In Saudi Arabia, you will often hear stories from young people praising their grandfathers who had taken two or more wives and had lots of children. In the past, polygamy was very common in the kingdom.
Today, I am not so sure. Most Saudi men I know are married to one wife only and on average are having only 2 to 3 children. Though they almost certainly desire second or third wives, I am not sure if today many of them feel willing to take the plunge into a polygamous marriage situation. So, I decided to do some research on the matter, and here is what I found out.
So, Do Men Still Practice Polygamy In Saudi Arabia, Today?
Half a million Saudi men are married to more than one wife; 73,000 of them between the ages of 25 to 49, 411, 000 between 50-54 and 16,000 between 60 and 64. Second wives tend to be foreign women and polygamy is 14% in Al Baha and 0.31% in the East. Also, polygamy is also still popular amongst resident expat men.
Everyone knows that Saudi Arabia is one of the few Muslim countries where polygamy is still legal. It may be legal, but in 2020 and beyond, is it still practically possible even desirable for Saudi and non-Saudi men to do so?
Statistics For Mecca (2016)
The following are statistics for polygamy in Mecca and the number of men in polygamous relationships.
Note that the highest number is for the 35-39 & 45-49 age brackets. The figures likely reflect the similar ratios in other towns and cities in Saudi Arabia.
|Ages||Number||Number of Wives|
|25-29||505||2 or more|
|30-34||539||2 or more|
|35-39||2,668||2 wives or more|
|45-49||Known to have the most||Uncertain|
As you might expect, the biggest groups in polygamous marriages are between the ages of 35 to 49+ and the smallest between the ages of 20 and 30. Most only have a second wife. Only 2% to 3% of these all these men take more than two wives.
Statistics For Ever Married Saudi Men And Women
The table below shows the ever-married population of Saudi nationals male and female and the number of times married. (2017 Survey)
|No of Times Married||Males||Females||Total|
Note that overall more women have married than men by 500,000. This can be explained by the fact that there are .5 million Saudi men who have second wives.
Interesting to note also that the number of men and women who have been married twice is equal to the number of men practicing in polygamous relationships.
Figures for divorces are not included.
Why Do Men Take A Second Wife Or More?
- Family Pressure
Islam limits men to marrying no more than four wives at a time provided they can treat them equally.
The legal basis of this ruling in Sharia is the following verse in Surah An- Nisa that urges men to only marry one wife if he fears that he is unable to treat his wives fairly.
Click here to read and hear the verse in An-Nisah 4:3.
With his first wife, certain needs are not being met either sexual, emotional, intellectual, or social. Some men also have a strong sex drive and his first wife is unable to keep up with him in the bedroom.
The issue of unmet needs can easily be avoided if he selects the correct partner in the first place with compatible levels of education, emotional and intellectual maturity.
Lack Of Respect
When the first wife is unappreciative or fails to respect her husband, he will seek out another who will. She may also be mentally deficient or be socially maladjusted.
Lack of respect indicates a bad character in the husband or the spouse and poor understanding and communication.
Infertility Or Illness
If it is found that the first wife is chronically sick or barren, a man may want to marry another wife so as to bear him children. Often times too, it is the man who has a low sperm count, and other times artificial insemination is the answer.
I find often that Saudi men joke with me about my needing a second wife, so I know there is cultural pressure in families and between friends usually where polygamy is commonplace and practiced traditionally.
Sometimes, taking a second or third wife is just for show and to boast of tradition to others.
This is true amongst the Bedouin tribes where polygamy has been practiced for centuries fathers, grandfathers and male relatives.
Polygamy is especially common in very conservative and traditional regions such as Hijaz and Nejd and in the Royal family where polygamy is a symbol of prestige, manhood, and having more children for a family.
Why Do Men In Saudi Feel Pressure Not To Take More Wives?
Though polygamy is legal, young Saudi men today feel the pressure not to take a second or third wife. It is both financial and social.
There are three possible reasons
- The Prohibitive Cost
- Distress On Women and Families
- Health Risks
The Prohibitive Cost
Men with successful businesses and those with top whack salaries will not view cost as a reason not to take a second, third, or even a fourth wife. The take-home pay for the best paying jobs is between are $160,000 and $348,800 per year. (2015 statistics).
However, the take-home pay for most jobs is nowhere near this amount for ordinary Saudi men. Average take-home pay in the capital Riyadh is $28,300 per year which is SR 8,800 per month.
Some earn more, but many earn much less. For the majority of people, marriage expenses are prohibitively high and the cost of living continually rising.
The initial wedding costs easily reach $30,000 which can takes years to pay off.
Then, a house must be rented or purchased. ($80,000 minimum purchase). Two or three cars are needed. More is required to fund weekly shopping bills, kids, maids, drivers, and lots of extra cash to fund the wife’s high-end shopping binges.
The estimated monthly cost of living for a family of four is nearly $3,000 or SAR11,092. If a man has to support two families, the cost of living would be doubled and virtually impossible to maintain for any length of time for ordinary Saudi men.
Distress On Women and Families
Apart from the financial cost, there is a price to pay for the distress that polygamy causes women and their children.
There is no doubt that marrying another woman causes pain to the first wife. When a Muslim man takes a second wife, the first wife immediately feels rejected and unloved.
The thought that her husband is now involved with a new wife makes her feel strong repulsion and painful sexual jealousy.
Only those Muslim women with deep religious convictions or with the thought that the second marriage will benefit her relationship with her husband will acquiesce to her husband’s new arrangement.
Many Muslim men deliberately forget to include the first wife in the decision to marry again. They keep the union secret so as not to create any opposition and leave it until the last minute to reveal the secret to her.
When the first wife inevitably finds out her husband had married another woman without her knowledge, she not only feels a sense of rejection and abandonment but also that she has been lied to and deceived.
In spite of his intention to smooth the way so as to achieve his matrimonial goals, he has only created more pain and further obstacles.
He now has to juggle both the negative feelings of the first wife and the destructive effects that these feelings have on his relationship with his new wife.
Conducted in this way, both marriages could eventually break down leading to his having to divorce both his first and his new wife.
In all situations, it is better to involve the first wife in the decision to get married again, to get her used to the idea that he wants to take another wife and to work out ways with her about how to resolve the practical implications a second marriage relationship would produce.
I am reminded of a beautiful hadith by Prophet Mohammed (SAW).
Prophet Mohammed (SAW) said these words occurred when Ali (RA) (son-in-law and cousin to the Prophet) was invited to marry a woman from the house of Hisham Ibn Al Mughirah but was already married to Prophet Mohammed’s (SAW) daughter Fatima (RA).
Ali (RA) did not take another wife until after Fatima (RA) had died in 632 CE.
The Health Risks
A 2015 study conducted by Dr. Amin Daoulah at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia concerning marriage and heart health concluded that polygamy increases the risk of heart disease fourfold.
Hospital tests and studies were carried out on 687 married men with an average age of 59 to examine the relationship between the severity of coronary heart disease (CAD) and the number of wives.
Of the men tested, 57% had diabetes and 45% had CAD issues
|Percentage||Number of Wives|
An association (not a cause) between the increasing number of wives and coronary blockages was found.
The heart problems are likely related to the additional financial and emotional stress of having to maintain two households or more plus the high demand that each household must be fairly treated.
To read get more in-depth information on this study to refer to Polygamy increases the risk of heart disease by more than 4-fold.
There is no doubt that marrying more than one wife places extra burdens on men that increase the risk of health problems related to diabetes and coronary heart disease issues.
How Many Spinsters Are There In Saudi Arabia?
Females represent 49% of the total Saudi population. Women of marriageable age, but still not married are currently 2,261,946. (Spinsters)
Of the number of women already married therefore NOT included in the total figure above are 97.2% under the age of 32 and 2.8% over the age of 32.
Spinsterhood is 10.07% for marriageable females above 32 years of age.
This translates as 1 in 10 spinsters or 10% of the marriageable female population or 227, 860 unmarried Saudi women over 32 years of age.
However, a more accurate figure should include the number of single, unmarried women who are above the age of 15 and the figure is more like 2.3 million in total. (2016)
Spinsterhood in the Arab World
In the Arab world, there are 25 million + unmarried women aged 24 and above. Many now are over 35.
Figures are from 2012 so are a little outdated and since then countries may have acted to address the spinsterhood problem.
Below are the numbers of unmarried (spinsters) women in The Arab world.
|Saudi Arabia||1,5 million|
Polygamy As One Of The Solutions
The practice of polygamy is one of the most practical solutions to spinsterhood in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. The others are to provide easy loans, free housing, and other incentives that encourage young people to marry.
One such initiative occurred in 2017 when eight religious ministers started a What’s App group called ‘Polygamy’ to encourage the practice of polygamy amongst men.
Since then thousands of women have joined the group. Clearly, Saudi women are very interested to be in polygamous relationships.
The Polygamy Academy
Another caused controversy and debate when Hawazin Mirza, a lecturer at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah in the Gulf’s Rotana TV interview proposed a Polygamy Academy to coach and encourage single men over the age of 25 at the outset to marry three wives; a single woman, a divorcee and a widow before graduating up to 4 wives after 10 years.
The proposed polygamy courses would last 6 months and be given by marriage experts and single women would be invited to join the academy for the purposes of having a polygamous marriage.
Reactions from press columnists to the idea of the academy varied from the opinion that the idea was too trivial, that Saudi women actually preferred to be single and that it denigrated women and their choices.
Others welcomed the idea and argued that polygamy is not an ideal solution notwithstanding the emotional and financial challenges, but it is a viable way of ending the ever-spiraling problem of spinsterhood in Saudi Arabia.
I do not know if the initiative took off but to read about the Polygamy Academy proposal and the reactions to it click the article, The Solution To The Problem Of Single Women In Saudi Arabia Is Polygamy
Mohammed Francis– Teacher, Father, and Travel Writer.
Celmah Cecily Yim (سلمى) -Cook, Yogi, Writer, Reader, Polyglot, Traveler, Volunteer, Learner … and lover of all things Saudi.
Useful References and Resources
- Half a Million Saudi Men Do Polygamy- Al Arabiya English
- Many Young People Oppose Polygamy– Arab News
- Over half a million Saudis have more than one wife– Saudi Gazette
- Top 25 Highly Paid Jobs in Saudi Arabia 2015-MySaudiJobs.com
- Average Salary In Riyadh-Payscale.com
- Cost of living in Saudi Arabia-Justlanded.com
- KSA Statistics-General Authority for Statistics
- High Estimated Numbers Of Unmarried Arab Women-WUNRN
- Saudi University Lecturer: The Solution To The Problem Of Single Women– Memri.org
- What’s App Group For Polygamous Matchmaking-Daily Mail Online
- Polygamy Academy Interview Hawazin Mirza-Musbashir Al Jazeera.net
- Who Was Amina Assilmi-Sound Vision