The leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan has issued a decree urging the group’s commanders to stop taking multiple wives, which “invites criticism from our enemies”.
The decree comes at a sensitive political moment for the Taliban as they undertake talks with the government over the country’s future.
Polygamy is still legal in Afghanistan, but Taliban sources told the BBC the practice is creating increasing demand for money to pay the “bride price” given to a woman’s family to secure her hand in marriage.
Most Taliban leaders have several wives, and the decree does not ban multiple marriages but it does warn that large amounts of money spent on marriage ceremonies can invite criticism from opponents and lead to corruption.
The decree says, “If all leadership and commanders avoid polygamy, they won’t need to get involved in corrupt and illegal practices.”
It does endorse multiple marriages for men who either have no children, have no male child from a previous marriage, who are marrying a widow, or who have family wealth to afford multiple wives.
Another uncited reason is domestic tension, for which a wife is usually held responsible.
A widow is often given to the brother of her deceased husband in order to protect the honour of both her and the family. And for those with greater wealth, polygamy is seen as a status symbol.
Changing social attitudes in recent decades have begun to discourage polygamy, Rita Anwari, an Afghan activist based in Australia, told the BBC.
“Islam allows men to take multiple wives under certain conditions,” she said. “Unfortunately, today’s men have forgotten that in their pursuit of lust.”
Nearly all of the Doha-based Taliban leaders have multiple wives, including those recently released from US custody at Guantanamo Bay. The Taliban’s most senior official in Doha has three wives, marrying the last while in Pakistani prison.
When the BBC contacted Taliban sources to ask which Taliban leaders have multiple wives, one replied: “Which one hasn’t?”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani summed up the mood of many fighters last year, saying, “Taliban soldiers are sick of fighting while their leaders are getting their fourth and fifth wife and enjoying themselves.”