By Shima Shahrabi
November 14, 2019
Discussions around polygamy have burst into Iranian social media over the past several days. A series of posters published by the Hassani Life Institution, in the conservative city of Qom, sparked the debate by announcing a workshop on polygamy and promoting it among Iranians. And before the posters there was a particular “non-stop television program featuring a cleric defending the practice.
The cleric, Gholamreza Ghasemian, has a history of defending polygamy in his public statements. He said the television show that: “The issue of polygamy is not our main issue, because those men who want to get in touch with women out of lust, will not engage in marriage or forming a family. The family system is a very difficult domain and men usually cannot afford even one spouse, let alone two. But it should be noted that the practice of temporary marriage, or polygamy, have their own functions. I am not promoting it but I seriously defend it.” (A “temporary marriage”, or sigheh, is the practice of a man marrying a woman for a fixed period of time – usually days or hours.)
And this is far from the first time that the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting [IRIB] company or another state-affiliated institution has advertised the idea of multiple wives for men.
Faezeh Hashemi, a former MP and women’s rights activist, opposes polygamy; she says that promoting it is the greatest sin, and a betrayal of society. In a recorded interview obtained by IranWire through an intermediary, Hashemi shared her thinking on the subject.
For many years, women’s rights activists in the Islamic Republic have been trying to abolish the law which allows men to have more than one wife, but not only have these efforts been unsuccessful, recently the promotion of polygamy has been widespread and the government has not intervened. What do you think is the reason?
I do not know why some people are so stubborn about doing something that contradicts all ethical, inbred, human, and natural principles, because there is no moral or rational reason for such remarks and in my opinion, it is even anti-religion and anti-Islam. In addition to the posters that have recently been released online, IRIB [Iran’s state broadcaster] has repeatedly raised the question of polygamy and has acted quite inappropriately. This propaganda favoring polygamy is rooted in a rejection of the demands of modern society, and in understanding what women really want; and perhaps even, it is rooted in the vulgarity of men. I cannot think of any other reasons.
You say polygamy for men and temporary marriage are anti-religion and anti-Islam, but those who defend polygamy, say Islam allows men to have multiple wives.
As far as temporary marriage is concerned, I personally have not found any mention of it in the Quran. We have a verse on polygamy, but the same verse rejects polygamy because it says in polygamous situations there should be justice among a man’s wives, before finally saying that if a man cannot treat his wives equally then he should not look for a second wife. Naturally, when a man looks for a second wife or a temporary marriage, he has emotions for such a person. Could he have the same feels for his first wife? No! To have the same affection for the first wife does not make sense, because if this were true, he would not go looking for a second wife. Therefore, emotional justice cannot be maintained. The men and women who support polygamy are only concerned about economic justice, while justice has different dimensions, including emotional justice, social justice, and so on. In polygamy, in my opinion, emotional justice cannot be respected, that is, a man cannot love multiple wives equally. That is why I say polygamy is anti-religion and anti-Islam, but unfortunately the supporters of this idea see the first part of this verse and ignore the second part. Unfortunately, our law also emphasizes something that is completely against our religion, and the people who are promoting it are also trying to normalize it in the eyes of the public.
And this is being promoted under the name of Islam, which is very dangerous. Apart from the harm it inflicts on society, it destroys Islam and, in the eyes of many, represents it as an unjust religion, while I believe that Islam is strongly opposed to this.
How do you deal with this as a women’s rights activist?
Much more needs to be done though advertising to talk about the ugliness and the wickedness of this act, and to explain its weakening effect on family foundations and the promotion of immorality in the family. Members of parliament should be more aware of this debate, and in turn help the public to be aware. I am not a member of parliament and I do not have access to the government – therefore I cannot do anything about it.
But you were a member of the parliament and could propose legislation before. Did you do anything about it?
I do not remember doing anything about it, but at that time the issue of polygamy was not so intense. If polygamy was practiced then, it was secretive, a shameful thing and not an ordinary and routine practice. But unfortunately, looking around us, we find that polygamy has become common in recent years. I really did not do anything [as an MP] because the issue was not so severe – it seemed more like a joke. But today polygamy has become widespread and has profoundly impacted family life.
One of the more recent and damaging effects of polygamy is that of women betraying their husband. And when you ask a woman why she is betraying her husband, she say: why can my husband get a second spouse, but I can’t? Our society has changed. Women are no longer the same – they no longer tolerate anything men do. They do not tolerate the injustice and cruelty that is imposed on them – especially on polygamy where being one of several wives is contrary to the nature of women. So I have a question: if polygamy is necessary and not against nature, why are men not willing to tolerate polygamy for women?
The answer to this question is because Islam has allowed it for men only.
They used to say that polygamy was allowed for men and not for women because, if a women gets pregnant, it would not be clear who the father of the baby is and therefore women could not have several husbands. But today, with DNA testing and other technologies, we have solved the problem. If men think polygamy is a good thing, then they should allow it for women too. After all, our religious jurists must update themselves. Why can only men take advantage of this right?
Unfortunately, in the Islamic Republic, it is men who interpret Islam and pass legislation according to their reading of Islam. Women have less rights in this respect. Everyone [in power] is male, the culture is masculine, and patriarchy prevails. I believe that the interpretation of Islam in our society is patriarchal and that it is not the real Islam at all.
Polygamy has turned into a form of corruption. Men now abuse it; they are supported by existing laws and propaganda, and official organs of the system, such as the IRIB or online propaganda. Why are the authorities – who ban so many forms of online content – not banning the publication of these pro-polygamy campaigns? The only solution is to repeal the law that allows for multiple marriages or temporary marriage for married men. This law needs to be abolished to fix this problem.
Just as polygamy was forbidden by the Family Protection Act, it should now be banned. Polygamy creates a moral crisis in the family. Statistics show that delinquency is more common in children born in families based on polygamous marriages than those born in a divorced family, which shows how dangerous the matter is.
You mentioned the pre-Revolution period. Many believe that this polygamy was not so widespread before the Revolution, and that when you were a member of parliament, the issue was not such a focus of debate.
We had an area for prostitution [Shahr-e Now] in Tehran before the Revolution. They closed it down and now everywhere is a prostitution zone. They not only failed to prevent prostitution, they are spreading it. Polygamy is an anti-moral and anti-family problem. Proponents of polygamy are constantly calling for women to stay within the family and to not get involved in social issues – saying that otherwise Islam will be damaged. But they disintegrate the family, make it vulnerable, and offend the dignity of women. The phenomenon of polygamy is violence against women, and no free nature can accept this.
They say there are too many single women, that men’s economic situation is difficult and they may not marry, and polygamy is the solution to these problems. Unmarried girls do not want to marry, or else they would have found a suitable person. They did not get married because they did not want to, and the situation was not satisfying for them. Marriage in general and polygamy specifically are are not the solutions. The problem must be solved otherwise. Solve the economic problems of housing, inflation, consumerism, and create educational programs to tackle this cultural issue.
Why do you think, 40 years after a Revolution based on Islamic ideology, moral corruption is so deeply rooted?
Mismanagement, failed policies, inefficiency, a disregard for ethics, male supremacy and male temptations are the causes of this situation. Failed and inappropriate laws also have an impact because their effects are revealed and last over long periods of time. Laws build habits and reinforce social conditions, whether positive or negative. For example, previously we heard that women whose husbands married a second wife, went to court and complained. Eventually, a judge would often say: “He has remarried; so what? It is not against the law.” This approach has gradually grown to the point where polygamy is now officially promoted. The lack of moderation in the society is another reason for this spread. When you keep separating men and women under various pretexts, while God said in the Quran that ‘I created men and women alongside each other to comfort one another,’ such situations will be the result.
Regarding your efforts in the field of women’s rights in the Islamic Republic during many years, how does this issue make you feel?
I don’t feel negative. Finally, I believe that what we have done has worked. Of course, I was not alone, and the work done over the years was a collective movement, and I believe that because of cultural issues and women’s issues, it is a gradual movement. An example is the issue of diya [blood money]. They banned my “Zan [Woman]” newspaper because of a caricature about the inequality of diya for men and women. But for several years now the diya amounts in car accident claims have been paid equally whether for men or women. Anyhow, the women’s rights activists have not been unsuccessful; but success is a very slow process. Unfortunately, as we pressed on, women’s issues have turned into political and security issues. The authorities do not let it move forward and prevent it from progressing.
Have you ever been abused for the protection of women’s rights?
Yes, not specifically for women’s issues, but because of my political statements and my criticism of parts of the state. I have been banned from leaving the country for some time and the ban is constantly being extended. I have a few court orders against me. I was fired from the university. They have abused my family, my son, my son-in-law, and others. I can go nowhere for lectures or even attend meetings, especially in other cities. In fact, they have put all sorts of restrictions on me. If I want to run for elections or anything else, I will definitely be disqualified.
Do you want to take the chance to become a candidate?
No. I have no intention of entering the elections.