When we speak of polygamy the first thing that is to be understood is the fact that it was never an institution that was introduced by the Qur'an or Islam. It was an institution that generally prevailed in ancient cultures. Look at what the Encyclopedia Britannica writes: 'It may be seen that in most of the ancient cultures either polygamy or the tradition of keeping concubines existed. In China, where there existed the above practices apart from the lawfully permitted wife, it was never seen to be against the moral code or decency. The tradition of maintaining concubines existed in Japan up to 1880. Even though polygamy was accepted in ancient Egypt, it was not commonplace. However amongst the royal families it was common.' (Vol. xviii, p.188)
It may be recalled that except for a particular period, polytheism was common in all the ancient communities among the Romans. In certain communities of central Africa and Australia the rich would even compete with one another inthe matter of number of wives, they made of young girls who could not be married off by their parents.. It is further given to understand that the young men in such communities thus finding it difficult to marry and that many amongst them would then take in marriage the widows of their fathers after their father's death.. It is even said that the Monomattawo Kings of Zimbabwe had as many as three thousand wives. `The Guinnes Book of World Records' has recorded the head of the Batuba, Bakethe races of Zaire as possessing the most number of wives. They are said to have had many hundreds of wives!
Many of the Prophets in the Old Testament of the Bible had more than one wife. The Book of Genesis makes it quite clear that Abraham, who is described as the ideological father of the Jewish community, had two wives in Sarah and Hagar (16:1-3). It can also be seen from the Bible that after the death of Sarah, he married a woman named Kedura and that besides this, he mad many other wives as well (Genesis 25:1-6)
Jacob, who was the father of the tribe of Israel had four wives named Leya (Genesis 29:21), Laban (29:29), Bilha (30:4) and Silha (30:9). As for David who is known as the author of the Psalms, it can be seen that he had besides the wives Meekal (1 Samuel 18:29) Batt Sheba (2 Samuel 11:27), Abeenovam (2 Samuel 3:3), Abeegayal, Maky, Hageethi, Abeethal, Eggai (2 Samuel 3:4-5), had many other as well. His son Solomon, who is known as author of the Proverbs had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines! (1 King 11:3) Indeed, as a token of the greatness of many individuals, the Old Testament cites that 'they had many wives and sons! (I Chronicles 7:3). These instances are reffered only to show that Polytheism was commonplace during the times of the Old Testament.
There is a little evidence in the earliest sources to show that the Christian religion which came as the successor of the Jewish one, had held polygamy as abominable. There is not a single statement which prohibits polygamy anywhere in the gospels, the book of acts, the book of revelation, the apostelic writings or even in the letters of Paul. But the writings of Paul have discouraged even the very act of marriage itself. The disciples of Paul who were taught that 'it is best not to marry' (1 Corithians 7:38) were inclined towards ascertism and as for those who could not manage that came to the stand that one, and only one, wife may be taken.
However, there have also been moves adopted against this stand within the Christian community itself. The Mormons of America were a people who advocated the cause of polygamy. They claimed that Jesus Christ had married and that he had many wives as well. They contended that since Christ had appeared to Mary Magdalene, Solomi and other women after his resurrection he was more intimately closer to these women than to his apostles and that this, therefore, showed that it was probable that they were, indeed, his wives. The Christian view thus remains that polygamy was permitted in the earliest periods. This has been mentioned in the Encyclopedia Britannica. 'Polytheism was recognised by Christian Church during the middle ages. It existed in its own right. Indeed, as it was permitted both by the Church and Nation it existed legally in many places right up to the middle of the sixteenth century.' (Vol XIV, p.950)
As for India, it may be seen that there existed the tradition of taking more than one women as wives right from the time of the Rig Veda. It is further given to understand that Indra, the most important god in the Rig Veda, himself had more than one wife. There is a verse (or Sukta) attribute to Indrani, the most important of all in the wives of Indra (Rig Veda, Mandal 10, Sukta 17). The main focus of this verse is on a formula to harass the co-wives. It is a formula by means of which the attraction of the King towards a co-wife may be eliminated and his love be made to flow towards herself instead. From this it may be understood that polygamy prevailed universally during the period of the Vedas.
polygamy existed even during the classical period. It is well known that Dasharat, the father of Shri Ram who is the hero of the Ramayan, had the wives Kausalya, Kaikeyi and Sumithra. As for Shri Krishna, the hero of the Mahabharath, the Puranas report that he had as many as sixteen thousand and eight wives. These wives of Shri Krishna included eight in Rukmini, Jambavathi, Sathyabama, Kalindi, Mithravandha, Saraswathy Kaikeyi and Laxmana along with the ten thousand daughters of Narakasura.
By the time age of the Smrithi had commenced, the tradition of polygamy also became based on the caste system. The law of the Yajnavalkya Smrithi decreed that the Brahiman was to have three wives the Kshatriya two and the vaishya and the Shudra were to have one each.
Thissovarname poorvyana two thathika yathakramam
Brahman Kshathriya visham barya swa shudrajanmana
'In accordance with the caste order the Brahman may three wives, the Kshatriya two and the vaishya one. The shudra can marry only from his own caste'.
Even in modern societies in which fidelity to one wife is claimed it is a fact the practice of having sexual relations with more than one woman is quite common. The only difference being that it has been referred to by different pet names. While the rich man fulfills his sexual desire in the call girl engaged in 'Public' relations, the ordinary man seeks gratification at the brothels. Studies have shown that those who have not approached the prostitute, called by different names, even once are very few indeed. Modern society can hardly seen it as a crime. In addition to this, statistics reveal that sexual perversions a like wife swapping and group sex are on the increase among the elite in society. In reality, many of those who strongly speak out against polygamy are themselves slave to such sexual misconducts..
It is an incorrect approach to consider as mere coincidence the sexual relationship which Marx maintained with his concubine Helena besides his relation with his wife concubine Helena besides his relation with his wife Jenny. It is pointless to turn one's face away from the lesson provided by bare facts like the atheist ideologue, Bertrand Russell, having four wives and of his having, in addition, relationship with the wife of his own son as well as with many other women. We must be able to deal constructively and impartially with the reality which they prove.It will then be understood that monogamy is a tradition that cannot, at least for some individuals, satisfy the very natural longings that run deep within them. It is futile, therefore, to engage in a critical discussion of polytheism while closing our eyes to this reality.
The Qur'an does permit polygamy. The verse which provides this permission is as follows: '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 that which your right hands possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.' (H.Q. 4:3)
As in the case with all other communities in the world, polygamy did exist in Arabia sometimes to a degree that far outstripped all other societies. In this matter, unrestricted freedom prevailed in Arabia. The Qur'an brought about a regulation in these practice and restricted the number of wives to four. That many prophets themselves possessed numerous wives before their attaining prophethood makes it clear that in Arabia there existed no restriction, whatsoever, in the number of wives. Ameerathul Asad had eight wives while Noufal bin Muawiyya Daylami had five. At the time of their embracing Islam, the Prophet had asked them to maintain four wives of their own choosing and to divorce the rest. In short, therefore, it was in a society where there was unrestricted freedom to take any number of wives that the law was enforced that four wives may be taken if it is possible to show justice to each and if this is not possible, then to have just one.
The Qur'an does provide the permission to marry four wives, if it is deemed necessary, subject to the condition that all be treated impartially.
Moder age has established the practice of marrying not more than one wife. However, while it restricts legal marriage to just one wife, it does not see anything abhorrent in entertaining relationships with call- girls and others of their like.
Which, then, is the more conducive code for woman ?
Islam does not recognize any extra-marital affairs no matter what the name with which it is called. It is on the basis of this fact of Islam being averse to all such relationships that this problem has to be analyzed. In a country that is ruled by Islamic rule - adulterers, if their guilt is proven, by the testimony of four eyewitnesses - will be subject to a hundred lashes if they be unmarried and to death by stoning if they are married. Indeed, the degree of abhorrence shown by Islamic law towards these crimes is made manifest in these punishments. From the view point of Islam, adultery becomes the very cause of the breakup of the family, the which is the fundamental unit of the society, and through this of the basis of all norms of morality as well. For this reason, therefore, it is essential for an ideology which seeks to create a society enshrined in righteousness to formulate laws and regulations that serve to eliminate it completely. Along with this, however, there must also be provisions that provide for the gratification of desires in a manner compatible to human nature. Indeed, it is here that the wisdom of Islam in permitting polygamy may be truly appreciated.
There are situations wherein polygamy becomes inevitable at the personal as well as the social level within a society entrenched in righteousness. Personal circumstances may be summarized as follows:
One: Man's sexual urge. It is an uncontested fact that at least in the case of some men, there are instances where sexual gratification is hardly achieved through one woman alone. After all, sexual relations are not possible with women during their periods of menstruations, pregnancy and the like. During all such periods, there may be men who cannot control their sexual urge. Before these men there are but two options: Polygamy or adultery.
Two: Sexual impotence of the wife. Sometimes impotence in women cannot be rectified through treatment. It is but natural that the man will, however, need to have the means of fulfilling his desires during such periods of inability of his wife. There can only be the option of either Polygamy or adultery or else it must be divorce. These are the only three ways out for the man. Adultery is, doubtless, immoral. As for divorce, though permitted it must be avoidedas much as possible. In such a context, polygamy becomes the best alternative.
Three: Barrenness of the wife. If the wife is barren, there are three options before the man: (1) To live a life without having any off spring. (2) To divorce the barren woman and to marry another. (3) To marry another woman while maintaining the first wife.
The first option will be an act of cruelty to one's self. The second will be cruelty to the wife. After all, it was not her fault that she ended up being barren. It is the third option which is humane. Through it, the barren wife may find joy in looking after, and bringing up, the children of her husband as her own. She is also thus enabled in fulfilling her yearning for motherhood.
Four: Permanent illness of the wife. There are ailments that prevent sexual relations as well as pregnancy. What are the husbands of women with such disorders to do? There may also be those who struggle to even perform the household chores due to such unending health disorders. In all these cases the remedy often resorted to is either adultery, divorce or polygamy. In divorcing a woman afflicted with a permanent disorder, she is actually being forced into the street. Here, too, the only humane solution to the problem is polygamy.
Certain religious texts prescribe divorce in all the aforementioned circumstances. Look at the commandment of the Manusmrithi:
Vandhyashda methi Vedyabde
Ekadashi Sthree janani
Sathyasthapriya vadinee (Manu Smrithi 9:81)
'A baran life may be superseded in the eighth year; one whose children have died, in the tenth; one who bears (only) daughters, in the eleventh; but one who says unpleasant things (may be superseded) immediately'
The remedy prescribed by Atheists for such problems is also divorce. Look at the solution prescribed by Bertrand Russell, the greatest proponent of Atheism:
'Where a marriage is childless divorce may be often the right solution even when both parties are doing their best to behave decently' (Marriage and Morals, P.96)
In such instances, which option would a woman prefer for her husband: polygamy, divorce or adultery? A woman imbued with righteousness and love will definitely yearn for polygamy. Indeed, Islam has permitted polygamy considering the security of the woman as well. Here, we realize that the Qur'anic vision is, indeed, a humane one.
There are also instances wherein polygamy becomes a social necessity. These can be enumerated as follows:
One: The disparity in man-woman population ratio. This can take place in two ways. As a natural phenomenon and as a result of war. An understanding of history brings forth a certain reality before us. It is the fact that in all societies - in all ages - the population of women have surpassed that of men. Modern science does offer an explanation for this state of affairs. Although the genetic code in humans is so constituted that the differences of the sexes is almost in proportionate measure, out of the off - springs born, the female ones will be more in number than the male ones since the defense mechanism of the female foetus against infections and diseases is much more vigorous than in the case of the male. It is seen that this disparity in numbers stand to the tune of one thousand male for every one thousand and ten female children born.
The situation that manifests itself after a war is another such instance. Naturally, it is overwhelmingly the male population that actively takes part in war. Thus, there comes about a substantial disparity in the male-female ratio. In the Second World War, fifty lakhs of Germany's male population lost their lives while the male-female ratio before the war stood on a proportional basis there, after the war the ratio was set off balance by an excess of five hundred thousand woman. Woman in Japan and Germany resorted to staging demonstrations to meet their demand for husbands. Boards reading 'Wanted: an evening guest' appeared in front of their homes. This is, however, restricted by no means to the case of Germany alone. This is, indeed, the natural course in any country coming out of the ravages of war.
Whenever the female population in a country exceeds the number of males in it, the society may resort to three options: 1.Each male is to marry one woman alone. The remaining women are to live suppressing their sexual longings. 2. Each man is to take one woman in marriage. The remaining women may resort to adultery. 3. Men, with the financial capability as well as the conviction that they will be able to do justice to their wives, may take more than one woman in marriage.
Which of these is the humane option? When the case of women who are unable to live without men is considered, the first option is, indeed, a most cruel and unnatural one. As for the second option, it will, doubtless, serve only to destroy all morality and society itself. It is the third option, and the third option alone, which those desirous of a morally upright and progressive society will choose to adopt. It was, after all, for this very reason that the World Youth Organization that gathered in Munich in 1948 recommended polygamy as a viable solution for the woes of Germany. Indeed, this has been the solution recommended by Islam all along. How is it then that the same solution when declared by the World Youth Organization is found to be humane but repulsive when declared by Islam?
What is the solution, which can be offered by the Christian church, which holds that the Holy Spirit guides unto all truth for this problem? What do they say should be the condition of those women who come in excess? Does the church per chance think that they can all be made nuns by enticing their minds within the myth that they are the brides of the lord? Or will it be that the Church will support them in their bid to trespass the boundaries of morality and engage in adultery? In truth, it is a fact that those who boast that their religion recommends monogamy have no idea, whatsoever, of the stance they are to adopt with regard to the social situation where the number of women are on the rise.
For the atheists who consider polygamy an abomination the only solution for this social problem is recourse to adultery. Adultery, which is accompanied by the unrestricted use of all means of abortion: Bertrand Russell writes: 'In view of the above circumstances it is evident that so long as many men for ecnomic reasons find early marriage impossible, while many women cannot marry at all equality as between men and women demands a relaxation in the traditional standards of feminine virtue. If men are allowed prenupital intercourse (as in fact they are) women must be allowed to it also. And in all countries where there is an excess of women it is an obvious injustice that women who by arithmetical necessity must remain unmarried should be wholly debarred from sexual experience. Doubtless the pioneers of the women's movement had no such consequences in view, but their modern followers percieve them clearly and whoever opposes these deductions must face the fact that he or she is not in favour of justice to the female sex' (Marriage and morals, p.59)
It is Russell's recommendation that in a society where free sex is permitted child rearing must be restricted to married couples and that all extra marital sexual relations must involve the use of the viable methods of contraception.
Which then is the more humane recommendation: is it the Qur'anic one which asks men to take up more than one woman in marriage and to maintain strict equality between them in social circumstances wherein there is a disparity in the male-female ratio or is it the atheistic recommendation which suggests that women who come in excess must take to adultery?
It is clear that, in reality, the woman is subject to the most cruel treachery in the form of such extra-marital relationships. She can be thrown out at any moment . She has no right, whatsoever, to associate the child born off such relationships with its father for no method of contraception is one hundred percent fool-proof. Furthermore, from the time that her flesh begins to sag and the wrinkles to appear there will be none to even consider her predicament. Which, indeed, is the more honourable position: is it the status of a legally married wife who has her own rights or is it the label of a prostitute? From the viewpoint of Islam, any woman is entitled to her status as legally married wife and to her own sovereign rights no matter whether she be the first or the fourth wife. Which then is the more suitable option for the women: to live as co-wife and to claim for herself and her children all the rights that are due unto them and to become entitled to shares in the wealth of the husband after his death or to live as a whore, as one without any privileges, whatsoever, and to die miserably as a burden to society itself?
Two: Protection of the widows and the orphans: It is the primary duty of the society to protect the widows and the orphans. It may be seen that Polygamy, at times, becomes expedient in satisfactorily fulfilling this duty. For, it is the men who die in wars and in most accidents in daily life. It is then that the widows and their orphaned children increase and their protection becomes a duty of the society itself.
Protection of the widows can hardly be conceived to be complete by merely providing for food and shelter. Indeed, in many instances, it is the young women who are destined to end up as widows. Even if they have two or three children, as human beings endowed with carnal desires, they will be subject to the desire to have sex. Sexual desires cannot be fulfilled by receiving food, clothing and shelter. To let them off in such fashion will ultimately serve only to force them to take up unrighteous, immoral practices. Indeed, such a course of action can serve only to disrupt all morality in society. They must, therefore, be remarried. That is the right way of protecting the interests of widows.
Who would come forward to marry the widows, especially when they are widows with one or two children. Men could, in general, hesitate to have widows as their first wives. As this hesitation is but natural it is not fair that they should be criticized for it. It is here that polygamy comes to the aid of the widows. If she is willing to be the second or the third wife of a man, she is enabled to satisfy all the rights that she is entitled to as a human being.
For the orphans, too, their mother's re-marriage will provide them with relief and security. Whatever the provisions available at an orphanage, it can never have the homely atmosphere of a family. It is in no insignificant way that the trauma of having been torn off from their mother and placed in an orphanage affects the mind of such children. At a time when they should be caressed and brought up in their mother's lap they should be there and there alone. They must be provided the opportunity to live within the atmosphere of a family. The re-marriage of the widow sets up the right opportunity for this to take place. If the new husband of their mother is a man of righteousness and religiosity, the orphans receive the same treatment as that from a father along with a most satisfying family atmosphere. In truth, therefore, this is, by far, a more complete life than the one lived out in an orphanage.
Many religions actually recommend a life of perpetual sorrow for the widows. Look at the judgment of the Manu Smrithi:
Aa Suthr maranalkshantha niyatha brahmacharini
Yodharmeka patninam kamkshanthi Thamanuthamam
'She should be long- suffering until death, self- restrained, and chased, striving (to fulfil) the unsurpassed duty of women who have one husband.'
It is from such legal prescriptions that, in due course of time, the system of Sati that asks for the wife to die at the pyre of her husband originated. Islam, on the other hand, understands the problems of the widows and prescribes the apt solutions as well. It never asks anybody to assume that there never is a problem while they are in the very midst of such problems '“ problems which can be very well be resolved through the option of polygamy. In such circumstances, it gives the permission to take up more than one wife. Indeed, it is a provision that provides for the security of the widows and the orphans. It is for the same reason that in many such circumstances we find polygamy coming to the aid of the woman.
It is clear here that the allegation that by allowing polygamy Islam has degraded women is utterly baseless. Indeed, as far as anyone seeking a recourse to a social system founded in righteousness is concerned, they can, in no wise, push aside the merits of polygamy.