Virus cur­few hits Kuwaiti po­lyg­a­mists

Kuwait Times - - Front Page -

KUWAIT: Abu Oth­man, like thou­sands of Kuwaiti men, has strug­gled to split his time be­tween two wives liv­ing in sep­a­rate homes amid the Gulf state’s strict lock­down to com­bat the coronaviru­s. “My life has be­come so com­pli­cated,” the 45-year-old, who has 10 chil­dren be­tween the two women, told AFP. “I am con­stantly on the move be­tween them,” he said, stress­ing that he could never choose one wife over the other.

The oil-rich coun­try has im­posed some of the

strictest mea­sures in the Gulf to com­bat the spread of the virus, which has so far in­fected over 15,000 people and claimed 118 lives there. Last week, Kuwait an­nounced a na­tion­wide “to­tal” lock­down un­til May 30, sus­pend­ing all but es­sen­tial pri­vate and public sec­tor activities.

Un­der the cur­few, res­i­dents are al­lowed to shop for food only once ev­ery six days, after elec­tron­i­cally ob­tain­ing of­fi­cial per­mis­sion, and may oth­er­wise leave home for two-hour evening walks. Those who break the rules, which also in­clude manda­tory use of face masks out­side the home, can be fined as much as $16,000 and jailed for up to three months.

But in re­sponse to ap­peals by scores of po­lyg­a­mists like Abu Oth­man to ease their re­stric­tions on move­ment, the Kuwaiti au­thor­i­ties on Sun­day in­tro­duced elec­tronic per­mits to men mar­ried to more than one woman for one-hour vis­its twice a week.

Tra­di­tional Is­lamic ju­rispru­dence al­lows Mus­lim men to marry up to four women – a cus­tom ini­tially meant to en­sure the wel­fare of wid­ows and or­phans of those who had died fight­ing for Is­lam. A strict re­quire­ment is that men treat all their wives equally and fairly.

Abu Oth­man mar­ried his first wife in 2001 and his se­cond wife in 2006. The two women live in sep­a­rate houses in Jahra, a pre­dom­i­nantly be­douin area 40 km west of Kuwait City. Polygamy has be­come in­creas­ingly un­com­mon in much of the Mus­lim world. Tu­nisia was the first pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­try to abol­ish the prac­tice in 1956. Kuwait had one of the high­est rates of polygamy in the Gulf be­tween 2010 and 2015, at over eight per­cent of mar­riages, ac­cord­ing to a study by the Doha In­ter­na­tional Fam­ily In­sti­tute.

Abu Oth­man said he was try­ing hard to make sure nei­ther of his wives feels ne­glected, es­pe­cially amid a cri­sis that has seen much of the world vir­tu­ally shut down. But with all the re­stric­tions in place to curb COVID-19, he said he has strug­gled to di­vide his time equally be­tween the two homes. “Some­times po­lice pa­trols un­der­stand my sit­u­a­tion, while at other times I have to ap­ply for per­mis­sion claim­ing there is a ‘fam­ily emer­gency’,” said Abu Oth­man be­fore the new “se­cond wife” per­mis­sion was in­tro­duced.

The Kuwaiti state’s Is­lamic schol­ars have taken pains to clar­ify the mar­riage rules amid the lock­down. Ac­cord­ing to Ah­mad Al-Kurdi, a mem­ber of the fatwa com­mit­tee at the min­istry of awqaf and Is­lamic af­fairs, the no­tion of jus­tice be­tween wives fo­cuses on “mar­i­tal spend­ing and good treat­ment, not sex­ual re­la­tions and love”. “A po­lyg­a­mist who is forced to live at one of his wife’s houses be­cause of

the cur­few must give the other (or oth­ers) a choice be­tween ac­cept­ing it or agree to a di­vorce (if they so wish),” he said, ac­cord­ing to Kuwait’s Al-Rai news­pa­per.

An­other com­mit­tee mem­ber, Issa Zeki, told the daily that a man can “make it up” to his other wives by spend­ing more nights at their homes after the lift­ing of re­stric­tions to “equal the num­ber” spent with each wife. He sug­gested that the man blindly draw one of the wives’ names to sim­plify the de­ci­sion of which one to spend the quar­an­tine pe­riod with. Abu Oth­man said he tries to spend equal num­bers of nights in both homes, say­ing he con­sid­ers him­self lucky that the two women live in the same area.

Other men are not so lucky, such as Abu Ab­du­laziz, 35, who now lives with his par­ents, se­cond wife and two chil­dren in Jahra. His first wife and their three chil­dren re­side in Saad Al-Ab­dul­lah, about 15 km away. “For the first time, I haven’t seen some of my chil­dren,” Abu Ab­du­laziz told AFP, adding that his first wife was “un­der­stand­ing”. How­ever, Abu Ab­du­laziz’s first wife, who re­quested anonymity, said that de­spite try­ing to be un­der­stand­ing, she was strug­gling on her own amid the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. “He could have cho­sen to stay with me,” she said. — AFP

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