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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Two Girls, One Copt: Polygamy in the Middle East

Now, technically, this article is about Islam, not Copts (who are Christian). However, it is about polygamy and it was published in Egypt, the ancestral homeland of Coptic Christians (though more and more have fled discrimination). As such, I really could not resist the allusion to the shock video.

Nadine al-Bedair, a Saudi female journalist (though the Saudi female journalist may be more accurate), wrote an article in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm (the Daily Something [my knowledge of a similar Semitic language (Hebrew) isn't helping me figure out the meaning) pushing for allowing women to be polygamous.

Islam, of course, allows four wives to a man, if they're treated equally, though in practice they rarely are. (as a side note, it wasn't always alone in Middle Eastern religions in that respect, though Judaism banned polygamy 1000 years ago at the Rabbinical Synod of Worms initiated by R' Gershon ben Juda. Interestingly, this synod also banned divorcing a woman against her will and the reading of private mail). al-Bedair argues that women should be allowed to marry multiple men, or if not, that significantly greater restrictions should be put on men regarding multiple wives.

Unsurprisingly, her article was pretty much universally denounced, with what I presume was a Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is a breakaway/affiliate) MP filing a lawsuit to shut down the newspaper. The only clerical defender mentioned wasn't technically defending it. Rather, he was saying she didn't really mean it and was just trying to bring attention to the plight of women in polygamous marriages. One hopes that we'll see progress, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

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