Egypt’s top Muslim cleric has sparked controversy by saying that polygamy is an “injustice” for women and often practiced contrary to the Koran.
“Those who say that marriage must be polygamous are all wrong. We have to read the (Koranic) verse in full,” said Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam.
He said that monogamy was the rule and polygamy a restricted exception.
Although Mr al-Tayeb did not call for a ban on the practice he said polygamy requires fairness and “if there is not fairness it is forbidden to have more than one wife.”
Mr al-Tayeb added that 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 calling for a ban on polygamy and others encouraging men to marry more than one woman.
Egypt’s National Council for Women welcomed Mr al-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.
Some users however argued that polygamy is good for women. “Polygamy is the social solution for (female) celibacy which has been horribly exacerbated,” wrote Sameh Hamouda, a cleric from Alexandria, in a Facebook post.
Al-Azhar sought on Saturday to clarify the comments, saying that Mr al-Tayeb wasn’t calling for a ban on polygamy.
Polygamy is legal in most Arab and Islamic countries but the practice is relatively uncommon.