For complete understanding, kindly read Polygyny In Islam Part I first.
Polygyny in history:
Dr. Jamal A. Badawi wrote a pamphlet on this issue, he stated many points that made polygyny a historical necessity, among them: Devastating wars in the past and at present, have taken their roll mainly among men. The result is not only more women who cannot find husbands, but also more widows and single mothers who may aspire to a normal family life, so what should these women do?
Polygyny was practiced in all nations before the advent of Islam, but without imposing any limits to the number of wives. It was also permissible in all religions. The Bible mentions many polygynists, including highly esteemed prophets as Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon. However, Christians started changing their religious view of Polygyny at the middle of the 4th century AD, when St. Augustine started preaching against it after about 380 years of practicing Polygyny and considering it permissible by God. Centuries later, Christians broke away from the practice of their predecessors and made Polygyny a religious sin, though the Bible itself never attacked it and most of the prophets mentioned in the Bible practiced Polygyny without being forbidden by God in any verse. The history of nations shows that no religion had placed any laws and limitations governing Polygyny, neither the Jews and Christians, nor the Hindus and Aryans or the Zoroastrians. In the modern age too Polygyny is practiced in the west. For a first-hand report on the practice of polygyny in the U.S.A. as late as 1967, see Ben Merson, “Husband with More than one Wife,” in Journal, June 1967,esp. p.78 and it is allowed by Christian missionaries in Africa and other areas where polygyny is a social necessity.
Today, Banning polygyny has resulted in the breakout of fornication under many names, like friendship, affair, consenting adults, relationship, partners, etc., giving it any name or description hardly changes its reality from being a forbidden deed in all religions and moral constitutions to something acceptable, but the media in the west has succeeded in manipulating the facts and imprinting new morals on to the minds of the viewers. As far as we can see in all western countries, banning polygyny resulted in the multiplicity of girlfriends retained out of wedlock and satisfying their sexual needs by fornication. Saying no to marriage and yes to adultery and fornication is certainly very strange! Moreover, children resulting from such relations are ostracized, and their mothers suffer the responsibilities alone besides being looked down upon by the society. In polygyny, children are recognized as legal offspring of their fathers just as their mothers are respected as legally married women. There is no doubt that the second wife legally married and treated equally to her fellow wife, is better off than a mistress without any legal rights or security. There is no doubt also that the legitimate child of a polygamous father, born in the full light of the day, and who enjoys all the rights and privileges of a son or daughter, is far better off than the illegitimate child.
Any reasonable person should understand that the most logical solution for all of the previous problems is the allowance of polygyny but with restrictions and conditions that will protect women and guarantee their rights, which is exactly what the Islamic teachings are all about. John Davenport (1597-1670), an English puritan clergyman and well-known Christian writer, deduced in his book “AN APOLOGY FOR MOHAMMED AND THE KORAN” that plurality of wives is not only acceptable but is a source of blessing from God. John Milton (1608-1674) supported this view strongly.
Polygyny in Islam:
During the early period of Islam about 1400 years ago, Polygyny continued without any limitations. Men took too many wives, but later on, they could not be fair to them all equally. The result was that many of these wives were living like prisoners bound in the chains of marriage. Under such conditions, the idea of an equitable treatment of wives was practically non-existent. It was all a matter of personal choice and whim, which could make the darling of the day a history of tomorrow. The need for standing rights was a far cry. It was the teachings of Allah in the Holy Qur’an which stopped this great injustice prevailing in society. It restricted the multiplicity of wives by declaring that keeping more than four wives under the bond of marriage was forbidden. In addition to that, stern warning was given against any contravention of the Divine command, which emphatically ordered that equality in treating wives and fulfilling their rights must be maintained faithfully by men.
Allah says in the Qur’an: “…marry the women you like, two, or three or four. But, if you fear that you will not maintain equity, then (keep to) one woman, or (the women) that your right hand possess. It will be closer to your not doing injustice.” [The Qur’an (4:3)]
On one hand, permission has been given in this verse that up to four wives can be conjoined in marriage, while, on the other, after having taken the number to four, restriction was placed that more than four women cannot be gathered in marriage.
From here we find out that having more than one wife is permissible and appropriate only on the condition that equality can be maintained among all wives as required under the laws of Islam, and that the rights of all can be duly fulfilled. If a man does not have the capability to discharge his obligations in this manner, the rule is to keep to only one wife. So the Qur’anic command is: If you are unable to do perfect justice between wives, then restrict yourself to no more than one, or maintain a relation with a concubine. Of course it needs no saying that concubines are not available today as the conditions under which such relation becomes possible do not exist anymore. I shall tackle and explain the concept of concubinage according to Islam in a future post with Allah’s will.
Prophet Muhammad has laid great emphasis on maintaining full equality and justice between all wives and he has given stern warnings against those who do otherwise. Above all, he has demonstrated the desirable ideal through his own conduct, reaching the outer limits of treating his wives equally even the matters in which equality is not mandatory. The prophet P.B.U.H. said: “Anyone who has two wives and he cannot fulfill their rights equally and justly, he shall be resurrected on the Judgment Day having one of his shoulders drooping down towards the ground.” [Recorded by Tirmidhī]
We should, however, keep in mind that this equality of treatment is necessary in things which are within the control of man. For example, the house he prepares for each wife, the time he spends with each one of them, the coverage of personal expenses, the gifts he buys for each one of them and their values must be the same, parity in overnight stays, as well as the frequency of sexual intercourse, unless the wife herself is ill or asks his pardon.
Equality is even in smiling, kissing and hugs, the man must treat his wives equally and in the same manner. If he feeds one of them with his own hand, he must do the same with the others as well, etc… The examples are countless here. As for things out of man’s control, such as the natural inclination of his heart which might tilt towards one of them with more love, there is no accountability there, for this is not a matter of choice, one can’t control his heart but he can control his deeds. However, the binding condition is that this tilt should not affect matters which are within man’s control like the examples given.
Prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H., treated his wives with full equality in everything within his control, yet he invocated Allah saying: “O Allah, this is my equalization in the matters which I control, so do not hold me accountable for the matters which You control and I do not.” [Recorded by Tirmidhī, Abu-Dāwud, Ibn Mājah and others] Meaning that he can’t force his heart to love all his wives equally, but he can be fair and treat them equally in everything else. This is why Allah says in the Qur’an: “And you shall not be able to maintain perfect equality between women…” [The Qur’an (4:129)]
This verse is referring to the fact that the heart inclination is something out of man’s control. But, even this involuntary conduct has not been left totally unchecked and unbalanced. In order to emphasize that men are obliged to fight against it if they take more than one wife, Allah continues in the same verse saying:
“…So, do not incline too much towards one of them so as to leave the other hanging (i.e. neither divorced nor married). And if you do justice and do all that is right and fear Allah by keeping away from all that is wrong, then Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [The Qur’an (4:129)]
Meaning that if the man will be fair and just in his treatment to his wives and avoid mistreating any of them in what he controls, Allah will forgive him for his heart’s inclination. The previous was not to encourage Polygyny, but to stress its necessity and vital importance in many situations. The western culture, as well as some eastern cultures, refuse polygyny. This is their right exactly as it is our right to see it as a solution for many problems which we all face. Living in denial instead of finding practical solutions is a huge waste.
Mrs. Annie Besant (1847-1933), the famous British Theosophist, women’s rights activist, writer and orator, said about this subject: “There is pretended monogamy in the West, but there is real polygamy without responsibility. The mistress is cast off when the man is weary of her and she sinks gradually to be the woman of the street: for the first lover has no responsibility for her future: and she is hundred times worse off than a sheltered wife and the mother in the polygamous home. When we see thousands of miserable women, who crowd the streets of Western towns during the night, we must surely feel that it does not lie in Western mouths to reproach Islam for its polygamy. It is better for a woman, happier for a woman, more respectable for a woman to live in Islamic polygamy united to one man only with the legitimate child in her arms and surrounded with respect, than to be seduced, cast out in the streets perhaps with an illegitimate child, outside the pale of law, un-sheltered and uncared for, to become a victim of any passer-by, night after night, rendered incapable of motherhood, despised by all.”
Written by: Ehab Shawky
Refrences: Ma’areful Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shāfe‘i