Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Quranic perspective on Polygamy

By: M Hathout, U Jamil and N AliI

Polygamy, or co-marriage to multiple wives, is discussed in the Quran as a response to a specific social situation. In the context of war-torn society in seventh-century Arabia, one which left many women widowed and children orphaned, the discussion of polygamy was revealed as part of a directive to treat female orphans justly. It was not advocated as a carte blanche to all Muslim men to allow them to fulfill their sexual desires, as is commonly misinterpreted. Polygamy should be viewed as a component of justice in the treatment of widows, but is mainly conditioned upon the need to offer fair care to orphans, according to the literal reading of the verse. It served a functional purpose for that time period, in allowing widows and orphans to be taken care of in a society in which women usually did not have independent means of financial support. But the text is clear that polygamy is only permissible if all wives are treated justly. The Quran then goes on to say that it will never be possible for a husband to treat all of his wives fairly. This effectively limits the possibility of polygamy today. A detailed rendering of the relevant verses in Surah an Nisaa follows."And if you have reason to fear that you might not act equitably towards orphans, then marry from among [other] women such as are lawful to you - [even] two, or three, or four: but if you have reason to fear that you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then [only] one - or [from among] those whom you rightfully posses. This will make it more likely that you will not deviate from the right course." (Surah an Nisaa - Women, 4:3). The first imperative in this verse is to deal justly with orphans, and is directed towards their male guardians who would be managing their property or wealth on their behalf. Marriage to female orphans is only advocated if and when the guardian fears that he will not be able to carry out his duty honestly. The assumption is that marriage to the orphan will give the husband a greater stake in carrying out his financial responsibility towards her. It does not by any means represent a requirement for all male guardians to marry their female wards. Second, the verse emphasizes justice towards the wife/wives as well. In other words, polygamy is only possible if the husband will be able to treat his wives justly. Otherwise, he is to marry only one wife, or even a female slave. 1 The key theme is to prevent him from doing injustice towards the woman (or women) concerned. 2 "And it will not be within your power to treat your wives with equal fairness, however much you may desire it; and so, do not allow yourselves to incline towards one to the exclusion of the other, leaving her in a state, as it were, of having and not having a husband. But if you put things to rights and are conscious of Him-behold, God is indeed much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace" (Surah an Nisaa- Women, 4:129).Polygamy is treated variably in the legal codes of different Muslim countries. While Tunisian and Moroccan personal status law prohibit polygamy altogether, 3 Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Malaysia have made polygamy subject to court permission, and only granted when certain conditions are fulfilled. These "include the infertility of the existing wife, attainment of a "lawful benefit", the just character of the husband and his financial ability to maintain a second wife. Some countries have also stipulated the consent of the existing wife to the proposed marriage, which must be given before the court." 4 However, these conditions do not have any express Quranic sanction, and are determined through social custom and practice.In conclusion, we subscribe to monogamy as the preferred norm for marriages today. Polygamy is not necessary or relevant today for two main reasons. One, the specific historical context that legitimized polygamy does not exist today. Women have more choices allowing them to be financially independent, even in cases where they are widowed or orphaned. The second, and more compelling reason, is the imperative to do justice, which prohibits having multiple wives, since, as human beings, men cannot ever be perfectly fair and just among them.

1. This is specifically relevant to the social structure of Arabian society at the time, since female slaves or concubines were common. It should not be interpreted today as a sanction for slavery.2. Barlas, pp. 190-1913. Tunisian Law of 1957 and the Moroccan Law of 1958, respectively.4. Kamali, Fredoom, Equality and Justice in Islam, p.77.

Excerpted from the book "In Pursuit of Justice".

Blogger Comment:

How about polygamy of prophet Muhammad (PBUH)?
If you believe in Islam you will find it a miracle, if you choose not to believe you will find it odd, wrong or sinful. The prophet was well known for his best manners. Unlike a lot of men like us he would not eye a pretty woman. His religion is built on holiness. He never married until he married at the age of 25 years old if you know what I mean. He married to a woman 15 years older than him and stayed his only wife until she died and he did not marry again until he was about 51 years old. In the top of his message from age of 51 to 63 years old God has ordinated him to marry about 10 women. I found it one of the best proofs of being real messenger. No liar or social reformer would take a chance at this age to marry even two or three women. The stress of these marriages besides what he was going through and his enemies in every corner would not make any man to do that unless he is ordered by God. His message is about manners and honesty a fight with only one woman can turn badly for him she can say a caught him on a lie or he has temper. All his wives paid good respect to him and all were sincere believer which like having 10 certificates from the closet people to you that you are a very honest man. The only time they all turned against him was about spending on them and was only one occasion. He was poor and they know they married him for being the chosen prophet of God it was his love and honour they married him for. God told him to divorce whom she wants to leave him kindly if they want to. Their own families thought it would be against God and Islam to do that. He dealt with them in the best manners and they stayed as his wives after his death and no one of them married again. Any man will find it miraculous for someone to marry like him. Why God wanted Muhammad to do that? Many reasons have been forward. God did not tell us why he did that in the Quran except Muhammad is different from us. He choose to pray and fast more than other people. He was likely had these marriages to appease many people and take care of widowed women and their orphans after wars. His great manners, holiness and moral message speak of his good intentions. No doubt anyone would enjoy marriage he did not deny that himself but he could have just married one beautiful woman after his first wife death. Why he take all of this package if he was not a true prophet: jealousy between wives, potential stresses of marriages, creating enemies at home, distracting himself form his main message of Islam...... He did that at the busiest and most vigorous time of his message. God wanted that and we have to accept it. The thing that would strengthen your faith is most Muslim women would not accept their husbands to marry another woman and the accepted that for the messenger.

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