The increase in the number of single women in Saudi Arabia, and figuring out how to tackle it, is a big issue in the conservative Saudi Arabia society. Many and differing statistics on the matter have been published in the kingdom. For example, the Saudi Planning Ministry reported in 2014 that there were 3 million single men and women, and noted that this figure was 1.5 million greater than in 2010. The Saudi General Authority for Statistics reported in 2016 that the number of single women above the age of 15 was approximately 2.3 million. It clarified, however, that in Saudi Arabia the term "unmarried woman" formally applied only to single women aged 32 or more, so the number of unmarried women in the kingdom was only 230,000.
The subject of the large number of unmarried women in Saudi Arabia was also discussed in the Saudi press and on social media, including on Twitter, where a "#One Third Of Saudi Women Are Unmarried" hashtag was launched.
In the debate about this problem and about what to do about it, some called for encouraging polygamy – which is accepted in Saudi Arabia and permitted in Islam. In January 2017, Alarabiya.net reported that eight marriage officiants in Saudi Arabia had started a WhatsApp group named "Polygamy" with the aim of encouraging men to adopt this method to help solve the problem of the abundance of divorcees, widows, and single women in the country. According to Alarabiya.net, by January 2017, some 900 women had joined the WhatsApp group.
The proposal to encourage polygamy as a solution to the overabundance of unmarried women in Saudi Arabia aroused a public debate in the country, which increased following the proposal in the matter by Hawazin Mirza, a lecturer at King 'Abd Al-'Aziz University in Jeddah. In a March 26, 2017 interview with the Gulf TV channel Rotana, she called for establishing a "polygamy academy" that would within a month provide any single man turning to it three wives – a single woman, a divorcee, and a widow. Furthermore, if this quadripartite marriage proved to be a success, after 10 years the academy would provide him with a fourth wife at no extra charge. According to Ms. Mirza, the polygamy academy would offer six-month courses to men over the age of 25 to prepare them for marriage, and to promote the idea of marriage to several wives. The training would be given by experts in various social areas. She added that the academy would also be open to women seeking to enter into such a marriage, provided that their families agreed. The aim of the academy, she noted, was to eliminate the phenomenon of single women in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi press also published many articles addressing the problem of single women and how polygamy could eliminate it, as proposed by Ms. Mirza and others. Many rejected the idea of polygamy as a solution, arguing that it reflected a misunderstanding of the problem of singlehood as well as a misunderstanding of the institution of marriage. Others said that the whole idea denigrates women as cheap merchandise, and that some women willingly choose to remain single and do not want to be either married or divorced. There were also those who supported the idea of polygamy, which as noted is permitted in Islam, as a social need and in the national interest.
This report will review articles in the Saudi press on the subject of polygamy as a solution to the problem of single women in Saudi Arabia:
Hawazin Mirza (image: asrar7days.com)
Liberal Female Saudi Journalist: Polygamy As A Solution For The Overabundance Of Unmarried Women Reflects A Misunderstanding Of The Institution Of Marriage; Many Young Saudi Women Freely Choose The Single Life
In the Al-Jazirah daily, liberal Saudi journalist Samar Al-Muqrin objected to the proposal of polygamy as a solution for eliminating the overabundance of single women in the country. This viewpoint, she wrote, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of marriage, and of the reasons that lead a woman to choose the single life: "Every year, these statistics [on the number of unmarried women in the kingdom] are published; television programs on it are aired, reports [on it are published] in the newspapers, and articles by writers seeking the reasons [for the phenomenon are published]. As far as the men are concerned, the best way of dealing [with the problem] is polygamy; this stems from a misunderstanding of the institution of marriage, and from [treating it] like it concerns sex [alone], not a shared life, which cannot have more than two people in it... I further think that the views and interpretations [that are being expressed] do not go deep enough into the matter itself and are disregarding the circumstances that lead young women [to choose] the single life as a better solution [for them] than marriage. I believe that most of the cases of singlehood are the result of refraining from marrying – that is, they are a matter of choice, because the Saudi woman is mature enough to discern [who is good husband material and who is not] and does not want to throw herself into the arms of just any man, no matter what he looks like, what his [financial] situation is like, or what temptations he can offer her. She does not want to leave the statistics of single women to join the statistics of divorced women.
"The young Saudi woman's thoughts on marriage go far beyond her honeymoon, pampering, and sweet talk... [She realizes] that this is a lifelong commitment that requires her to consider whether she will be able to be happy, or will become a prisoner of emotional alienation or divorce, which will complicate not only her life but the lives of others, especially her children..."
Columnist Salma Al-Qusheiri: The Proposal To Promote Polygamy Treats Women Like Cheap Merchandise
Saudi columnist Salma Al-Qusheiri called Ms. Mirza's proposal denigrating to women, and added that it treats women like cheap merchandise, supposedly in the name of Islam. In the Al-Watan daily, she wrote: "While the world around us advances and tries to develop day by day... in our society we do the opposite! ... Last week, most unfortunately, a Saudi academic appeared on an Arab network; she brought back oppressive misogynistic methods and decisions... The worst thing is that [her] proposal comes under the wings of Islam and of the legality of polygamy in Islam, which is based on several essential conditions and reasons for which a man takes an additional wife due to unusual circumstances compelling him to do so, and with the consent of both sides [and on condition that the husband] treats all the wives fairly and justly and protects the honor [of the first wife].
"I got the impression that 99.99% of the cases that I encountered of men taking a second wife did not stem from necessity or from clear justifications permitting this [under religious law]. These cases are nothing but legal adultery.
"[Ms. Mirza's proposed] polygamy academy seems at first like an idea that no sane person who has reached adulthood would consider. Worse yet is that this idea is proposed by a prestigious official on the lecturing staff of the university, who trains young people and future lecturers. What is regrettable about this idea is not only that it denigrates the woman vis-à-vis her sister, and vis-à-vis her own opinion and value, and harms half of society and its backbone [i.e. women], but also turns the Saudi woman into cheap – very cheap – merchandise, and reduces her value, and [does all this] in the name of Islam...
"The existence in society of a divorced woman, a widow, or a woman who refuses to marry – I will not say 'spinster' – does not mean that they must be married off wholesale. That would be the beginning of a bigger problem, and our transformation into a pen for beasts."
Columnist Fahd Al-Ahmari: Polygamy Harms Married Life, Family Relationships
Another Saudi columnist, Fahd Al-Ahmari, also expressed objections to the idea of polygamy, arguing that it endangered the health of the husband who must support several families, harms married life and family relationships, and is not even viable due to religious limitations. Writing in the Al-Watan daily, Al-Ahmari proposed instead tackling the high cost of weddings and setting up households, and also solving the problem of unemployment among young people in order to enable them to marry in greater numbers:
"A study conducted in April 2015 at King Faisal Hospital and Research Center shows that men with multiple wives suffer four times [as much as other men] from heart problems. At a conference of cardiologists held in Asia in 2015, Arab scientist Amin Dawla announced that the danger of heart and vascular disease in men is connected to the financial and emotional burden stemming from his obligation to meet the needs of several families. Polygamy is a complex problem and it is often discussed only superficially... When you bring up the subject for debate, you find that some think that you are opposing a matter that is sanctioned by the religion, and they ignore the fact that Islam, which approved it in principle, set it up with restrictions that are nearly impossible to meet and confirmed this by threatening anyone who violates them and does not treat [his wives] justly with the amputation of one of his legs on Judgment Day.
"The question is, what man can act justly [to all his wives] every day, every hour, with every purchase and every expense? Is this not a whirlpool that brings the man with several wives closer to heart disease and mental illness... Polygamy is permitted in order to solve particular problems, and this does not mean that it is desirable or preferable... If the economic difficulty is the heart of the problem [of the overabundance of single women], then the solution lies in tackling the high expenses of being married, and finding solutions to unemployment among young men and women. The call for polygamy with the aim of reducing the number of single women is a superficial approach to the issue; it insults the intelligence of the people and grossly exploits the situation of society for the sake of personal interests. Furthermore, do we see that a man with several wives chooses a single woman – or does he choose a girl in her teens – maybe [even] an underage girl! We would be grateful to those who are truly concerned about the issue of single women, and whose intentions are sincere, if they would give material help so that a young man can marry a young woman, and thus eliminate two cases of singlehood at once...
"If we examine the matter [of polygamy] from the point of view of the family, we will find that the hostility, jealousy, and rivalry among the women embitters married life. This hostility is often passed on to the children of the various wives, who are raised on enmity [towards each other] – which disturbs the family, particularly the father..."
Saudi Columnist: Men Taking More Than One Wife Is A Solution For The Proliferation Of Single Women In Saudi Arabia
On the other hand, Saudi writer 'Abdallah 'Omar Khayat supported the idea of polygamy to solve the problem of too many single women. He wrote in his March 5, 2017 column in the Saudi daily 'Okaz – even before Ms. Mirza presented her proposal – that men taking more than one wife, which is permitted in Islam, has become a social and moral need, and is in the national interest:
"Many studies and reports have been written in an attempt to eliminate this phenomenon [of too many unmarried women] which experts in family matters attribute to a number of causes. These include the rise in the bride price and the high cost of the wedding. Likewise, some fathers do not want to marry their daughters off, particularly after they complete their higher education and have a suitable and high-paying job... Therefore, they reject all suitors, claiming that they are unworthy and not equal to [their daughters'] standing...
"Some of the public thinks that a quick solution for reducing the number of unmarried women, particularly those over 30, is polygamy, provided that the husband's financial situation is good.
"As far as the man is concerned, polygamy is acceptable; as far as the woman is concerned, it is loathsome, and nothing is more hated [by a woman than her husband's other wives]... [However,] a man's marrying more than one woman will reduce the number of [single women in society]. Polygamy will become a social and moral need, required in the interest of the homeland and of the citizens. The first wife always considers herself abandoned and unwanted, after she loses the love and dependence [of her husband]. [She thinks] that she is valueless and that her presence in her husband's life after he marries another is only for raising their children. This is her opinion, and [these are thoughts] that Satan creates in her imagination. But anyone who takes a second wife, or more, must act without discriminating among them, and must fear punishment by Allah if he oppresses any of them.
"Polygamy is one of the ways that can lead to eliminating spinsterhood. Our monotheistic religion permits polygamy without restrictions, and society does condemn a man [who takes a second wife] if his first wife is sick or barren. Evidence that this is permitted are statements by Allah in the Quran's An-Nisa [The Woman] chapter [4:3]: "And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course..."
 Latagreer.com, May 9, 2015.
 Sabaq (Saudi Arabia), November 2, 2017.
 Twitter.com/hashtag/%D8%AB%D9%84%D8%AB_%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D8%B9%D9%88%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA_%D8%B9%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B3?src=hash, accessed June 19, 2017.
 It should be noted that Islam permits a man to have four wives provided that he treats them all equally.
 Alarabiya.net, January 7, 2017. It should be noted that in October 2016, Alarabiya reported that figures from the Saudi Central Bureau of Statistics for that year showed that over half a million men in the country had more than one wife. See Alarabiya.net, October 25, 2016.
 Mubasher.aljazeera.net, March 27, 2017.
 About a similar debate about polygamy currently underway in Iraq, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No.6992, Female Iraqi MP's Proposal To Enshrine Polygamy In Law Causes Public Uproar In The Country, July 5, 2017.
 Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), March 22, 2017.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 31, 2017.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 31, 2017.
 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 5, 2017.