CAIRO — Egypt’s top Muslim cleric has stirred up controversy after saying last week that polygamy is an “injustice” for women, but he stopped short of calling for a ban on the practice.
“Those who say that marriage must be polygamous are all wrong. We have to read the (Quranic) verse in full,” said Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam.
Tayeb said monogamy was the rule and polygamy was a restricted exception. It is restricted in Islam and requires fairness and “if there is not fairness it is forbidden to have more than one wife,” he said.
Tayeb said the practice came from “a lack of understanding of the Quran and the tradition of the Prophet” and it is “often an injustice to women and children.”
The Grand Imam also called for a broader revamp of how women’s issues are addressed. “Women represent half of society. If we don’t care for them it’s like walking on one foot only,” he said.
His comments, aired Friday on state TV, sparked a heated debate on social media, with some siding with scholars who call for a ban on the practice.
Egypt’s National Council for Women welcomed Tayeb’s comments.
“Islam honors women, treats them fairly and gives them numerous rights which didn’t exist before,” said Maya Morsi, the council’s chairwoman.
Al-Azhar sought on Saturday to clarify the comments, saying that Tayeb wasn’t calling for a ban on polygamy.
Islam allows men to take up to four wives on the condition that they are treated equally. Though polygamy is legal in most Islamic countries, the practice is uncommon. In the Middle East, polygamy is banned in Tunisia and Turkey.
In Egypt, the husband must gain the consent of his current wife or wives if he wishes to marry an additional wife.