As-Salāmu Alaykum Wa Rahmatullahi Wabarakathuhu

May the Peace, Mercy and Blessings of God be upon you beautiful people

"Truth has (now) arrived, and Falsehood perished: for Falsehood is (by its nature) bound to perish." [Qur'an 17:81]

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Polygamy in Islam

Polygamy (plurality of wives) is one of the controversial questions in the family system of Islam. The following are a few points worth of consideration in an effort to clarify the wisdom of polygamy and when it can be used:

Islam has emphasized that taking advantage of the permission of polygamy is conditional on the observance of several factors and circumstances -as it will be explained later. If the man lacks those material and moral conditions, or he is not competent enough to satisfy all of them, then he will not be eligible to take more than one wife. Also, Islam has emphasized that the basic objective of healthy marital life comes from mutual love and benevolence between the husband and the wife which normally can be found in the form of regular marriage - monogamy. Preservation of that cordiality, stability, and purity in the family life can be seen clearly in the Quranic doctrines as well as in the tradition of the prophet (p.b.u.h):

The Quran says:

“And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.”(Quran 30: 21)”

" live with them ( wife or wives) on a footing of kindness and equity” (Quran 4:19)

“And women (wives) shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.” (Quran 2:28)

Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) said:

"The best man among you is the best with his wife".

”The best of your women are those: Who are loving and kindly; who look after their chastity; Who are not arrogant or disobedient to their husbands; Who are faithful to their husband in their absence.”

Imam Ali (A.S.) said:

"By your chastity protect your wife from casting an evil eye on others stealthily and entertaining an idea of sin".

"Be kind to your wife and treat her well. Kindness will change her for the better, will keep her satisfied and will preserve her health and beauty".

Is there a perfect Solution?

As a realistic religion that legislates real solutions for humanity, Islam avoided any utopian doctrine. In many of its laws, Islam keeps in mind the flexibility of the law and the realistic factors and circumstances. A law can not be 100% good for every person, groups, culture, or country. However, Islam considers the over all values and gaining. If the advantages of a law overcome its disadvantages, then that law would be legislated and vise versa. This concept is driven from Quran: “They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: "In them is great harm (sin) and some benefits for people; but the harm (sin) is greater than the benefits (2:219).”

Polygamy before Islam

Polygamy existed before the advent of Islam among several civilizations and religions. All that Islam has done is restricted it and make more organized and civilized.

In his book, History of Civilization (vol.1 p.61), Will Durant says:

The clerics in the Middle Ages thought that polygamy was an innovation of the Prophet of Islam. But that is not the case. As we have seen, it has been practiced in most societies before Islam.

Among the history lots of stories were narrated about men who cheated on their wives or got married with more than one. Take an example from the bible: some people accuse prophets and make them look sinful just not to say they had more than one wife. Isn’t that Abraham (peace be up on him) was married Sarah and from her he had Isaac and simultaneously he was married to his made and had from her Ishmael?

The following are some phrases from the bible

"After he left Hebron, David took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem, and more sons and daughters were born to him."

2 Samuel 5:13

"He (Solomon) had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines..."

1 Kings 11:3

"And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.

Genesis 4:19

"If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the first-born son be hers that was hated: then it shall be, when he maketh..."

Deuteronomy 21:15

"if he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall her not diminish."

Exodus 21:10

The point here is not to say that monogamy never been practiced or not applicable. However, it is just a wondering that how come the legalized polygamy in Islam is inferior to the unlimited clandestine adultery in other religions and civilizations.

Polygamy and its Preconditions in Islam

Islam allows polygamy when:

a- The wife(s) has no objection about polygamy during or before the marriage contract. And if the husband disregards that, the wife has the right to raise that to the Islamic court.

b- Equitable treatment for all the wives

c- Number of wives not to exceed four

What was the purpose of the Verse 4:3?

Verse 4:3 was revealed to Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him in Madina after he migrated to it from Mecca and established an Islamic state there right after the battle of Uhud in which the Muslims not only had lost badly against the Pagans, but also suffered a dramatic decrease in the number of Muslim men. The Muslim men before that battle were approximately 700. They became only 400 after the battle. This loss had left so many Muslim women (1) Widows, and (2) Not able to get married if they were single.

To make matters even worse, the Muslims had faced yet another battle against the Pagans in Mecca and its neighboring tribes who wanted to attack the Muslims in Madina to finish off Islam once and for all, and by the Jews and the Christians in Madina who betrayed the Muslims in the "battle of Trench" after signing a defense treaty with Muhammad peace be upon him against the Pagans.

The Quran limited the maximum number of wives to four. In the early days of Islam, those who had more than four wives at the time of embracing Islam were required to divorce the extra wives. Islam further reformed the institution of polygamy by requiring equal treatment to all wives. The Muslim is not permitted to differentiate between his wives in regards to sustenance and expenditures, time, and other obligations of husbands. Islam does not allow a man to marry another woman if he will not be fair in his treatment. Prophet Muhammad forbade discrimination between the wives or between their children.

Also, marriage and polygamy in Islam is a matter of mutual consent. No one can force a woman to marry a married man. Islam simply permits polygamy; it neither forces nor requires it. Besides, a woman may stipulate that her husband must not marry any other woman as a second wife in her prenuptial contract. The point that is often misunderstood in the West is that women in other cultures - especially African and Islamic - do not necessarily look at polygamy as a sign of women’s degradation. Consequently, to equate polygamy with degrading women is an ethnocentric judgment of other societies.

Even though we see the clear permissibility of polygamy in Islam, its actual practice is quite rare in many Muslim societies. Some researchers estimate no more than 2% of the married males practice polygamy. Most Muslim men feel they cannot afford the expense of maintaining more than one family. Even those who are financially capable of looking after additional families are often reluctant due to the psychological burdens of handling more than one wife. One can safely say that the number of polygamous marriages in the Muslim world is much less than the number of extramarital affairs in the West. In other words, contrary to prevalent notion, men in the Muslim world today are more strictly monogamous than men in the Western world.

Karen Armstrong, a well known writer and expert on Islam wrote in Muhammad: A Biography Of The Prophet:

"In seventh-century Arabia, when a man could have as many wives as he chose, to prescribe only four was a limitation, not a license to new oppression. Further, the Quran immediately follows the verses giving Muslims the right to take four wives with a qualification which has been taken very seriously. Unless a man is confident that he can be scrupulously fair to all his wives, he must remain monogamous. Muslim law has built on this: a man must spend absolutely the same amount of time with each of his wives; besides treating each wife equally financially and legally, a man must not have the slightest preference for one but must esteem and love them all equally. It has been widely agreed in the Islamic world that mere human beings cannot fulfill this Quranic requirement: it is impossible to show such impartiality and as a result Muhammad's qualification, which he need not have made, means no Muslim should really have more than one wife. In countries where polygamy has been forbidden, the authorities have justified this innovation not on secular but on religious grounds." -- p. 191

There are people who object to polygamy, but accept polygamous life as a form of human behaviour. Many eyebrows are raised at having a second wife, 'but to have at many 'mistresses' or 'girlfriends' as one likes is accepted in good grace. The contradiction between these two attitudes is conveniently ignored.

I am going to quote Mrs. Annie Besant and Dr. Havelock Ellis on this point. Mrs. Besant says: "There is pretended monogamy in the West, but there is really polygamy without responsibility; the mistress is cast off when the man is weary of her, and sinks gradually to the 'woman of the street, for the first lover has no responsibility for her future and she is a hundred times worse off than the sheltered wife and mother in the polygamous home. When we see thousands of miserable women who crowd the streets of Western towns during the night, we must surely feel that it does not lie within western mouth to reproach Islam for polygamy. It is better for woman, happier for woman, more respectable for woman, to live in polygamy, united to one man only with the legitimate child in her arms, and surrounded with respect, than to be seduced, cast out in the Street - perhaps with an illegitimate child outside the pale of the law -unsheltered and uncared for, to become the victim of any passerby, night after night, rendered incapable of motherhood despised by all." -- Annie Besant, The Life and Teachings of Muhammad, Madras, 1932, p.3.

Dr. Havelock Ellis writes: "It must be said that the natural prevalence of monogamy as the normal type of sexual relationship by no means excludes variations, indeed it assumes them. The line of nature is a curve that oscillates from side to side of the norm. Such oscillations occur in harmony with changes in environmental conditions and no doubt with peculiarities of personal disposition. So long as no arbitrary and merely external attempt is made to force Nature the vital order is harmoniously maintained. The most common variation, and that which must clearly possess a biological foundation, is the tendency to polygamy, which is found at all stages of culture, even in an unrecognised and more or less promiscuous shape. In the highest civilisation...'The path of social wisdom seems to lie on the one hand in making marriage relationship flexible enough to reduce to a minimum of these variations - not because such deviations are intrinsically bad but because they ought not to be forced into existence - and on the other hand in according to these deviation when they occur such a measure of recognition, as will deprive them of injurious influence and enable justice to be done to all the parties concerned. We too often forget that our failure to recognise such variations merely means that we accord in such cases an illegitimate permission to perpetrate injustice. In those parts of the world in which polygamy is recognised as a permissible variation a man is legally held to his natural obligations towards all his sexual mates and towards the children he has, by those mates. In no part of the world is polygamy so prevalent as in Christendom; in no part of the world is it so easy for a man to escape the obligations incurred by polygamy. We imagine that if we refuse to recognise the fact of polygamy, we may refuse to recognise any obligations incurred by polygamy. By enabling man to escape so easily, from the obligations of his polygamous relationship we encourage him, if he is unscrupulous, to enter into them; we place a premium on the immorality we loftily condemn. Our polygamy has no legal existence. The ostrich, it was once imagined hides his head in the sand and attempts to annihilate the facts by refusing to look at them; but there is only one known animal which adopts this course of action and it is called Man." -- Ellis, Havelock, The PsychoIogy of Sex, 1910, Vol. IV. Pp.491-92, 493-94

Islam does not allow marriage of multiple wives for males' sexual privileges and desires as Anti-Islamics claim. Verse 4:3 came to solve social problems. Unfortunately today, some Muslims intensify the Muslim's social problems in the Islamic countries by marrying multiple wives and bringing more illiterate and poor kids into the society which on the long run will only keep their entire society below the level of poverty. Therefore, Verse 4:3 doesn't allow polygamy just for anyone or any reason.

The permission to practice polygamy in Islam is not associated with 'mere satisfaction of passion'. It is rather associated with 'compassion' toward widows and orphans, a matter that is confirmed by the atmosphere in which the verse 4:3 was revealed - after the battle of Uhud in which many Muslims were killed, leaving widows and orphans for whom due care was incumbent upon the Muslim survivors.

Polygamy is neither mandatory, nor encouraged, but merely permitted in Islam.

"If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with them), THEN (MARRY) ONLY ONE…. (Qur’an 4:3)

This verse, when combined with another verse in the same chapter, shows some discouragement of such plural marriages.

“You are never able to be fair and just as between women even if it is your ardent desire…” (Qur’an 4: 129)

So in conclusion general, Polygamy is not allowed if it will become a destructive behavior and carelessness. And the husband who is misusing it, he is basically misusing the law. In such case, the impious human is the problem not the law itself. God legislates for all times, from the start of time till the end of time. The rule on polygamy simply gives structure to what was already in existence. It by no means is mandatory, the law just allows for it given the necessary circumstances should arise. Being a revelation of God, the Quran should aim to deal with as many issues as it possibly can so it can provide the relevant guidance for mankind. It is an exception rather than the general rule.


Anonymous said...

Well said. Thanks for the post!!!

uzumaki naruto said...

i am really impressed by ur posts and am very happy to see people like u clearing the blurr picture of islam that people have in their minds. may ALLAH bless u.

Anonymous said...

Stop insulting people intelligence ....Any one with a little common sense will realize that polygamy is all about a man sexual gravitation.If u don't agree them ave to explain why men have 72 wifes in heaven

Jazib Bhat said...