Ugandan Muslims March in Defense of Polygamy

Kampala, Uganda - Hundreds of Ugandan Muslims demonstrated in the capital on Tuesday to protest a proposed restriction on polygamy they see as an affront to their religion.

Under Islamic law, a Muslim man is allowed to take up to four wives, as long as he can provide for all of them equally.

But a domestic relations bill being debated by Uganda's parliament says Ugandan Muslims should have to seek approval from their first wife before marrying again.

"Islamic law has been there since it was passed on from Allah to the Prophet Mohammed, it cannot be re-written now," one of the protesters, Bukulu Haruna, told Reuters.

Sitting in the back of a pick-up truck festooned with Arabic signs and weighed down by loudspeakers, 35-year-old Haruna said he had two wives -- but that they would not mind if he took a third spouse.

"It is not compulsory to have more, but if the need is there, I can. Men and women are equal in many ways, but equality is not uniformity," he said, adjusting his headscarf.

About 1,000 marchers, rallied by the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, disbursed peacefully after chanting "Allah Akhbar" outside parliament and delivering a petition to officials.

"Other cultures want to overcome Islam, but we will not allow it. People are willing to die so that no one will trample over them," one demonstrator said.

Human rights campaigners in Uganda have called for polygamy to be banned.

About 12 percent of Uganda's more than 26 million people are Muslims, according to the latest official census figures.

"God gave us guidelines on how marriage should be handled. Telling us how many women we should marry makes the bill ridiculous and infringes on our freedom of worship," Kampala district Khadi Sheikh Silman Ndilangwa told reporters.

The domestic relations bill, first seen by parliament last year, also includes proposals on the scrapping of bride-price, one of the requirements of a Muslim marriage.

Last week, members of parliament on the committee drafting recommendations on the bill agreed Muslims should not have to seek a first wife's consent before marrying again. But the full parliament could still vote to require that approval.