Life and Times Blog

Polygamy #1

I’ve had some thoughts swirling around this for some time now. A recent FB note by a friend, a fairly long Gmail thread, and a Halqa presentation by someone else gave me the nudge to sit down on this.
It’s seen as a controversial subject, polygamy in Islam. I don’t think it should be controversial, I haven’t seen anyone flat out say it’s forbidden, but I have seen plenty of people describe it as a religious virtue.

It seems to be a matter of individual choice. You can choose to do it, or choose not to.
I initially thought I’d present the opposing views on this in a clinical way, merely stating both views without (too much of) my opinion on the matter. But the more websites I read, the more I realised this was impossible. So subjective bombs away.

Just to repeat, no one can definitively say it’s not allowed. Or even look down on those who do it. But on the same note, the converse applies, those who refuse, should have that freedom without the blackmail of being anti-religious, or counter-virtue.

I wasn’t certain whether refusing was being anti-Islamic, so I kept quiet on this, but it seems Tariq Ramadan (who’s views I like), as well as others , have stated publically that women are allowed to refuse upfront to this. SO I’m more comfortable in what I’m about to say.

What are the arguments in favour?

Social Justice
Argument:Women far outnumber men, therefore, without polygamy; there would be unmarried women in this world.
In most cases this is untrue. The hard facts show this.
Where this is true, it would certainly be a cause for social justice. In certain areas, war stricken regions for example, polygamy is necessary and good.

However, in normal communities, women outnumber men primarily only due to their longer average life spans. SO in terms of the entire population there is only a slight skew.
I’ve pulled some stats for Bilal Randerees post a while back
This shows that its only beyond a certain age that this age gap happens, so if a man is doing this for the purpose of social justice he would be marrying women in that age category. The population argument does not stand up.

Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW)
This is true. It was the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW); it was also widely prevalent in the society of the time. Islam actually was restrictive, as it limited the number of wives to 4, unlike the open number for Arabs of the time.

BUT this is one of many sunnah, caring for orphans, fasting regularly, tahajjud etc. So it’s all good to say you’re doing it because of the sunnah, but these other sunnah don’t involve consequences for others around you.

So it’s not fair to put the blackmail on women as there is a huge burden on them in most cases. And if a man is claiming to do it solely for Sunnah sake, then is he as fervent and compliant with all the many other Sunnah that do not involve very real compromises for others? If your reason is self-serving, be honest about that, rather than painting your primary driver as being the Sunnah.

One argument against the Sunnah that I have heard, is that the Prophet (SAW) was monogamous throughout his relationship with Khadija (RA). I don’t think that’s an accurate counter, because the fact is that he did have multiple wives, as did many sahabah. Hazrat Umar (RA) was said to have had 7 or 8 in his life time, but not concurrently of course.

Divorce however, was also a lot more prevalent than it is today.

Another counter to this that I’ve heard is that the permission was revealed only after Uhud, and therefore only applicable in that specific context (where there were more widows and orphans). Now I know the context of revelation is of importance, but the Quran is universal, and timeless, so I’m not about to use this as a counter. Because even if it was revealed at that time, it was maintained for all time. Further, there were many other rulings of Islam that were gradually introduced. SO the Quran does allow for it:

Surah 4 vs3. If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.

Yusuf Ali says it seems to indicate monogamy is better.

I have however heard a scholar say that the wording of the verse indicates that the NORM is to marry multiple, seeing as it begins with marrying more, then says if NOT, then marry one.

I have also seen this verse used in an argument discouraging it:
Surah 4 vs129. Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire: But turn not away (from a woman) altogether, so as to leave her (as it were) hanging (in the air). If ye come to a friendly understanding, and practise self- restraint, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful

There is a refute against this in one of the links at the end of this post.

What interesting though is that in that time, this was a restrictive measure for the norm of the time, as it was common amongst the Arabs to have more than four. Whilst we see it as permissive, back then it was restrictive.

I think it’s important to distinguish between allowances, recommendations, compulsions.
Polygamy is an allowance, caring for orphans is a strong recommendation. An allowance doesn’t indicate anything more than the option, and according to many, refusing this specific allowance is also an allowance. Individual choice. This way or that.

It’s not advised to ignore recommendations, you can choose to never read tahajjud, but you really should read as much as you can.

Giving charity is a compulsion. Non-negotiable, and not allowed to be refused.

Some go as far as to say that not to allow it is also Sunnah citing this hadith:
I heard Allah’s Apostle who was on the pulpit, saying, “Banu Hisham bin Al-Mughira have requested me to allow them to marry their daughter to Ali bin Abu Talib, but I don’t give permission, and will not give permission unless ‘Ali bin Abi Talib divorces my daughter in order to marry their daughter, because Fatima is a part of my body, and I hate what she hates to see, and what hurts her, hurts me.”

Fulfilment of desire:

Argument: By allowing polygamy, a man is given a legitimate outlet for his sexual desire, a counter measure to the common ills of today, infidelity, prostitution, STD’s.
This may hold partially true. Although it is slightly denigrating to male powers of self-restraint. And exaggerating of the male libido.
A counter to this that is used is that he wouldn’t be satisfied by 4 either, but I won’t use that, because though he may not be fully satisfied with 4, he is likely to be MORE satisfied with 4 than with one. Satisfied enough not to meander. But whether one or four, he will still have to exercise restraint based on fear of God.
Once more, on the concept of justice, by him finding an outlet for this desire, instead of exercising restraint, what price will his wife be paying, and what restraint will she as a consequence be forced to exercise in other areas of life, and is it fair, is it Just?

Imam Ghazzali warns about the two destructive desires, being this one, and the other being the stomach. Restraint is a core and fundamental part of our system.

Further, the picture of this desirous man is a little extreme, men survive till their mid-20’s, through the most libidous period of their lives, without the fulfilment of this desire, why is it that when they have 1 wife, they suddenly need more? If you show me a man who claims this as his reason, and was married at 18, or 16, for this reason, he at least has a little more weight to his claim. He is allowed to exercise on this, but it is not the only solution.

A friend posted a note on FB relating to this:

Independent lifestyles of today:
This one is almost used in contradiction to the one about it having been sunnah at the time, but for all time. Because this motivation actually encourages the contextualisation of the ruling.
Some say that women are lot more independent, and that the model of the nuclear family is changing, so much so that there are women out there who would be better off without having to commit the same amount of time to their husbands as was traditionally done.

By marrying a man with other wives, those others could provide for his other needs whilst she pursues a lifestyle she prefers.
This could well be true.

But, in a society with equal numbers of men and woman, it would mean that wealthier men would have more wives to the detriment of poorer men, thus breaking the argument that motivates in the name of social justice. Wealthy men have the upper hand in monogamy too, as they are in more demand generally, but with multiple wives it would mean the deprivation of other men altogether, not just on the basis of selectivity.

(thanks to Shak for the independant women perspective, his writing can be found here:
I agree that women’s lifestyles and perspectives have changed, but in this new independent paradigm, I also believe that they are less likely to be communally inclined. You can see it in the fact that extended families don’t live together as much, that in-laws have greater boundaries, and conflict. (this is based on pure observation and hearsay though, about the old days).

There are those that punt temporary marriage on these grounds too, but I don’t know a damn thing about that.

So there is a counter to this. None of the arguments for or against are purely one or the other, choice exists.
I’m “countering” not to say it’s not allowed, but merely to say that both agreeing to it AND disapproving of it, is both OK, there should be no blackmail or condescension on either. Of course my own bias means the counter may be more pronounced… I don’t think it’s a good idea in these times. And I personally would not consider it.


March 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 20 Comments

Polygamy #2

Now, about this bias, here are the personal reasons I think it’s unfair to coerce a women into doing it:
Marriage today (I guess for most of time) is not just a circumstantial arrangement; it is an emotional bond, based on trust and joint goals, lifestyles, extended family bonds etc. Joint and mutual sacrifice for joint and mutual goals.

Beginning a relationship on these grounds, and then altering the nature of that understanding at a later point, seems to be quite shattering. Physical infidelity hurts a lot, part of it I would guess would be the lie or the deception involved, but I think a bigger part is the intrusion on what was thought to be an exclusive bond. Emotional bond. Lifestyle bond. With a man shared between more than one household, there are intrusions on many more levels. Those joint bonds are damaged. There is overlap of goals and compromises.

Of course those bonds can theoretically still be maintained, but someone who is that close to your life, sharing those same bonds with a different person, with their goals, with their trust, must have some sort of impact on the strength of your trust with them?

And your kids, knowing that their needs are shared with those of a different set of kids by their father?
Sure, even within one family there is challenge to maintain justice among kids and towards a wife, and not a slight challenge either. But with having multiple families in a unit, those same challenges would be a lot more aggravated for the same reasons they are challenging in a single relationship.

A single marriage looks tough, tough enough. Some of the difficulties may be solved with multiple partners, if the man is needier in certain areas, but I would guess that the additional challenges it would bring would be more severe than the solutions it provides, in these times. But in individual situations that can of course be the complete opposite.

And the Quran is emphatic on the point of justice, with polygamy and within its broad ethos. So a man may have many reasons for it, but if the women he lives with will experience adverse consequences, then it is unjust.

Again though, if she DOES consent, and HE does consent, there should be no derisiveness, people are built differently. Allowance is there for both options,

And yes, I’m layering this with assumption. But I don’t believe these are unreasonable assumptions. I’m no huge feminist, but I think it’s wrong to use the Islamic card for this, if its based on self-serving needs. If the dude’s marrying an old widow , or an orphan, or doing dawah, that’s virtue. But will he honestly be just to an old widow, or any of the others?

Trust is important, and I think it is lost in these situation, with the expectations and model of family units we are presented with. If your father came home, and announced that he was starting another family, what would your reaction be? And your mothers? And her father’s reaction?
What would your feelings be?

A friend recently mentioned she knew of step-sibling who met each other for the first time at campus. Another friend stayed with family friends that involved a marriage f two wives, he says the house was a battle ground, not physically, but said there were no emotional bonds. Each woman was always expending her energy in psychological and emotional competition with the other. And neither had trust in their husband, and this impacted on the kids too, with no nurturing environment.

In-law relationships are strained, mostly, as a rule of life. Especially the mother-in-law daughter-in-law relationship. I guess the possible reason behind it is possibly the split obligations of the man in the middle. A man is obligated to care for his original family, brothers, sisters, parents, and his wife and kids, and this is no easy feat. There are plenty of examples of these conflicts.

Even time divisions, between work, personal leisure, family attention, is a scarce commodity.
I do however have a friend, who’s mum was the second wife of a man, and both families got along beautifully. And are better for it.

2 sides to this coin, choose either, but allow the freedom for both.

Most men reserve the right, but don’t really ever expect to want to exercise it.
I hope the guys who are serious about it carefully consider the duty of justice, in terms of God-fearing, and of the incredible amount of hassle , in terms of self-preservation. Rather fast more frequently fellows. It just seems like a heck of trouble to me.

Ladies, don’t be hesitant to be firm on this, it’s allowed, don’t automatically assume its a religious duty. Refuse if you want to. Rather upfront than down the line, where it will be a lot harder. But as I say, I know no men who are REALLY sincere about it.

And a common line used is that they will be God-fearing in managing it. Again, irreversible bravery. Real consequence.

Don’t be too alarmed, as I say most men maintain the right as a luxury to be exercised in case of mitigating circumstances, or just to test the ladies willingness to submit. But do check how seriously he intends to do it. And his reasons.

It only becomes noble if the man claims to do it for purposes outside himself, so for eg, caring for a war widow, or for dawah etc. Even on those purposes, he has to be certain of his ability to be just, not just his ability from himself, justice involves 2 parties; the woman must feel justice too.
Even on the widow front, with an equal population in a normal society, there would be the same number of widowers.

For both men and women considering an arrangement, bravery is always admirable, but consider how reversible it is, and the magnitude of the consequence. And question the real motive, only in justifiable situations, or simply as a right to be exercised regardless?

I have heard some terrible reasons for it, the one being that: We could have someone take care of the house, whilst we worked, and went out… (And when you come home? And will you be just? Or is she just a maid?)

You can’t find everything you want in one woman. (of course not, life’s not perfect, whats a heaven for? And this is totally self serving, choosing a partner would be so easy if we could just add others to make up for deficiencies, or if we could just divorce and remarry others, rather be more realistic and careful in choosing a spouse)

Am I arguing against an Islamically sanctioned right?
I am not, I am saying its allowed, and should not be frowned on. My bias against it may seem like its a criticism against it, and until I had read what various folks had said about it, I would not have ventured this forth: To accuse women of refusing a man’s “ Islamically sanctioned right” is equally unfair and against HER Islamically sanctioned right.

I never gave it too much thought when I was younger, but now, knowing more about emotional consequences of life, having observed more of people around me, my view has changed.
Also, a few years into a marriage, it is a lot harder , emotionally and circumstantially for a woman to walk out of a marriage.

Where there is compromise and growth and sacrifice between two, that needs to be negotiated, how does a third factor in. Who get the priority? Even if there is that priority, between husband, kids, family, personal goals, this additional layer is added in?

And of course the emotional difficulty of knowing that there is someone else, physically, psychologically, circumstantially, that you are automatically compared to, prioritised next to, balanced against.
But perhaps I have it completely wrong, please share your views.

And for the fellow’s, if you find a classy dame, Finding one is hard enough. Sure, it’s easier to decide on one if you’re just planning to supplement her with others, but a bird in the hand…

For things outside intimacy, you can find satisfaction outside the marriage, better if you find it inside, more comfortable and fulfilling and liberating, but rather work on that single relationship.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 4 Comments