President Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya
Is it possible to reconcile Russian legislation concerning marriage with Islamic Sharia traditions that permit polygamy?
President Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya recently raised the question of polygamy. Islamic leaders followed suit and fanned interest in the topic. Mr Kadyrov’s arguments were pragmatic and based in demographics, as there is an excess of single women in post-war Chechnya. The arguments of Islamic leaders were, of course, couched in religious terms. That is, the state should not interfere with the inner life of a religious group; otherwise, the state is showing bias and discrimination. However, is the question of polygamy truly urgent for the majority of Russian Muslims?
Yes, the Koran allows a man to have four wives simultaneously, but it does not make this a fixed rule. This is found in the third ayat of the fourth sura of the Koran, which is entitled “Women”. It is also true that this same sura teaches that monogamy is a more valid path as it is difficult to show equal affection to all wives simultaneously.
In the Islamic world at large and amongst Russian Muslims in particular, polygamy is rare. It has an exotic flavour because it is not typical of modern customs and usages. Indeed, in the modern Northern Caucasus widespread poverty prevents the fast reappearance of “the Sultan’s three wives”. Under modern economic conditions, and their instability in some regions, can a husband guarantee support to more than one wife and their children? Most would not wish to jump over that precipice…
Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, the chief mufti of Russia
Polygamy in Islam is a subject that attracts the attention of the common man, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike. This was true even in the time of St Vladimir, who, according to the chronicle, rejected Islam based upon this (editor’s note: I always heard that he rejected Islam because of its prohibition of strong drink. Go figure!). In fact, there is a great deal of attention given the topic in the Russian media. It is not clear what result shall come of all this, but, we can say that Mufti Ravil Gainutdin, the chief mufti of Russia, has authoritatively stated that such discussion in the media is inadvisable.
Muslims in Russia have great difficulty in communicating their ideas to the bulk of Russian citizens. Speculations about a Eurasian symbiosis between Christianity and Islam do not impress most simple Orthodox believers. However, polygamy is understandable because it is so basic. Are there other occasions for conflict? For example, there is a khadith where Mohammed curses not only drinking, but, also the making and selling of such beverages. This raises a question about the survival of the highly developed structure for viniculture and distilling in Muslim Daghestan should Sharia be recognised.
Recently, a prominent Muslim thinker said the following to me, “There are only two absolute constants in Islam. That is, one must believe in God, and one must perform good deeds. Everything else from dogmatics to spiritual laws is subject to change and reconsideration”.
20 January 2006