Durban - A HIGH prevalence of anxiety, depression, low self esteem and feelings of insecurity exist among women in polygamous marriages.
That is according to research conducted by a Master's graduate who examined the lived experiences of Muslim women in a polygamous marriage.
Zorah Bibi Sooliman, co-founder of the Gift of the Givers Foundation, a humanitarian aid agency, graduated this week with a Master’s degree in counselling psychology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. For her thesis, Sooliman examined the lived experiences of Muslim women in a polygamous marriage in Durban and surrounding areas.
Sooliman said polygamy was not widely spoken about.
“However, it is practised quite commonly but in secrecy. Men, women and people in religious circles tend to shy away from the topic. “Yet if discussed, like any social problem, this practice can be addressed in a way that it should be according to the Islamic law and principles,” said Sooliman.
The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 4: V3, states: “And if you fear that you cannot do justice to orphans, marry women of your choice; two, or three, or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to treat them justly, then marry only one. That will be more suitable to prevent you from evil” (Ali, 1989).
The mother of five, from Pietermaritzburg, conducted a qualitative study over 18 months, using a non-random, purposive sample of subjects who experienced being in a polygamous marriage.
The main findings from the research were that where subsequent marriages were conducted in secrecy, there was a breach of trust for the first wife, who only got to know after the marriage was solemnised.
The second wife felt judged by society, did not feel accepted by the husband’s family or community, and she also felt insecure that their husband might take on another wife.
It found that both wives and their children experienced physical and mental health conditions; the wives felt emotionally disconnected from their husbands and stayed in the marriage for the finances.
Also, many women had not done more than matric, therefore they had no career to fall back on.
The husband did not practise polygamy fairly and according to Islamic law – for example, for time, resources and emotional distribution.
“The husbands were reluctant to improve their behaviour on the basis that polygamy was their right, according to the religion.
“They did not want to be educated on the practice by religious scholars. Women had no faith in the religious leaders to protect them. “They perceived them as only seeing the perspective of the husband and defending the husband,” said Sooliman.
Sooliman, who has run a counselling service, said she found that many women in polygamous marriages and their children were emotionally broken and found it difficult to cope and this manifested in many psychosocial issues. “
This motivated me to undertake this study.
“Through listening to the voices of women, my aim and objectives were to educate men who are in or wish to embark on polygamous marriages, educate women about their rights in Islam, and make religious leaders (maulanas) aware of the real lived experiences of the families in such marriages, whether they are the first wife and her family or the subsequent wife/wives and their families.
“Through education of all stakeholders, this practice can be conducted according to the way it has been prescribed in the Holy Qur’an,” she said.
She said her findings would help women realise that they were not alone and other women in polygamous marriages were experiencing similar or the same experiences.
“There is a high prevalence of anxiety, depression, low self esteem and feelings of insecurity among the wives, be they the first or subsequent wives.
“Their children manifest with behavioural problems and temporary or permanent learning difficulties.
“Apart from realisation of their common experiences, the women need to know and understand the religious laws, how these apply to them and more importantly to educate themselves about it.
“Men in these marriages need to become aware of the hurt and the suffering they cause their families by not practising this phenomenon in an equitable manner.
“Men who are planning to take on a subsequent wife should become aware of the struggles their families will experience. Hence they should learn as much as possible about this practice and how it should be carried out according to the rules laid out in the Qur’an,” she said.
Sooliman said people viewed psychology as helping people who experience mental health challenges. “I like to work on enhancing people’s individual abilities and capacities. Helping them realise and work with themselves to become the best version of themselves.” Sooliman started Careline in 1995 to respond to the psychological and emotional needs of the community and from a cultural perspective.