Die Welt

Polygamy Law for Rich Men

By: Wahied Wahdat-Hagh

Friday 22 August 2008

Die Welt: Elahe Kolahi was a member of the sixth “Parliament” of the Islamic Republic of Iran. She has criticised a new bill that had been drafted “in the name of the family, yet against the family”.

In an article that has appeared in Iranian newspapers like Etemaad and Norous and in Rooz, an online publication penned in exile, she writes about a bill that has sparked a dispute over the “foundations and stability of the family”.

Kolahi, who believes in Khomeini’s constitution for Iran, writes that the bill “does in fact run counter to the principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s constitution.” According to the constitution, the family must to be protected.

Kolahi, a political scientist, points out that it is the government’s duty to fight oppression and injustice and to “revolutionise” unequal and discriminatory practices so that conditions arise encouraging all people to grow.

Kolahi maintains that the “aim of the Islamic revolution” is the “development of all people”. In doing so, she ignores the fact that the development of non-Islamic, secular Iranians, ordinary Muslims or members of other religious communities in the Islamic “Republic” is severely hampered.

The foundations of the family are being destroyed

Yet the new “Family Protection Bill” appears to hurt even the interests of those intellectuals that defend the dictatorship’s constitution: Kolahi writes that the new bill “not only threatens the rights of women to an alarming extent but also raises the spectre that the principles and foundations of the family in Iran will receive such terrible setbacks that it will be impossible to undo the damage for years to come.”

In addition, says Kolahi, the constitution states that it is the duty of the Majlis (Iranian Parliament) to verify that all the institutions of power are putting these aims and ideals into effect. According to Kolahi, members of the Majlis have sworn to this end on the Koran.

History shows, however, that most Muslims in Iran – to say nothing of non-Muslims who think otherwise – nowadays long for a free society, which is no longer possible under this particular constitution. And authors such as Akbar Ganji, Shirin Ebadi or Mehrangiz Kar have come to realise this.

A law for rich men

Kolahi warns in particular of article 23 of this draft bill, in which “men’s marriage to any subsequent wife shall depend on court authorisation upon ascertainment of their financial capability and their undertaking to uphold justice among their wives with no need for the consent of the first wife.”

It is clear which “sections and groups of men in Iranian society this law has been designed for”. Kolahi points out that, under present conditions in Iranian society, many young people are unable even to pay the costs of a wedding and of living together as a family later on. She adds that many young Iranians cannot start a family because they lack the most basic elements for this like a home and a job.

She calls for the government to take steps so that young Iranians can find work and affordable housing instead of creating better conditions for rich men wishing to practise polygamy.

She writes that the easiest way to solve a problem is obviously to ignore it, then living conditions would be improved for young people and not just for wealthy men.

The expectations of an academic who believes in the Islamic Revolution

Kolahi believes in the Islamic Revolution of 1979 despite all the crimes committed by the state over the last 30 years. She writes that the “Islamic Revolution and the views of Imam Khomeini raised certain expectations among Iranian women. They expect the government to fight any violation of their human rights.”

But this “incredible measure” has created a “wave of anxiety” among Iranian women. Ratification of this “law against the family in the Majlis will create conditions that deal a severe blow to the institution of the family.” An institution that is already “confronted with serious problems owing to the country’s particular economic conditions”.

According to Kolahi, members of the Majlis are duty bound to protect the rights of all Iranian citizens, half of whom are women. Iranian women did not elect these members so that they could “shake the foundations of social life even further”.

The Islamic Revolution and the ideal marriage

The institution of the family has a special role in all religions and schools of thought, particularly within Islam and the Islamic Revolution. Kolahi even uses as an argument the “damage” inflicted on the institution of the family by communist models in the east and developments in western societies.

She believes that the alternative lies in the Islamic Revolution, which is why “its expectations, with the emphasis on Islamic values and the institution of the family,” are so great.

Kolahi takes the view that the international community exerts a negative influence on Iranian society and is critical of the fact that the family has now been weakened from within as well.

She fails to see that the Islamic Revolution was a catastrophe for Iranian society and for Iranian women.

Dowries should not be taxed

Kolahi is also critical of the fact that women must now pay tax on their dowries, exacerbating the inequality between men and women. The aim of the new bill is obvious – to prevent women from asking for too high a dowry in order to “facilitate” the contraction of marriage. The woman has to pay taxes even if the man has only pledged to pay a certain dowry and she has not yet seen any of it. Kolahi fails to even mention problems such as being forced to wear a veil, introduced as an Islamic law following the Islamic Revolution.

Problems in the legal system

Kolahi discerns the following problems: “The main problem lies with the existing inequalities in the country’s legal system with regard to the family. These inequalities need to be redressed by correcting unsuitable behaviour.”

Finally, she argues that the “holy institution of the family” must not be destroyed. This bill, she says, completely contradicts the “spirit” of the constitution, particularly in terms of the “dignity of people” and the “rejection of oppression and discrimination”. After 30 years, the totalitarian dictatorship is wearing thin the acceptance limit of its own reform powers, which have never called the Islamic “Republic” into question and have never been able to reform it.

Polygamy as God’s law

Zohreh Tabibzadeh Nuri is an adviser to President Ahmadinejad. She is the chairperson of the “Centre for Women’s and Family Affairs.”

Tabibzadeh Nuri believes in fact that “the law on polygamy is a law handed down from God that nobody should contradict.” But Tabibzadeh Nuri also believes that men should not have more than one wife out of pure “lust”.

The problem is that no one can check the motives of a polygamous man. The basic problem with a patriarchal point of view intent on maintaining power appears here in an old guise: both Sharia and the legislative power of an Islamic state are deployed as the ultimate and immutable law of God.

One example is sufficient: Sura 4:34 of the Koran states: “If you fear high-handedness from your wives, remind them [of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them.”

What would happen if the Islamic “Parliament” were to declare such a sentence divinely immutable? Should such an idea really be justiciable?

Wahied is Senior Fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy


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