A Writer's Life by Dina Zaman
Polygamy has nothing to do with culture or religion. Men, and women too, cheat because they can.
WHEN a male friend told me he planned on taking a second wife, all I could do was try not to choke on dinner. Are you serious, I asked. He said yes, he had fallen in love with a single mother, but it was not his fate to marry her.
Thinking it was perhaps due her compassion, her earnest desire to bring up her sprogs in a Godly way and that life was indeed a struggle, I choked on my dessert when my friend told me the first thing he noticed about her was that she owned a great set of jugs.
Now, my friend takes his religious obligations very seriously. His first wife wears the hijab. So to hear him admit that it was his paramour’s cleavage that caught his heart was quite shocking.
It was due to women like me, whose so-called Western, secular and feminist ideas of polygamy that pushed it underground. I then asked him, whether his equally-pious wife agreed to him taking on another wife, and he said no. She gave him an earful.
But our friend was on a roll. Now that his journey into polygamy was thwarted, it was all our fault. We modern Malay women, be they religious or not, were forcing men like him to marry in Thailand or Iran, where they practised nikah Muta’ah.
He was emulating the steps of our good Prophet Mohamed, he argued.
“You have got your Islamic history upside down! Nabi married war widows, and his first wife was older than he. Aishah was the youngest. And I don’t think our Prophet married any woman because she had great breasts!”
“You don’t understand.”
“Okay then. Why don’t you sell your car and take a camel to work then?”
I’m realistic. I know men who adore their wives and love them to bits, but they can still love their mistresses and other wives. Am I condoning affairs and polygamy? No. But this happens. It has nothing to do with Islam or being Malay, though polygamy is part of the culture.
We’re Asians. We have a long history of concubinage. There are good men who are faithful, and there are good men who have other wives. There are also bad men who are faithful and also bad men who are unfaithful.
Just like our politics, love in Malaysia is a circus. Weeee!
I’m not going to bore you with what polygamy in Islam is about, as it has been written before and talked about to death. Women’s rights activists have long fought for this “crime” to be illegal, but we face a tough fight. Sometimes it’s not the men who are itching for it, but yes, our gender, too.
In the 80s, when I was young and clueless, meeting mistresses and second or third wives would be sinful and against my principles.
These days? “Oh, you’re a mistress?” “Oh, you’re a hidden wife?” Yawn. Wear tudung or mini skirt, got. Educated or stupid, got. Some of our mothers are The Other Women, and are good mothers. So how?
Is this phenomenon particular to our culture? Oh no. Read the British newspapers. Mistressing is talked about to death in feminist columns.
But I thought after that dinner with my friend, I’d revisit the issue again. Some of the findings from my five-sen survey:
> Theoretically ... polygamy is OK. But must ikut hukum Allah lah. There are conditions.
> Ya, but… actually, kan, for career women like us, it does work. Nak jaga laki 24 jam … gue tak larat la. Biar bini nombor satu jaga. After all, in Islam, polygamous wives are taken care of legally. Better a Muslim second wife than a common law wife.
> But really. Think about it. Convenient, what. You see him once a week, makan once a week, have sex once a week...
> Sex once a week?! Baik tak yah jadi bini nombor dua macam tu! Chit. Once a week mana cukup?!
Why do men cheat? Again, just an observation dwelled upon by friends and myself. For a lot of polygamous men, they marry good women who fit their criteria of holiness, wifeliness and motherhood.
Intimacy between the men and their wives are perfunctory. It’s make-the-baby-cover-the-face sex. With their girlfriends and second wives, it’s Penthouse all the way, baby. It’s the soul thing.
At least this is what I got from talking to quite a number of married men. It’s not because of the first wives’ lack of trying; they want to have healthy intimate lives, but the bees in their husbands’s bonnets keep reminding the men of the Madonna-Whore syndrome.
Malaysia is not a place for single women desiring Hollywood-movie type of marriages and love. KL especially is a city for marriages and affairs. And it has nothing to do with money. There are rich men who cheat, and I know of a despatch boy who has two wives!
There are many single-again women like my friends and I, who still believe in marriage and love. But I can tell you, should we walk down that path again one day, we’re going down it with our eyes open and keep a part of our hearts to ourselves. Because you never know.
Perhaps my friend, an activist who makes a living entering and staying in war zones, is right.
“We have women like you, me, your mother, your aunt and friend who fight so hard for women and children and yet face a brick wall, simply because we ‘understand’ so much, and forgive all the time, which is why cheating, affairs and polygamy are rampant, to the detriment or contribution (depends how you look at it) of our well-being,” says my friend.
Another friend, Sharizal Sharaani, put it succinctly: “Men (and, yes, women too) cheat because they can. Full stop.”
The writer still believes in love and marriage and wants to move to Corfu.