x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Ask Ali: On the oryx and multiple wives

Why the oryx is a symbol of Arabic countries and why Islam permits men to have more than one wife.

Dear Ali: Why is the oryx a symbol of many Arabic countries? HM, Dubai

Dear HM: Historically the Arabian oryx ranged throughout most of the Middle East. Specialists suspect that the Arabian oryx, with its curved set of horns, may be the origin of the unicorn. In profile, the two long horns appear as one, which may be behind legendary sightings of unicorns.

Our ancestors valued the oryx for its tasty meat, its horns that were used to make weapons, and its skin that was used to make garments.

The Arabian oryx has a white coat that helps to deflect the desert heat. During winter, the oryx's coat changes to a darker colour and its hairs stand erect to absorb the sun's warmth.

Oryxes were known to live in groups of two to 20, travelling through most of Arabia. Before the 1940s, Bedouins on their camels used to hunt the Arabian oryx using simple rifles or guns. From 1945, they upgraded to heavy hunting and automatic weapons, which reduced the Arabian oryx population. The illegal hunts continued through to 1972, when the Arabian oryx was deemed extinct. Fortunately, Sheikh Zayed, the late President of the UAE, owned a private collection of Arabian oryxes, including a herd in the UAE and one in the US. He established a reserve on Sir Bani Yas Island, off the west coast of Abu Dhabi, and it is one of various global projects to increase the stock of the species and to allow for critical research opportunities.

For centuries, Arab poets wrote about the Arabian oryx, mainly praising its persistence to keep attacking. No matter if it was winning or losing in a battle against another, the oryx would remain fighting. The oryx thus is a symbol of dignity, pride and power, and that is why it is represented in some Arabic countries' flags, emblems and artefacts. The oryx is the national animal and symbol of Qatar.


Dear Ali: Why can Muslim men have more than one wife? SA, Abu Dhabi

Dear SA: There are many reasons. Before the Holy Quran's limits on polygamy, many men on the Arabian Peninsula and throughout the world had multiple wives.

Islam then restricted polygamy to four wives. In one verse from the Quran, Allah says: "Marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one" (4:3).

It is evident from that verse that a husband should be fair with his wives and treat them equally. If justice and fairness cannot be achieved, he should not marry. For example, a man would have to provide separate accommodation for each of his wives.

Many non-Muslims believe that the historical reason for multiple wives in Islam is for the satisfaction of men's desires, which is not the case. It is for the well-being of the widows and the orphans of wars. During war time, many women were unable to find husbands and preferred to be a co-wife than no wife. Another reason for men having multiple wives was for the spread of Islam via producing more Muslim children.

Marrying another woman without the knowledge of your first wife is frowned upon. This is not to say that she holds approval, but it is her right to know, for she might not be OK with it and then it is her right to ask for divorce.

The Islamic marriage regulatory authority is now Sharia, which is the mandatory law of union in the Islamic world.


Language lesson

Arabic: Zawaj

English: Marriage

If you are getting married in the summer, in Arabic you would tell people: "Ana ba tzawaj fel saif".