Christopher Maume on Jemima Khan and the Part-Time Wife: Please introduce me to all of your wives …


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The Independent Culture

Polygamy in Islam: what a good idea. A man or woman can have up to four wives or husbands at any one time. I wouldn’t fancy it myself, but if everybody’s happy with the arrangement ....

Sorry, the Sharia people have just been on. Apparently – and yes, I know this is bizarre – in Muslim law it only applies to men taking wives, not the other way round. How on earth can that be? That was the question I was longing to hear in Jemima Khan and the Part-Time Wife. The New Statesman journo conducted a sensitive and revealing exploration of Muslim polygyny, as I think we should refer to it, and a neutral investigation was always going to get further than anything judgemental. But once, just once, I wanted her to confront one of its more enthusiastic supporters (and they weren’t just men) with a baffled “What the –?”

Though there was lots of talk about it being a lifestyle choice for working divorcees, and about how the man is bound by law to treat all his wives equally, the experience of “Aisha” (not her real name), who was “married” in her living room, seemed not untypical. There were teething problems, she reported, such as the fact that hubby had omitted to tell Wife No 1 about the new deal.

Perhaps the most depressing line was the observation by a Muslim woman activist that young men see it as a way of asserting their Islamic identity. For all Khan’s admirable even-handedness I was left with the overwhelming feeling that it’s a social evil that should end, now.


Thirty or 40 years ago on Nationwide, an item on polygamy might have been preceded by something about the Troubles and followed by a humorous animal item. In the excellent Britain in a Box, which recalls  TV landmarks, Paul Jackson looked at the teatime magazine that spawned a host of luminary careers. Sue Lawley’s was one, and she delivered the definitive verdict. It was, she said, the perfect example of the Reithian mission to inform, educate and entertain. “I’d like to think Lord Reith would have approved,” she said. “Even of the skateboarding duck.”