Big Love: Is Feminist Polygamy an Oxymoron or a True Possibility?

Michele Alexandre

University of Mississippi - School of Law; University of Mississippi

Hastings Women's Law Journal, Vol. 18, No. 3, 2007
Islamic Law and Law of the Muslim World Paper No. 08-15

For the past few decades, Islamic reformists have attempted to reverse patriarchal set-ups in Islamic practices. In light of these efforts, the time is ripe to consider what role women's agency will play in the implementation of such reforms. The way we account for agency in advocating for women's rights is an issue with which feminist legal scholars struggle. It has been explored particularly when analyzing women's rights in the area of pornography and prostitution. As the reform movements in Islamic law become concrete, similar explorations will have to take place. Agency driven explorations in the area of Islamic law will have to be tailored to issues of particular relevance to Islamic women. In addition, Feminist legal scholars will have to take care not to project western-based analysis into unique Islamic settings. Borrowing from transformative arguments advocated by feminist legal scholars like Martha A. Fineman, the author attempts to explore the implications of recognizing the possibility for agency in Islamic polygamous structures. The central idea is to analyze the possibility for a feminist based form of polygamy for women who decide to live in a polygamous structure. This exploration in no way assumes that Muslim women are solely defined by their religion. On the contrary, it recognizes that women's identities are so diverse that, even when given options, a number of them might opt for polygamy rather than monogamy. In this context, an assessment of the value of monogamy compared to polygamy is irrelevant. What comes to matter, instead, is the fact that women who choose polygamy, like those who make any other legitimate choice, must be protected.

The rising number of pro-polygamous movements indicates that it is imperative that we investigate the possibilities for a women centric polygamy. Islamic women have diverse views regarding polygamy and do not all seem to view it as detrimental. There exist some Muslim women who are unequivocally against Polygamy, but want to remain faithful to their Islamic faith, while there are others who are not against polygamy but would like to reform the practice to fit their needs. The common denominator in these two camps, however, is that women in both camps yearn for more choice and control over the decisions that affect their family life. The desire to enter or remain in a polygamous union does not necessarily equate in their eyes with a diminishment of their rights and privileges. This article intends to show that equal rights for women and Islamic faith are not necessarily mutually exclusive if the allocation of rights is based on the spirit of Islam. Furthermore, the article will demonstrate that Islam's inherent concern with justice and equality for women necessitates that women's desires and wishes serve as foundation for any system of polygamy.

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Date posted: March 28, 2008 ; Last revised: November 27, 2009

Suggested Citation

Alexandre, Michele, Big Love: Is Feminist Polygamy an Oxymoron or a True Possibility?. Hastings Women's Law Journal, Vol. 18, No. 3, 2007; Islamic Law and Law of the Muslim World Paper No. 08-15. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1113868

Contact Information

Michele Alexandre (Contact Author)
University of Mississippi - School of Law ( email )
Lamar Law Center
P.O. Box 1848
University, MS 38677
United States
University of Mississippi ( email )
Oxford, MS 38677
United States
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