English-51

51) By permitting polygamy, has not the Qur’an infringed upon the
rights of woman?

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
(Yajnavalkyasmrithi 1:57)
“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
Deshamethu mruthapraja
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 . E a c h
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
(5:158)
“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.

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