Do bigamy and Islam go together? The Law Commission of India doesn't
think so. Indian clerics of all hues disagree. But they don't seem
to have the backing of ordinary Muslims.
The issue of a Muslim man having more
than one wife has always divided the country's second largest
religious minority. The row has escalated since the Law Commission
asserted Thursday that bigamy conflicts with the "true Islamic law
in letter and spirit".
"Bigamy is not against the spirit of
Islam," asserted Maulana Abdul Khaleeq Sambhali, pro-vice chancellor
of Darul Uloom in Deoband town, some 150 km from here, and one of
the biggest seminaries in India.
"Islam permits a man to have more than
one wife provided he does justice to both his wives on economic and
other issues," the Maulana told IANS on telephone from Deoband.
was reacting to the 227th Law Commission report submitted to the
central government. While falling short of suggesting a change in
Muslim law that permits bigamy, the commission report said: "We
fully agree that traditional understanding of Muslim law on bigamy
is gravely faulty and conflicts with true Islamic law in letter and
This is one of the most radical
observations on the subject in any recent government publication.
Renowned Islamic scholar Maulana
Wahiduddin Khan concurred with Sambhali but with a moderate touch
for which he is known.
"Islam permits a man to have a second
wife but under certain conditions," the ageing Khan told IANS here.
Khan added quickly that while bigamy
was widespread during medieval periods when wars turned the gender
ratio in favour of women, Muslims now did not practise bigamy.
Asked if he would support a ban on
bigamy in India a la Turkey and Tunisia, Khan said: "Ban is not a
solution. Instead people must be taught and made aware in what
conditions a man can marry more than one wife."
Even in Muslim countries such as
Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Morocco, Pakistan and Bangladesh,
polygamy is subject to judicial review.
The Indian clerics' views supporting
bigamy is met with disgust by most middle class Muslims.
"The system of bigamy is inherently
unfair to women and such practices should be stopped," thundered
Arshan Alam, assistant professor at the Centre For Jawaharlal Nehru
Studies in Jamia Millia Islamia here.
He said that to stop such practices,
the Indian state, as it has acted in the case of Hindus, "must take
the initiative because it has the authority to regulate and
legislate on such issues".
opposed to the veto power the largely conservative Ulema appears to
hold over Muslim issues that affect millions. The government needs
to rope in liberal and intellectual Muslims, he said.
27, a housewife in Delhi, agreed with Alam.
"If my husband marries another woman,
it would be one of the most humiliating things in my life," she
said. "In such cases I would prefer to get a divorce."
said the Indian Muslim community needed to take the initiative to
battle social customs out of tune with today's world.
Although many Indians are under the
impression that Muslim men tend to take more than one wife,
government-backed statistics prove that this is a myth.
According to a 1974 government survey,
one of the last on the subject, tribals account for around 14
percent of all bigamous marriages in India.
Surprisingly, Muslims are at the
bottom with 5.6 percent of bigamous marriages while upper caste
Hindus come a notch above them -- 5.8 percent.
"In any case, how can Muslim men have
two wives when there are not so many Muslim women in the country?"
Khalid Akhter can
be contacted at