A prominent religious authority in Kyrgyzstan has admitted to taking a second wife, sparking a national discussion on polygamy in the process.
Chubak azhy Zhalilov broke the news on his YouTube account and argued that he wants to see more men follow his example.
“I had no wish to get married a second time, but I wanted to show the example. If I don’t start, then who will? I want to say this to men who have the chance to marry a second time, but not everybody has the capability to do this,” he said.
Zhalilov’s second wife is a 30-year old widow who formerly worked as a nanny in Turkey. He said that his first wife is irked at his decision to take another bride, but that the situation will “sort itself out.”
“To the wives of men who take second wives, go ahead and cry, but don’t make a scene in public. These are traditions after all,” he said.
While conservative commentators have registered approval of Zhalilov’s actions, others believe he is simply indulging in criminal behavior.
“By making this statement, Zhalilov just wants to show he doesn’t give a damn about secular laws and the rights of women, and he doesn’t give a damn about the criminal code and the constitution. Zhalilov wants to show that the most important document in Kyrgyzstan is not the constitution but the Koran,” blogger Daniyar Aitman wrote on his Facebook page.
Aziza Abdirasulova, head of the Kylym Shamy rights group, said she had lodged a formal complaint with the prosecutor’s office and demanded that Zhalilov be brought to justice.
Zhalilov’s supporters responded robustly to that initiative.
“If the government doesn’t take care of people, but he [Zhalilov] says ‘I’ll take care of you’ instead, he’s gets a kicking. So those who want to seek some happiness cannot do so. And what are the aims of this foreign dog Abdirasulova anyway?” Beishen Manapbayev wrote on Facebook.
Newspaper editor Nazira Begim went a step further, calling on President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to legalize polygamy as a way of pulling Kyrgyzstan out its current state of “degradation.”
“Beautiful, educated Kyrgyz women are getting married to foreigners. Many of them have gone though difficult times and divorces. And prostitution is on the rise. Only Kyrgyz men can protect Kyrgyz women from such problems,” Begim wrote in an open letter to the president.
At the moment, Kyrgyzstan’s criminal code envisions punishments of up to years in jail for those found guilty of bigamy.
Zhalilov is one of Kyrgyzstan’s best-known and influential Muslim clerics. He was the chief mufti of Kyrgyzstan from 2010 to 2010, but since then he is mainly known for his popular sermons posted on YouTube. His channel is the second in Kyrgyzstan to earn YouTube’s Silver Play Button, which is awarded to content-producers with more than 100,000 subscribers.