Jan 25, 2012

In Defence of Prophet's Multiple Marriages (Part 1)

by Hiba Khan

A controversial subject

Polygamy in Islam is one of the most difficult concept to accept - for non-Muslims and Muslims alike. Many enemies of Islam love to defame the Religion and its Prophet through this topic alone. They portray Muhammad sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam to be a man with insatiable desires. We seek refuge with Allah from assuming such lowly, slanderous thoughts about the best man who ever set foot on this planet - the man with the highest morals and most excellent of character!

Logic versus ethics

After being given logical answers regarding the wisdom behind plural marriages – for example the high ratio of women to men resulting in a lot of unmarried women; increasing the population of the Muslim ummah to make it a strong nation; giving protection through marriage to orphan girls as well as divorced and widowed women left alone in society; providing for and fathering fatherless children, and so on – many still question how ethical plural marriages can actually be.

What research tells us about the nature of polygamy

Allan and Barbara Pease, bestselling authors and renowned relationship experts who have been conducting researches over many years, say in their book Why Men Don’t Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes:

For almost all of human existence, males have been polygamous for survival reasons. Men were always in short supply because so many were killed while hunting or fighting, so it made perfect sense for their survivors to adopt the widowed females into their harems. This would also give the men a greater opportunity to pass on their genes. From a species survival point, it made sense for a male to have ten or 20 females, but made no sense for one female to have ten or 20 males as she could only bear one offspring at a time. Only 3% of animal species, such as foxes and geese, are monogamous. Each sex is the same size and colour and you usually can’t tell which is which. The brains of most other male species, including humans, are not hardwired for monogamy. This is the reason men will put off making a commitment to one woman for as long as possible and why so many men have difficulty being monogamous in a relationship.

Although the authors don’t support polygamy, they admit that it was done for survival reasons and because it’s “hardwired” into the male brain. This “hardwiring” is actually called the FITRAH – the natural inclination of man that God has created him with. The authors also admit that, because of this hardwiring, it’s difficult for a man to stay committed in a monogamous relationship.

Is there any doubt about the wisdom of Islam then, that a man can lawfully fulfill his needs within the boundaries of marriage, without having to fall into the evils of adultery?

The prime condition that comes with polygamy

Islam stipulates that if a man chooses to have more than one wife - up to four are allowed – then it is INCUMBENT on him to do JUSTICE between the wives:

“... But if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly [with them], then [marry only] ONE... That is nearer to prevent you from doing injustice.” [Al-Qur'aan – Soorat-un-Nisaa 4: 3]

In fact, Islam is the only religion that makes a statement about marrying ONE woman, whereas no such statement can be found in other holy scriptures.

It’s in our genes, but we have a choice

The fact that God has not hardwired monogamy into the brains of men does not mean that men are animalistic in nature. Rather, they have full discretion to make their own decisions based on intellect and a sense of conscience - so justice is very much possible, if one intends it.

The authors continue to write:

We differ from other species... in that our advanced brains... let us make conscious decisions about what we will or won’t do, so it’s never enough for cheating men to protest that they couldn’t help themselves. They always had a choice.

What about women?

For a woman, being committed, at least until her offspring are self-sufficient, is hardwired into her psyche.

What’s all the fuss about?

Over 1400 years ago in Arabia, it was an accepted cultural norm to have multiple wives. No one thought anything of it – there were no implications of it being barbaric, unethical, primitive and the like. Hence the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam didn’t do something out of the ordinary, nor was he doing something that was frowned upon during that period of time.

The “rules” of the world keep changing according to the views of people rather than according to the facts. As recently as twenty-five years ago, it was perfectly normal and acceptable for a young woman, 17 years of age, to have a completely arranged marriage, with no courtship period, with a man fifteen years elder to her. And in many cases, these marriages have turned out to be very successful. Today, in times of promiscuity and more “liberal” thinking, such a marriage or engagement would be looked down upon as foolish, narrow-minded, illogical, ignorant, unjust, and so on.

The point is: If something was culturally acceptable in the past and it worked out perfectly well, then what’s there to make fun of or degrade in it? Didn’t the people of those times have brains, to decide for themselves? The problem lies not within the things we love to fashionably criticize, but it lies with our limited, prejudiced mindsets, due to the decadence of our societies.

To be continued, inshaAllah. Please take this discussion forward with me and post your views regarding this issue in the comments section!



jazakillahu khayrun for bringing up the issue in this article- i would just like to post my thoughts on the issue:

- In terms of Fitrah of a man to be polygamous- i don't think this is true- as Adam (as) was created and had one wife Hawa (as). I don't think it's correct to say it's fitrah, as we were born from one man and one woman. Because if we were to talk about nature, then lets me honest...by nature, women love attention, they love to be loved men..not just one man...many men
If we want to say by fitrah...then also by fitrah a woman likes to have her man to herself.- Although we can think of many reasons as to why polygamy is allowed, i think it's quite empowering to know that it was allowed without any specific reason. When you know that polygamy is allowed not because there's a greater number of woman or whatever, it leaves you with a choice. You don't feel guilty for not wanting to be part of a polygamous marriage. You don't feel compelled that you have to accept this lifestyle. Just as it is a choice for a man to marry more than one woman, it is the choice of the woman to remain within such a marriage or to be that 2nd, 3rd or 4th. 
wAllahu taala alamwould love to hear the authors thoughts on this...

Excellent thoughts dear Guest! Your points have been raised in this article too: http://muslimmatters.org/2011/07/04/polygamy-rational-or-irrational/
I like the article and the ongoing debate on MuslimMatters site.

Masha Allah, looking forward to your next post.

Dear Hiba,

Your efforts to write about a controversial topic is commendable, mashaaAllah! I am waiting for the entire series so that I can have a well-balanced idea about your thoughts on this issue.

In my opinion, polygamy is not and should not be linked with the spirituality that Islam stands for. That polygamy was perhaps best practised in the times of the Prophet (SallaAllahu alayhi wa sallam) does not mean it will continue to be well practised in today's times. It's similar to the issue of Aisha (RA)'s age. Firstly, there is considerable debate over her age. Secondly, it does not appeal to my intellect that one should marry off his / her 9 year old daughter just because such a thing worked in the past - especially since the age cannot be determined even by scholars! Will you, for instance, switch to black and white TV just because it worked well in the past in satisfying the society? Thirdly, it is in no way related to spirituality; it will not make me a better or a worse person just by knowing her age at the time of her marriage to the Prophet (SallaAllahu alayhi wa sallam)!

Also, I feel there is some different interpretation of this polygamy issue and its importance or relevance to Islam - which we are not aware of. Hence, I do not advocate for or discuss polygamy as if it's an integral or even a minor part of Islam. I feel there are many important issues pertaining to spirituality in Islam and to the society in general which deserve my attention.

I am not anti-polygamy because I believe there might be sisters who are completely okay with this and who are even keen on endorsing it. However, I am not for-polygamy too because firstly, in all honesty, I would not want to be in a polygamous relationship and secondly, I cannot think of polygamy as one of the bigger spirituality issues that every religion stands to address. Thirdly, since there is considerable debate over this issue, it is best left alone. There are many things about this universe which we, with our limited intellect, cannot comprehend. So it's absolutely fine to not know why certain things are there in the Scripture, instead of either rejecting or justifying them. It's fine to go "Erm, uh, I don't know!" on certain things in the Scripture, instead of being either for or against. Grey areas can definitely exist. Nothing is purely black or white.

Also, it would be great to see an article on polygamy advising men to be patient before deciding to get into a polygamous relationship instead of advising women to be patient in a polygamous relationship -- that would be something new because I feel most of the articles on this issue are addressed at women or are justified to say the least. It would be great to see a different angle to this issue.

However, the fact remains that it's great to see this topic being brought up and I cannot thank you enough Hiba for doing so! I hope to see many more reviews and comments here! Hope to see many more thought-provoking articles from you Hiba! :)

Dear Khadeejah,
Jazaakillaah khayr for your wonderful insight! I totally agree with you that polygamy has nothing to do with spirituality - and also that what worked before will not necessarily be endorsed in today's day and age. What I simply ask for is tolerance towards the fact that at that time, it worked pretty well and no one had any qualms about it, so we don't have the right to judge. The purpose of this article was not to advocate polygamy in any way whatsoever; my aim was just to defend our Prophet (s.a.w.) against malicious tongues, and to clear the uneasy misconceptions many Muslims may have.

Wa alaykum us salaam,
Jazaakillaah khayr for your interesting input. Allaah knows best, I might be wrong about the "fitrah" part - it was just my conclusion based on the research given. I don't think Aadam and Hawwa (a.s.) are relevant examples, though; their children had to marry and mate in order to produce more offspring - and we know that is not fitrah! 
I agree that women love attention and would not like to share their men; that is why I said it was fitrah for men, not women. Even the Prophet (s.a.w.)'s wives did not particularly enjoy sharing their husband. 
I don't understand what all the fuss is about if polygamy is just a simple allowance; as far as I know, nowhere in the Qur'aan or Sunnah does it emphatically encourage polygamy - hence, one should not feel guilty for not choosing to adopt it!     

Alot of times Islam doesn't fit in our "likes" however it doesn't mean that it isn't allowed in islam. We should be VERY careful when speaking on matters that bother us out of context

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