If a man marries more than one woman at a time it is called Polygyny, which has been practiced since ages. The most glaring and reprehensible error committed by Western writers is to suppose that Islam either adopted or legalized polygene. In none of the other religious scriptures, whether it be the Bible, the Vedas, the Ramayan, the Mahabharat or the Geeta, there is no restriction on the number of wives, a man may possess. According to these scriptures one can marry as many women as one wishes. It was only later, that the Hindu priests and the Christian Church restricted the number of wives to one. The Bible did not condemn polygene. To the contrary, the Old Testament and Rabbinic writings frequently attest to the legality of polygene. Prophet & King Solomon (peace be upon him) is said to have 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings;11:3) Also, Prophet & King David (peace be upon him) is said to have had many wives and concubines (2 Samuel;5:13).The Old Testament does have some injunctions on how to distribute the property of a man among his sons from different wives (Deutronomy;22:7). The only restriction on polygyny is a ban on taking a wife's sister as a rival wife (Leviticus;18:18), though Prophet Jacob (peace be upon him) married two sisters Leah and Rachel. The Talmud advises a maximum of four wives. European Jews continued to practice polygamy until the sixteenth century. Oriental Jews regularly practiced polygamy until they arrived in Israel where it is forbidden under civil law. However, under religious law which overrides civil law in such cases, it is permissible. Father Eugene Hillman in his insightful book, ‘Polygamy reconsidered’ writes, "Nowhere in the New Testament is there any explicit commandment that marriage should be monogamous or any explicit commandment forbidding polygamy." Moreover, Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) has not spoken against polygamy though it was practiced by the Jews of his society. Father Hillman stresses the fact that the Church in Rome banned polygamy in order to conform to the Greco-Roman culture (which prescribed only one legal wife while tolerating concubinage and prostitution). He cited St. Augustine; "Now indeed in our time, and in keeping with Roman custom, it is no longer allowed to take another wife." African churches and African Christians often remind their European brothers that the Church's ban on polygyny is a cultural tradition and not an authentic Christian injunction.
The Qur’an is the only religious book, that contains the phrase ‘marry only one’, (the legal permission) with instructions of ‘justice’, which is difficult, hence a moral prohibition. The permission (not order) granted to Muslim men to marry up to four women is generally misunderstood. The Qur’anic verses on the subject are self explanatory; “Hence, render unto the orphans their possessions, and do not substitute bad things [of your own] for the good things [that belong to them], and do not consume their possessions together with your own: this, verily, is a great crime. 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 possess. This will make it more likely that you will not deviate from the right course.”(Qur’an;4:2-3); “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”.(Qur’an;4:129).
Various scholars have interpreted these verses in different ways, Abdullah Yousaf Ali explains; ‘The conditional clause about orphans need to be noticed, introducing the rules about marriage. The immediate occasion of the promulgation of this verse was after battle of Uhud, when the Muslim community was left with many orphans and widows and some captives of war. Their treatment was to be governed by principles of the greatest humanity and equity. The occasion is past, but the principles remain. Marry the orphans if one are quite sure that in that way the interests of orphans and their property will be protected, with perfect justice. If this is not possible then other arrangements may be made for the orphans.’ The clause of treating wives with ‘equity and justice’ (Qur’an;4:129) puts a ‘moral restriction’ on polygyny. The Sunnah of Prophet and Companions indicate the existence of more than wives, but may be that they could be fair at least in the matters of equitable provisions, however one can not control the heart, which may be more inclined to one wife over the others. By keeping more than one wife, one is putting himself on and additional trial, any slip may result in to divine anger and retribution. Some Muslim countries have banned polygyny basing on the analogy of ‘impossibility of equity and justice beyond human control’. The concept of temporary marriage (Mutt’a) though permissible among Shi’a school is not permissible among four Sunni schools of jurisprudence.
Polygene Permissible–Not Obligatory:
It should not be appropriate to assume that the Qur’an is exhorting the believers to practice polygyny, or that polygyny is considered as an ideal. In other words, the Qur’an has "tolerated" or "allowed" polygyny, and no more. There are places and times in which there are compelling reasons for polygyny. In most human societies, females outnumber males. Islam as a universal religion suitable for all places and all times couldn't ignore these compelling reasons. It has to be added also that polygyny in Islam is a matter of mutual consent. No one can force a woman to marry a married man. The abuse of polygyny and repudiation of wife by the husband, even when her conduct is faultless, has recently led to the enactment of reformed family laws in most Muslim countries. The Qur'an repeatedly emphasizes the kind treatment of women.
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- Honorable Status of Women in Islam
- Women Modesty & Piety in Islam
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WOMEN IN ISLAM
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