Polygamy in Pakistan: A Legal Perspective

Polygamy in Pakistan

    In the modern Muslim world, polygamy is still the most divisive and controversial topic. Protests are held in every Muslim nation, including Pakistan. Women’s opposition to polygamy results from their lack of protection in polygamous unions. Polygamous men fail to provide for their wives financially and emotionally, depriving them of their legal rights. According to the laws in Pakistan, a man is allowed to contract subsequent marriage only after attaining the approval of his first wife. However, polygamy is still a common practice, especially in rural regions. Pakistani and Islamic laws continue to discourage this practice by placing tight restrictions on it.

    The Pakistani government established the Commission on Marriage and Family Laws in 1950s to address the issues of polygamy, divorce, and other related matters. Its goal was to suggest changes to Pakistan’s family laws. According to the Commission Report, the verse on polygamy was revealed to safeguard widows and orphan girls who were likely to be enslaved. Because of this, the Quran permitted Muslims to wed multiple wives. A further verse, which said that polygamy would only be accepted if the husband could treat all of his women equally, placed limitations on this concession. However, it has been seen that males who have engaged in polygamy have ignored the primary reason for the license granted and the accompanying stipulation. Therefore, the state’s primary duty is to provide a process that can stop people from influencing legislation for their own profit.

    The Commission on Marriage and Family Laws 1955 produced a report to safeguard women’s rights. The Commission was led by Justice Abdur Rasheed. Seven people made up the group, four men and three women. The Commission recommended changes to the law and agreed that family laws needed to be updated. After 1956, the civilian governments refrained from passing legislation based on the Report; nonetheless, General Ayub Khan put several of the Report’s recommendations into law in 1961 through an Ordinance. Following that, a resolution was presented in the National Assembly opposing the Muslim Family Law Ordinance, but it was not adopted. The Ulema never approved the Ordinance, which was condemned as against Islam. The elected 1970 parliament left it in place as an unpaid law.

    By introducing the requirement that the husband must present an application and submit fees to the local Union Council for obtaining prior written consent for marrying a subsequent wife or wives, the MFLO, 1961, section 6 also incorporated several restricted modifications in the law linking to polygamy. The application should include the applicant’s justifications for the marriage and a statement about whether the applicant has obtained the consent of the current wife or wives. To ascertain whether the proposed marriage is necessary, the head of the union council forms an arbitration council with the applicant, the current wife or wives, and their representatives. If the husband enters into a polygamous marriage without the previous agreement of the wife or wives, he is required to immediately pay the entire dower to the existing wife or wives, as well as a fine of Rs. 5000 and a possible year in prison as a penalty. Additionally, no polygamous union may be registered under the MFLO without the Union Council’s consent.

    The restrictions placed on polygamy by the requirement that an application is made to the local Union Council with the consent of the existing wife or wives, combined with the criminal penalties for entering into a polygamous marriage without prior permission; the husband’s entering into a polygamous marriage in violation of legal provisions; are sufficient grounds for the first wife to obtain a decree of dissolution of marriage. Additionally, the MFLO’s Article 9(1) specifies what happens if a husband fails to meet his wife’s requirements adequately or if he has numerous spouses. If he does not uphold them justly, the wife may file a complaint with the Chairman, who will form an arbitration council to decide the matter. The arbitration council may order the husband to pay the wife’s maintenance.

    According to Mr Sheerani (former Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan), marriage regulations should be repealed since they are incompatible with the Sharia. He requested that Section 2 of the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act of 1939, Clause (f), which allows a wife to file for divorce from her husband, i.e. “If he has several women, does not treat her equally following the commandments of the Holy Quran,” should be revoked. He ruled that a woman cannot legitimately use a subsequent marriage as grounds for divorce. He said that males have the freedom to have numerous marriages under Islamic law and urged the government to change the rules requiring husbands to get the consent of their previous spouses.

    Polygamy is not widespread among the population of Pakistan, either socially or culturally. Wealthy landowners and feudalists are more likely to practice it. This is because they can easily afford to support women and numerous kids. But it also persists among the metropolitan elite. Urban middle-class males must deal with financial constraints and social rejection if they want to enter into future marriages.

    In fine, it can be stated that the most difficult and unresolved topic in the modern Muslim world is still polygamy. To safeguard women’s rights, the Commission on Marriage and Family Laws in 1955 produced a report. The requirement that the husband must produce an application and pay costs to the local Union Council in order to receive prior written authorization for marrying a subsequent wife or spouses was included in section 6 of the Muslim Family Law Ordinance (MFLO), which was passed in 1961. This was a landmark legislation and we need more such to reform our society.

Making love with a woman and sleeping with a woman are two separate passions, not merely different but opposite. Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman) 

–Milan Kundera 

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