While studying and living in Morocco during my junior year of college, I was confronted by forms of marriage which I had not previously considered, marriages between first cousins, marriages between people with age gaps extending decades, but most new to me, marriages between multiple partners. Through my studies of the Quran, I came to know of passages in which the marriage of up to four women by one man was condoned and seemed encouraged (in certain interpretations). This seemed absurd to me and unfair to women since the men made choices on who they would marry and women didn’t have much of a say.
I questioned my host family, my Moroccan friends, professors and texts especially after meeting Moroccans who were involved in polygamous marriages. Through my inquiries I came to realize that polygamy is slowly starting to lose popularity in Moroccan culture. Women scoffed that their children should never have the need to be in a polygamous marriage, young men scoffed that more than one wife would be too expensive and stressful, young women scoffed that they weren’t willing to share their lover. Books illustrated stories of miserable, lonely co-wives, and stressed out husbands. People mentioned that there was no longer an economic necessity and spoke of education and professional jobs for women. I found myself wondering what the function and so-called ‘necessity’ of polygamy was in the past and how priorities are different today.
According to Functionalism, all elements in culture have a function that is related to the other elements of the culture and when put in context, the acceptance of polygamy was beneficial when the Quran was written and the acceptance of this form of marriage was related and balanced by the economic privation of many women in the society. A main function of polygamy was for men to marry and therefore care for multiple women and their children, who otherwise had no means of economic support. After centuries of changes, and specifically speaking of Morocco, this institution of financially supporting women through marriage is being replaced by giving women an equal chance to education and jobs as a means for self-sufficiency.
As the current king, Mohammad VI seeks to move towards ‘modernization,’ he is seeking improvements in the rights of women and the opportunity for them to care for themselves monetarily. It is possible to interpret the king’s changes through the lens of Cultural evolution in which more than one group finds a certain institution in society to be more efficient in one culture and held in higher regard on a spectrum connecting the cultures. In this case, the abolition of polygamy could be seen as what Moroccan culture is ‘evolving’ towards, modeling itself in some ways after current western models of marriage and women’s rights. The king has started instituting laws against polygamy and giving more rights to women especially with regards to marriage and family. This is a testament to the fact that culture as a whole is a process, it is ever-changing as are the functions of the institutions that compose each culture.
– Jordan A.