A blessing in polygamy disguise
So, is Prime Minister Erdogan against adultery and polygamy or not? As far as I know, Erdogan hasn’t reacted yet to the debate that is going on. The subject: an advisor he appointed earlier this year, Ali Yuksel, who has three wives and intends to marry a fourth. It’s not possible to officially marry more than one woman, so this religious man has married one woman within the law, and all three of them in a religious ceremony. Adultery and polygamy, right? Erdogan is against that, everybody knows because he wanted to make adultery a criminal offence some years ago. But in this case, apparently having more wives than one is okay.
‘This case’ means that an imam has given his blessing. But legally, marrying more than one person in a religious ceremony is also forbidden in Turkey: an ‘imam nikah’ (religious marriage) can only be performed after the couple is already officially married. So it’s impossible to do imam nikah for a second time, let alone a third time, or a fourth.
In practice though, it happens all the time that the rules are not obeyed. In some regions it’s very normal to do only imam nikah and never get married officially, some young couples use imam nikah to pressure their family to allow them to get officially married, and in tourist places, young Turkish gods do just anything to make young Western goddesses believe that they really love them, including dazzling her by taking her to an imam to get ‘married’.
Since imams in Turkey are employed by the state, so you might wonder how it is possible that these illegal practices happen on such large scale. One: there are a whole lot of men that call themselves imams who are not employed by the state but who still perform imam nikah. Two: many state imams don’t follow the official rules either, and they haven’t for a long time, since traditions are strong, very strong. And they get away with it. Like the people committing adultery or polygamy: even when it’s out in the open, like in Ali Yuksel’s case, nobody even cares to file a complaint to start a court case against him. He is even employed by the Prime Minister.
As for me, I’m not against having more wives or husbands in principle. If all partners in a relationship do agree on any form of making a life together, that’s all okay by me. In many societies it’s just not accepted based on religious values and on difficulties it would create in all sorts of legal arrangements like pensions, legacies, etc. But in this case, it’s a matter of equal rights for men and women. The women don’t have the religious freedom to marry a second, third or fourth man, and I wonder if the first wife could really object to her man marrying another woman. Disobeying your husband is probably not the best thing a wife can do in a very religious relationship like this.
I think for the AKP the Ali Yuksel case can be a blessing in disguise. Now they are being heavily criticised, and for good reason: they are very hypocritical when it comes to ‘family values’ and now even employ somebody who violates family law. AKP didn’t invent the (Islamic) traditions around imam nikah, but they are ruling the country now, so it’s in their power to end the practice of polygamy.
They should make it a priority to ban polygamy in any way possible: they could fire imams that perform imam nikah on couples that are not officially married, urge prosecutors to open court cases against men who marry while they are already married, and show that they are serious in fighting polygamy by firing Ali Yuksel from his post as advisor to Prime Minister Erdogan. Isn’t it the greatest opportunity ever to show they are serious about making Turkey more modern, isn’t it a great chance to show that they don’t accept any practice that smells like sharia law?
It is, but I don’t think the AKP will take the opportunity. The party is and will always be a conservative one, and its most important leaders are just too deeply rooted in conservative Islamic family traditions.
The practice of having more than one wife is controversial enough so it is difficult to call it an established religious principle as well. When pressed, conservative Muslims opt a way out, citing that “it is only possible if the husband can keep all wives happy and prosperous”. Come on! This is a mechanism to keep the woman suppressed, relegating her almost to a commodity. Note also that in most of these cases the woman does not even have much to say.
There are also similar archaic customs such as forcefully marrying a woman to her brother-in-law when the husband dies or others that I can not think of now. The common denominator for all these cases is that these “traditions” are for some reason favoring men and I believe they are invented by men. They go hand in hand with the conservative adages that women can not work, can not vote for a party other than her husband’s choice, girls can not go to school and so on.
I would also have been more flexible, saying that it’s people’s preferences, but only if the playing field is level. When women are so under-privileged and oppressed in a society, keeping centuries old conservative traditions is not something I can support.
It is ironic that a party which has in the past imposed several bans on drink and has tried to pass an “adultery” law can support polygamy under the auspices of “religious traditions”.