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Polygamy | Emirati Research | Zayed University | United Arab Emirates

Zayed University Study Gives Snapshot of Opinions on Polygamy

Melanie Swan, The National
May 26, 2015

A student at Zayed University has sought to provide a snapshot of current opinions on polygamy through a survey of Emirati men and women in various emirates.

Mariam Al Zaabi interviewed 70 men and 130 women from across the country and, although the sample is small, she found about four-fifths of the men she spoke to in Abu Dhabi and two-thirds in Dubai said they agreed with the concept, compared with less than half in the Northern Emirates.

Ms. Al Zaabi, 21, who is graduating in international relations, said reasons for this were debatable. “You would think people would assume that due to the urbanization of Abu Dhabi and Dubai they would be less accepting of polygamy, but from the research, this is not what we found,” she said.

Only one in 10 women said they would accept polygamy. Most say monogamy was more stable, as the Islamic rules of justice to each wife were not easily fulfilled and polygamy caused marital problems.
Men who preferred monogamy say more than one marriage costs too much money and time, and it would be difficult to ensure justice to each wife.

The Quran ruling in verse three of Al Nisa’a says: “Marry the woman of your choice in twos, threes, or fours, but, if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly, then only one.”

“A popular joke is that guys in the UAE memorize the first part of verse three, and women remember the second part, so it’s like none of the population is reading the verse fully, or as it’s intended to be read,” Ms. Al Zaabi said.

Male respondents in their mid-30s to 50s tend to be more influenced by religion than finances, and both sexes agree polygamy could be justified if the first wife had fertility problems.

Dr. Natasha Ridge, the head of research at Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in Ras Al Khaimah, said a study she conducted on 200 male high-school pupils in 2007 and 2013 showed 20 to 25 percent of families in Ras Al Khaimah were polygamous.

She was investigating the high rate of male Emirati dropouts, about 12 percent, which she said were often a result of a polygamous father.

“Polygamy means less time for the father involved, and it may also mean that when he is involved, it is more as a disciplinarian than a positive influence,” Dr. Ridge said. “It can function similarly to a divorce, as a disrupter of family life.”

Ms. Al Zaabi’s supervisor, Habibul Khondker, said her research was valuable. “It addresses an important sociological issue–the impact of social change and modernization on the institution of family in Emirati culture. As the UAE society is undergoing rapid progress, such research can add important insights to the understanding and assessment of modernization of Emirati society."