Impossible Family Dynamics of Islam
By Nonie Darwish
FrontPageMagazine.com | January 29, 2003
Marriage and divorce laws in Islam have a profound effect on the family unit and consequently on Moslem society as a whole. I personally lived in and witnessed many Moslem families and saw the impossible family dynamics resulting from these laws. I realized that a woman finding herself happy and secure in a Moslem marriage happens rarely and only through extraordinary good luck. I will explain why this is so.
The family unit is comprised of a father, mother and children. This is the nucleus that societies are made up of. The source of all loyalty in the family is the loyalty between the husband and wife. The healthy relationships extending out beyond the marriage depend to a large extent on what kind of bond the couple has. The way religion regulates the holy relationship between a man and the woman in matrimony is crucial in forming the secondary relationships in the family unit and what kind of extended family dynamics are built on it. The husband and wife relationship will ultimately shape the kind of society that is the end result. Religions bring rules and codes of behavior that stabilize this unit for the benefit of society.
The Judeo-Christian religion stresses one man / one woman in marriage where the nucleus of loyalty is clear between a husband and wife. Genesis 2:24 says "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." Note the singular form of the word Ďwife.í
Islam on the other hand allows women only one husband but men up to four wives, and that changes the dynamics of everything. That right of the man, even though many Moslem men choose not to exercise it for many reasons, has a devastating impact on the healthy function and the structure of loyalties of the Moslem family. There are chronic social ills and tragedies stemming from this single right, accorded to men by Allah, and demonstrated in practice by the prophet Mohamed.
The husband according to Islamic law has the right to divide his loyalty between four women and his children from all of them. Islam asks men to be fair and just among the wives and to treat them all equally. In practice, when the inevitable conflicts of marriage occur, many Moslem men resort to a second wife (or threat thereof) as their Ďsolutioní instead of working out the problem with the first.
Men do not even have to use their rights for the damage to happen. By allowing Men to be Ďloyalí to up to four wives, the stage is set for women always to distrust their husbands in the Moslem world. That distrust extends also to other women since any of them could shamelessly become an eligible Ďbacheloretteí for the husband. If the husband stays married only to his first wife, then it is a sign of his generosity and good graces. She should thank her lucky stars and be eternally grateful to him and his whole family, as she becomes the envy of other women. However, in the back of her mind she is always in fear. A Moslem wife cannot demand her husbandís loyalty to herself alone, and she is threatened by single women in a way that no Christian wife is threatened by her husbandís mistress.
Under Islamic law, a second wife (and third and fourth) is legally equal to the first in every way, including inheritance. This is very different from an affair in the Christian West where the mistress has no rights and is discouraged by religion and society from any advances to or from a married man.
A single Moslem woman with an eye on a married man often can say: "He is a man and can use his rights and our marriage will still be blessed by God, just as that of the first wife. It is his right as a man to have both of us!"
Thus relationships among women in Moslem countries also become strained and hostile. There are little relationships between women outside the family or clan. There is constant fear of envy and the evil eye as well. As a child I often heard women begging their husbands after a fight not to marry another woman. "Go ahead and have affairs" they say, "but please never marry another." They are afraid of another wife and children who will be regarded as equal by law and society.
Moslem women, when their husbands earn more money, have to worry about him being able to afford a second wife. I remember hearing a Moslem woman advising her friend: "spend your husbandís money as fast as you can before there is extra for another wife!" Moslem men very often keep the first wife in the dark about the second wife and often his own family and some of his close friends know about it and cover up for him. Women in the Islamic world frequently discover, after the husbandís death, another wife and children they never knew existed, with whom they now have to share the inheritance as equals!
Divorce in Islam is accomplished by the husband repeating the phrase "I divorce you!" three times. Thatís it! It almost harkens back to a pre-literate, tribal era.
When I was a child, we had neighbors who were very distinguished physicians, both husband and wife, with two teenage sons. One day the wife came to my mother crying because she had discovered that her husband had been married for years to one of his young attractive patients and already had a child with her. When she confronted him with her discovery, his response was "What do you want? I am within my rights." She begged him to divorce the other woman. He refused. She told him "then you have to divorce me", thinking he would back down. He called her bluff; the next day he divorced his wife of 20 years!
Women, on the other hand, have no equivalent right to divorce their husbands. I remember being 21 and having a new woman friend aged 23. She was like me, living with her parents and she confided in me that she had been married to a man 5 years earlier and when she asked him for divorce because she was unhappy he refused. He then retaliated by sending her back to her family and married another woman with whom he had a couple of children. He could divorce her in a minute if he wanted, but she had to go through years of court procedures with no success and finally her family had to bribe him with a hefty amount of money to divorce her.
In addition, Moslem men have the right to marry non-Moslem women; Moslem women have no right but to marry Moslem men. That causes a gap of availability of men to Moslem women. The result is a larger number of unmarried Moslem women who have fewer and fewer population of Moslem men to choose from. On the other hand, Moslem men often find it easier to marry a non-Moslem foreigner, with whom he does not have to give a dowry, follow strict family courtship rules and no wife family to bother him and look after her interests.
Moslem Women have to juggle this impossible web of harm and deceit as a result of menís religious right to have more than one wife and easy divorce. All these laws skewed towards Moslem men leave women in a very weak position, but that injustice does not come free of cost to men, and has a devastating impact on every aspect of Moslem society. The issue is not just that it is unfair to women; it is much worse than that and has many unintended, damaging consequences to the healthy upbringing of children. Womenís loyalty to their husbands is completely undermined, and many Moslem women shift their loyalty to their first born son and their own family. The son becomes her man and her defender, very often against his own father. Frequently a wifeís father or brother will settle disputes with her husband. The unit of loyalty in the Moslem world is then transferred from Husband and Wife to Mother and son, mother and her family, husband and other wives, and husband and his own family who cover up for his second, third or fourth marriage.
Thus the whole social structure is disrupted. Women in the Middle East often go by their sonís name such as Om Mohamed, meaning "Mother of Mohamed" or Om Ali, "Mother of Ali". That becomes their identity. It is not ĎMrs. Husbandí but ĎMother of Soní. In the Moslem world the relationships between Mother and daughter-in-law are especially very strained and bizarre. Very often a Moslem mother-in-law, who herself transferred her loyalty to her son, suddenly becomes very powerful and very threatened by the marriage of her sons. Mothers often choose the sonís wife. Wife has to please mother-in-law and often serve her more than mother-in-lawís own daughters. This is one way to guarantee husbandís blessings and influence him not to marry another woman. Very often Mother-in-law might encourage the son to marry another woman if the daughter in law is not obedient enough. If this all seems confusing, thatís the whole point! Itís a disaster!
Moslem weddings are not a very holy event. There is the traditional virginity check of the bride among the less educated classes, the exchange of the dowry between the groom and father of the bride and the belly dancers that lead the bride and groom to the bedroom. As a teenager I saw in an old Hollywood movie a church wedding ceremony. I was very touched by the marriage vows, especially when the Husband promises to love, honor and cherish his one wife only, "till death do us part". I thought, "That must be very civilizing to men". That scene struck me deeply and I wept over the beauty of the words that are the basis of the Judeo-Christian family. It was very comforting and calming and formed a great foundation to society. Even though I was a very young teenager, I asked my mother after the movie "How come we donít have weddings like that?" Her answer missed the point: "We do have very glamorous weddings too", as if the issue was glamour or romance. I nagged her, without even comprehending why: "No we donít have weddings like that!" I now look back at my innocent mind that was seeking comfort from the impossible family dynamics created by Islam.
In my opinion one of the greatest contributions of Judaism and Christianity to humanity and the order of things in Western civilization is the idea of one man, one woman joined in holy matrimony, which resulted in a far superior society and stable social order. Even though Islam is supposedly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the commandments and exhortations for monogamy seem to have been completely lost in the desert culture of Mecca.
I remember as a child secretly telling myself "I want a Christian wedding" and when I grew up, I did; I married a Christian. Mind you, the ceremony was simple and modest, and my husband and I had to flee to the USA. We were fortunate not to be denounced to the authorities by the ordinary visa office clerk, who, like everyone else in the society, considered it her business to enforce the religious virtue of every other citizen.
There is a large number of Moslem women married to Christians in the West. Many of them live in fear of being exposed in the old country. According to Islam these women are no longer Moslems. Without the USA many Moslem women would have been killed in their own countries for marrying a non-Moslem.
In Islam a manís honor resides in the virginity of the women in his family. Arabic movies always show unmarried women being killed because they are no longer virgins, even if they were raped. That is the singular lesson of life that every Moslem girl grows up with. I do very much value a conservative attitude in the bringing up of both girls and boys to wait until marriage, and I did apply that to myself and the upbringing of my children. Traditional Christianity and Judaism value the same thing. However, Islam took this to the extreme level of killing girls that loose their virginity, like getting rid of a used tissue! It does not matter how or why it happened. That could be looked into later.
I personally knew of a couple of instances of such Ďhonor killingí. To cite one example, my family once had a new maid who was about 17 or 18 years old. My mother noticed the unthinkable, that the girl came to us pregnant. She did not have it in her heart to send the girl back to her family since she was certain to be fatally harmed. When my mother asked the girl who the man was, she told my mother it was her previous boss whose wife threw her out when she discovered her husbandís obvious rape! When the girl was getting close to delivery my mother sent her to some government facility for her delivery. A few months later my mother learned from the agent that brought her to us that the girlís family took care of the family disgrace and said something to the effect that the girl had been killed! I will never forget this girlís face and I still weep over her. That story is still imprinted in my memory, thanks to the "Religion of Peace".
While Islam murders girls who have premarital sex, regardless of circumstances, it glorifies sex in the bringing up of boys. The Islamic culture gives freedom to boys to have sex prior to marriage and to indulge in many sins not allowed to girls. I often wondered who the girls are that Moslem boys go with? These must be the ones that Islam will take to Hell. The Moslem culture is full of contradictions that my young mind could not comprehend growing up. Everything seemed to revolve around sex. The sexual aspect of anything is number one; Clothes, a look by a woman, a laugh, a smile, etc. I felt that I am always looked upon as a sexual object, a piece of meat that has to always be on guard not to tempt men.
Western women who marry Moslem men, discover after the marriage ends and after itís too late, the sad situation they are left with. In Islam, the father has the right to the children after a certain age. Very often these men take their children and go back to their home country to be wed to the new wife without even thinking twice. We all heard of the horror stories and they are all true.
Even after death, in the Paradise of Islam women are given the short end of the stick. The idea of Heaven is a carnal manís dream and a womanís nightmare. A woman in Islamís Heaven is supposed to be servicing menís sensual desires together with about 70 other virgins! The maximum on earth is four at a time but heaven becomes extra generous to Moslem men. Heaven is a giant brothel! Is that what Moslem women are looking forward to after death? Thanks, but no thanks!
I believe that the Arab/Moslem world has lost its moral equilibrium and has a long road for reformation. Arabs/Moslems have to truly re-examine their divorce and family laws to create a better context for married couples to have a happier and healthier life.
Ms. Darwish is an American of Arab/Moslem origin and a former editor and translator. Her e-mail is email@example.com