- Psychosocial Impact of Polygamy in the Middle East by Alean Al-Krenawi
This well-organized monograph has three introductory chapters covering polygamy in general; history, geography, and culture of Islam; and the place of polygyny within Islamic society. The author follows with a discussion of his recent quantitative and qualitative research, and a case study of his intervention with a low-functioning polygynous family. Al-Krenawi argues that polygamy is harmful to children, women, and men, although its effects can be mitigated by culturally sensitive counseling.
For the most part, this book was disappointing. The work is evidently meant for social science professionals who are not necessarily experts in Middle Eastern culture, but the introductory chapters miss this audience, being too complex and abstract for non-specialists and probably unnecessary for specialists. The book should have included a map of the Islamic world.
Chapter 4, on Krenawi's research, is badly flawed by writing errors, confused analysis, and failure to synchronize tables and text. The author fails to disentangle the interconnection between family functioning, mental health, poverty, and polygamy, confusing us more with the summary sentence: "This was shown with two linear regression analyses … one using family functioning [sic] as a dependent variable, and the other using family function [sic] as a dependent variable [sic]" (p. 121). Does he mean family function vs. family structure, or dependent vs independent variable?
Numbers which are fairly clear in the tables are often mangled in the text. On p. 77 Krenawi states the polygynous husbands had 2-5 wives, but p. 81 claims no husband had more than 2 wives (probably meaning "currently"). At times, the text refers to the wrong table, as on p. 89, where what he calls Table 4.3 is actually Table 4.2. The significance level of statistical tests is sometimes shown as significant in a table but deemed insignificant in the text, or vice versa. Numbers in the text are mis-reported, as when he claims (p. 81) that the dichotomous variable of house quality showed 69% of respondents living in solid houses, with 315 [sic]—the total sample—living in tents or huts. The table shows he meant 31%. These and many other errors demonstrate that the writing was careless and the editing nonexistent.
The qualitative study was better explained, but the stories of several families were confusing, especially when they involved complex situations of family honour. An appendix was little [End Page 515] help, because it had no reference in the chapter and did not give more details than the text itself. Row 3 of the appendix, entitled "Monogamy or Polygamy" with alternatives "Yes" and "No" should have been labeled "was respondent's family of origin polygamous?" I found I had to mentally rewrite this book in order to understand it.
Chapter 6, describing the counseling of a polygynous family with 8 wives, was much better. The explanation is clear and detailed, showing how individual and group interviews with the wives, and a one-on-one session between the author and husband, helped all family members work together.
Krenawi recommends that national and local governments increase the availability of such culturally-sensitive counseling. While the war-torn Middle East now has other priorities, Krenawi's excellent case study (chapter 6) will benefit social workers currently working with minorities in multi-cultural societies. [End Page 516]