is subjective. Did they think they can be fair because they can give equal amount of material, physical and emotional needs to all the wives, or do they feel that their polygamous marriage will work because wives should be happy with what they can provide (the caveat here is ‘no one can be entirely fair’)? I’d love to hear more from men who are successful in their polygamous marriages…

      • asimo says:

        Assalamualaikum,
        In the name of Allah the most gracious and most merciful.

        In the Al-Quran it is also stated “You can married two, three and four but if you can’t make a justice between them marry only one”. I only have one wife and I’m not planning to marry more, if others can why not.

        If you believe 100% what is written in Al-Quran (God’s word) and Sunnah Rasullulah then you deserve for paradise (Allah willing). I know you not reading/reciting Al-Quran for sure. Your statement also has been use by non-believers (Kuffar), atheist and Christians before, they also express the same perception like yours. What is the best for Ahlul-sunnah waljamaah is not good for you..that is the problem. You create your own perception based on your own logic but not based on Allah’s words. Allah created man like that..[for whom] the most attractive is 1) women, 2)children/successors, and 3) gold/silver/money/wealth.

        So your objective is to reject polygamy.

        • farha says:

          Wa’alaikumsalam asimo…

          So when women question whether men who marry more than one wife can be fair, it means they reject polygamy? It’s hard being a Muslim woman because when we give an opinion that indicates we’re questioning some men’s unfairness, [we get accused of] questioning the Quran.

          Let’s say I’m a married Muslim woman who is pious, chaste, and fulfills her duty to God and her husband – only to be judged as having to be a “non-believer” for [asking questions]. How utterly beguiling… it’s a test of faith for me, then!

  8. Nasha Ali says:

    To know if Malay men, like most Muslim men are just manipulating religion to their advantage, just take a look at the second wife. Is she younger or older compared to the first, more beautiful or quite ugly, poor and unwanted by the rest of the male species. Except for two, most of the holy prophet’s wives were the rejects nobody else wanted to marry. Its not a lesson for men to take of course. They are men and are not accountable. Time to bring in a prenuptial for all women and hike up the dowry. Dowry is the woman’s right after all. Make sure it is ball busting.

    • asimo says:

      Allah created man like that….that is human nature. I’m not supporting because I’m a man…Allah is just..Allah knows the best..Trust me…

  9. Farouq Omaro says:

    Oh yes, “polygamy is simply a way to regulate his actions and ensure his offspring from his second(or third etc) marriage has legal and social stature”. So, why not allow women to have more than one husband too? How would men like to take turns to sleep with their wives who have more than one husband? Men cannot tolerate their wives sleeping with other men, yet they enact laws allowing themselves to sleep with other women in the guise of “polygamous” marriage! In my opinion this is just legalizing extra-marital affairs! In the end the men get to please his perverted brain, while the woman have to bear the heartache!

    • asimo says:

      Nauzubillah, your statement should go to Allah. It is stated in the Al-Quran. If you reject what is written in the Al-Quran for sure you’re also rejecting Allah and all the prophets of Allah. Whatever misfortune befalls you it is because of what your own hands have done – Allah forgives much.

  10. ayub says:

    SIS should change their name to SAI: Sisters Against Islam…no wonder most of their members are ‘modernist’ or liberal so-called Muslims…they are not scholarly qualified to talk about Islam and their article are mostly against Islam.

    I would like to say bravo to the kafirins who make SIS possible and going…syabas.

    • I’m curious. You mean that if one speaks up for justice and compassion, that is anti-Islam? Kesimpulannya, agama Islam itu agama yang zalim because justice and compassion are antithetical to Islam?

      I’m not a Muslim and that’s NOT my understanding of Islam even if I’m not scholarly trained in religious studies. So, it bemuses me that there are Muslims (assuming you are one) who would speak for Islam and condemn it to being an “agama yang zalim”.

      • Flag of Truth says:

        Allah permits men to marry more than one but it must be based on fairness and equality. Period. We, as Muslims, should not question this decree. What we can discuss here is the implementation of polygamy so both parties (husband and wives) will be protected. Of course, being fair is subjective. You can’t buy 3 shawls for three persons because they have different needs. Allah clearly says in the Quran that if men can not ensure being fair, then they should not venture into the world of polygamy.

        PS: I have only one wife and I am content with her :)

  11. Sabahan Muslim says:

    To discuss this issue in a less biased perspective, perhaps we should ask ourselves, why do women generally abhor polygamy? Is it because polygamy is inherently evil (like stealing, murder, apartheid, etc) or is it because they’ve been ‘conditioned’/'indoctrinated’ to view polygamy from a negative perspective? I remember the history of Jahiliyyah when Arab fathers abhorred the birth of female babies and buried their female children alive.

    They did so because they had been indoctrinated for a long time that female children bring shame and bad luck for their families. Now the same thing has happened to polygamy where negative depictions have helped in painting a very bad view of it regardless of the validity of the depictions. While I agree that polygamy is something that a man has to ‘earn’ in order to be qualified, I totally disagree with view that ‘polygamy is bad because the majority of women hate it’.

    Quran 2:216 mentioned that “it is possible that you (mankind) hate something although it is (actually) good for you and it is possible that you love something although it is bad for you.” Although this verse refers to the Jihad of Qital (armed struggle) it is also universally applicable to all commandments in the Quran, including polygamy.

    Like I said, hate against something can be indoctrinated, including good things like the birth of a female child. With regards to polygamy, there are women who might have been ‘indoctrinated’ through bad experience (their own or otherwise), which I pity but there are those who have been indoctrinated simply by bad propaganda disguised as media freedom, academic discourse etc.

    Whatever the case may be, I believe polygamy can only work if the husband is fair AND if the wife/wives do not have any preconceived negative sentiments about polygamy. The moment the wife/wives have it, then polygamy is doomed to fail no matter how pious or how fair the husband acts. Because hate and negative emotions will just drive the women to protest and ask for separation.

    • Sabahan Muslim says:

      Because hate and negative emotions will just drive the women to protest and ask for separation without much thought, even if their husbands are good.


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