Philly’s Black Muslims Increasingly Turn to Polygamy

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Polygamy in the U.S. is not limited to remote enclaves in the West or breakaway sects once affiliated with the Mormon Church. Several scholars say it's growing among black Muslims in the inner city — and particularly in Philadelphia, which is known for its large orthodox black Muslim community.

No one knows exactly how many people live in polygamous families in the U.S. Estimates from academics researching the issue range from 50,000 to 100,000 people.

Take Zaki and Mecca, who have been married for nearly 12 years. In their late 20s, they live in the Philadelphia suburbs, have a 5-year-old son and own a real estate business.

Zaki also has something else: a second wife.

Read or listen to it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchMarriage & Family* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

Posted May 29, 2008 at 1:02 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. David Fischler wrote:

I’ve got to wonder if the young women who get into these marriages realize that they have no legal protections whatsoever—if one day, their “orthodox Muslim” husbands decide to exercise their orthodox Muslim right to talaq, they can be out the door without a dime or a hope.

May 29, 3:42 pm | [comment link]
2. Brian from T19 wrote:

The title is deceiving as ‘Black Muslims’ was the original title for the sect Nation of Islam.

May 29, 4:24 pm | [comment link]
3. Rick in Louisiana wrote:

There is a simple mathematical problem with polygamy.

Consider the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints and the polygamist communities they maintain. How many males? How many females? Each male marries two, three, four females. Wait a second. Now you have a a bunch of men with multiple wives and a bunch of men for whom there are no wives (no available females) at all. I wonder what happens to these men. Unless you can somehow guarantee a higher ratio of females to males - mathematically you cannot practice polygamy consistently throughout the given community. It might be interesting to research early Mormonism (before polygamy was officially banned) to see if they ever ran into this problem and how they handled it.

Now in some places and times the situation is different. There are less men around because of war/conflict. There are in fact more females than males. (I remember reading an article about life in Rwanda after the genocidal civil war. Women who had lost husbands and/or women who could not find husbands for lack of available men.) But if you think about it there may be places and times where the reverse is true. What then? Polyandry (multiple husbands for each woman)?

One can debate whether polygamy is “moral” or not, whether it should be legally permitted or not. What I have trouble understanding is how it is even workable.

May 29, 4:53 pm | [comment link]
4. Philip Snyder wrote:

In many societies, the practice of polygamy by the cultural elite provides angry frustrated young men in the lower classes.  This anger and frustration can be chanelled into “noble” pursuits such as enlisting in the armed forces or being a body guard or being available to chant “death to America!” at the drop of a hat.

Phil Snyder

May 29, 5:13 pm | [comment link]
5. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

Rick, the practice of polygamy worked a bit better in olden times when society was using a large number of slaves to keep itself functioning to the satisfaction of the rich, multi-wived elite. Poor families sold off their female children into polygamous marriages and their male children into slavery.  I suspect this is a factor not thought of by Philly’s black Muslim community.
The Rabbit.

May 29, 5:47 pm | [comment link]
6. Branford wrote:

If you look at what has been happening in the Texas case, my understanding is that the older men often push the young men out of the compound into a world they are totally unprepared to handle, to eliminate competition.

May 29, 6:47 pm | [comment link]
7. Bill Matz wrote:

I am always amazed to read about black Muslims. That makes about as much sense as Jewish Naz…(oops). Can these black Muslims be so ignorant of history that they are unaware that Moslems were running the black African slave trade for hundreds of years before Europeans became involved? But perhaps that is no stranger than embracing the religion of Southern slaveholders.

May 29, 7:14 pm | [comment link]
8. Alice Linsley wrote:

Polygamy is against the law yet rarely prosecuted, unless it involves sexual abuse of minors. The the case of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints in Texas is about sex with minors, not polygamy. State officials are reluctant to prosecute polygamy cases because it means wading into religious waters and Constitutional challenges.

The religious justification for polygamy is found in the Old Testament. It was the practice for Afro-Asiatic chiefs to have 2 wives living in separate households on a north-south axis. These wives marked out the boundaries of the chief’s territory. Sometimes there were also concubines, but these women did not have the social status of the 2 wives. Abraham’s father, Terah, had 2 wives. By one wife he had Abraham and Nahor. By the other wife he had Sarah (Abraham’s first wife) and Haran. Abraham also had 2 wives: Sarah and Keturah. Isaac had 2 wives and so did Jacob. (For more on this read

There is no evidence that all the men of Abraham’s culture had 2 wives. It appears to have been the case for first born sons of rulers, those sons who would take over their fathers’ territories. So while there is no doubt that polygyny (multiple wives) was practiced by biblical figures, it was a custom of rulers, not the common man. It served to build up a man’s kingdom. And this is exactly what polygamist leaders in the US are attempting to do.

As for African Americans who have turned to Islam or the more cultic Nation of Islam to justify multiple wives, this too is self-serving.  It means more children, but let’s hope not more black children destined to die in the streets.

May 29, 8:58 pm | [comment link]
9. RazorbackPadre wrote:

Polygamy is currently practiced by most Americans though, in America, Polygamy is usually practiced one at a time. When a man tires of his current wife, he simply buys her a house and pays her a stipend and marries another and another.  And, as the article shows that married black Islamic men are not off limits, in America neither married men nor women are off limits. Thus, modern polygamy necessarily involves a great deal of wife and husband swapping.

Could this be why Polygamy is rarely prosecuted? We are a a polygamist society - but in keeping with our great American tradition, we just don’t like to call it what it is.

May 30, 9:25 am | [comment link]
Registered members must log in to comment.

Next entry (above): A BBC Audio Segment on Self-Deception

Previous entry (below): Thomas Friedman: Truth or Consequences

Return to blog homepage

Return to Mobile view (headlines)