Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Life

May 17, 2014

GLOBAL FAITHS: Polygamy legalized in Kenya — for men only

The government of Kenya has recently passed a law legalizing polygamy. For men, that is. So reports the May issue of Christianity Today. Even some Christian lawmakers backed Muslims in passing the bill, which seems to be primarily for the benefit of Muslims, whom Islamic law permits up to four wives.

Kenya has some 4 million Muslims, although they make up only 20 percent of the national population. Eighty percent is Christian. A 2009 poll found that 13 percent of Kenyan women were already in polygamous relationships.

The new law has a gender bias. A man may take a second wife even over the objection of his first wife. An earlier version gave the first wife the right to block her husband’s taking of a second wife, but the final bill removed that provision. This right of a husband goes further than what is allowed in some Muslim majority countries, where the first wife is at least permitted to divorce her husband if he contracts a second marriage.

Some critics of the new Kenyan law predict that it will lead to more divorces and “court fights over inheritances.” Some Christian spokesmen felt that those Christian legislators who helped the bill to pass failed their Christian duty to uphold the Christian ideal of marriage. However, one Anglican seminary professor weighing in on the issue cited the New Testament text that prescribes one wife for a church overseer but presumably does not forbid plural marriage for others, and while monogamy is the Christian ideal, Kenyans should not necessarily prohibit what is permissible for Muslims.

While this development unfolded in Kenya, a young woman journalist in Egypt wrote an article asking “why polygamy is allowed for men in Islam but not for women,” this according to a news.bbc.co.uk website. The news report says this woman journalist’s article “was clearly meant to cause a big stir, and it has.” She suggests that “there should be a new concept of marriage where men are not allowed to take a new wife just because they are bored with the old one.”

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