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Polygamy Fading Out Of Fashion For African Muslims, Men And Women Alike

Times are changing for young Congolese
Times are changing for young Congolese
Mustapha Mulonda

GOMA – Young Muslim men in the Democratic Republic of Congo are less interested in having several wives than their fathers were. Facing rising prices and feuds over inheritance, the new generation doesn't see how the benefits outweigh the costs of having multiple spouses in the same household.

As for the women of the current generation coming of age, they see that wives are often the victims of polygamous customs, and reject this form of marriage. It's also worth noting that it is no longer legal under Congolese law.

“If you want to end up like me, embrace polygamy...” This is how 70-year-old El Hadji H.E warns his grandchildren. In the middle of his large parcel in Magendo, the popular neighborhood of the eastern city of Goma, a large, old house occupies much land. In the garden are two wrecked Volvo trucks, the latest symbols of yesterday’s prosperity for this family of 40 children and eight wives.

It’s impossible to get everyone through school, but El Hadji adds thhat “22 of my girls and boys who couldn’t go to school went to Koranic school.” Still, such religious teachings are not enough to help them find a job and cope with what life has planned for them. One of his sons, Amadi Rubani, just got fired from his job at a security company, which prefers hiring people with high school diplomas.

Even the Muslim authorities dissuade the population from taking multiple wives. After the noon prayer, Imam Shabani Kiboko often explains that polygamy isn’t compatible with the Congolese lifestyle. The multiple dowry gifts are prohibitive. “In the eighties, All my father had to do was read a passage from the Koran ... and the father-in-law would give him his daughter to marry,” remembers Salumu Idi.

And so young Muslims, more and more, are rejecting polygamy. They remember from their own childhoods the small rations and the need to share with numerous siblings, the fights it leads to. The patriarch’s death is also a factor of conflicts: very often, he leaves no will behind.

Financial questions

Ali Moussa, the family elder, found himself in a prickly situation. He can’t marry several women for he’s not allowed to: His father left him the responsibility of two of his spouses as well as the children whom he must put through school. “Here’s what my father left for me: his wives and my brothers.”

Women’s associations are getting involved. They tell each other that a household with one husband is a good thing. Also, whenever they consider getting engaged with a married man, it’s better to check his finances. This recommendation even finds a religious echo for it is specified in the Koran's An-Nisaa Sura.

Some of these women also note the benefits of a more intimate couple without any rivalry: “I choose monogamy, for it’s the best way to share secrets with your husband without taking the risk of them being divulged,” claims Yasmin.

Too often, women growing up in polygamous families suffer from injustice, especially the second, third or fourth ones. In case their husbands die, they get harassed by the in-laws who are not restrained by any legal acts. “After my husband’s death, his family came and took everything in my house, children included, arguing about how I wasn’t their brother’s wife,” regrets a young widow with four children who sued her in-laws to guarantee her kids would get their share of the inheritance. Now a member of the Union of the Muslim women, she takes advantage of her misfortune to dissuade people from choosing polygamy.

As a reminder, according to Anne-Marie Furaha, jurist and project leader for the human rights association Social Action for Peace and Development, the Family Code (art. 330-333) stipulates that marriage is the "civil, public, solemn bond through which a man and a women not engaged in a previous registered marriage, can enjoy legal union.” Such a marital union cannot be ordained by a Church or other sectarian group alone, in order to be legally recognized by the state.

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Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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