Egypt Independent

Draft law proposes jailing husbands who remarry without telling first wife



A new law draft will soon face the legislative body of parliament, calling for jailing husbands who remarry without telling their first wives for six months. The law was submitted by MP Abla Hawary and has stirred debate between Islamic scholars and women’s rights advocates.

Hawary told Egypt Independent she considered the law to be necessary, “we are fighting polygamy at its core. Even if it is permitted by Islam, we should at least try and moderate it.”

Hawary said the law should not come as a surprise as it protects the most basic rights of women, “a wife has the right to know,” she said. “To begin with, Maazouns [Islamic clerics], cannot remarry a husband unless he [informs] his first wife. However, now we are trying to fight the problem at its core.”

Hawary defended a wife’s right to know if her husband is getting remarried. Firstly, she said, “she cannot live a lie, secondly, she cannot [discover] the surprise that her husband had remarried, after he dies, as this affects inheritance. Third, in case the husband has children with the second wife, the children should not grow up not knowing who their brothers and sisters are.”

Beyond that, Hawary argues that the law protects the new wife as much as the first one. “The fact that a man was not willing to tell his first wife he was going to get remarried makes me doubt that he will tell the second wife in the first place. So now [he] is violating the rights of two women.”

However, some Islamic scholars view this law to be in direct conflict with the essence of marriage in Islam. Speaking on the ‘Huna Al-Kahera’ show, Asharaf Tammam, Moderator of the National Council of Egyptian Families, described the draft law as a conspiracy from the west to destroy Egyptian families. “I am not against women’s rights,” says Tammam, “A woman has the right to get an education, join the workforce, and get married to the one she chooses.”

“However,” he continued, “my problem with this law that it opposes the basis of Sharia (Islamic Law), as having several wives is a base rule in Islam.” Tammam believed that “those who are trying to get this law to pass can’t make a law that allows women to have more than one husband, so they are pushing for this instead.”

“Is God’s law a crime?” he went on. As for lying to one’s wife about being married to another, he explained, “While lying is generally forbidden, God cited a few circumstances that makes it permissible.” Tammam argued that a man remarrying without telling his wives is one case where lying is permitted, because a husband is doing it to protect his wives’ feelings.

However, MP Ghada Agami disagrees, “religion says if she [the first wife] is not accepting the fact that he has a second wife, she can demand divorce. Not telling her takes away this right from the first wife.”

“You [men] have the right to get a second wife for any reason that you please, but she [the wife] has the right to choose whether she accepts this life or not, if not, then God says you must ‘let her go peacefully.'”

“Which is why,” continued Hawary, a husband must “tell her, because her not knowing is a harm, and while religion allows men to get married, it forbids bringing harm to the wife.”

Mona Abu Shanab, creator of the ‘Having Several Wives’ movement, which aims to help society accept the concept of a man having several wives, told Egypt Independent, “there isn’t a single Quranic verse or a Hadith that makes it mandatory for a man to let his wife know he is remarrying. He is free to do what he wants because he has superiority, according to Quran.”

“We do not even have a law that makes it a crime for a woman to marry more than one man at the same time, a practice I assure you happens. So where is gender equality in that law?”

“I created my movement because I am trying to help people accept a phenomena that happens a lot. While statistics say only 4 percent of men who have more than one wife. My independent research tells me the number is closer to 40 percent.”

“This bill is an indirect message for society’s abandonment of morals, and an implicit invitation for discrimination against second wives.”

As for the wife’s right a get a divorce according to Quran, Abu Shanab answered, “divorce is only permissible if life becomes impossible, which is not the case here. Therefore, a wife has no right to demand divorce if her husband remarries, so telling her will not change the facts.”

Waleed Ismail, a Salafi scholar agrees, “a woman has no right to demand divorce if a husband remarries, because no harm has been inflicted upon her,” he said on the ‘Huna Al-Kahera’ television program.

However, Maha Abu Bakr, a lawyer who supports the bill, disagrees. “How do you define harm?” she asked, “from a psychological point of view, if a woman finds out her husband is remarried, most of them would be destroyed.”

“A financial harm is also due, because when he dies, she will discover she has to share his assets with people she does not know.”

Finally, Dr. Sabry Ebada, an adviser for the Ministry of Religious Endowments affirmed in a phone interview with ‘Huna Al-Kahera’ that “a man has to get his wife’s approval before remarrying.”

“A wife can demand divorce if she feels she has been harmed. Harm has not been defined because it is different between different women so God left the judgement of ‘harm’ to women.”

From the perspective of law, Abu Bakr said that the law supports jailing a person who remarries without telling his wife, “if a guy lies to his wife he gets jailed because a marriage certificate is a legal document. If he lies to either one of his wives about the marriage this is a crime called ‘hiding information’.”

However, Ismail, the Salafi scholar, believes that even if all of this were true, and even if the husband broke the law, it is simply impractical to jail him, “So suppose we jail all husbands, who would support the wives and the kids financially?”

To which MP Agami replies, “that is her choice, and she will figure it out.”

She continued, “When an Egyptian woman gets married, her husband and kids become her life, especially in Eastern societies. So she does not deserve to be treated in that way, and will find a way to escape when she does.”