Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Truth about Polygamy in Islam

Whoa..I'm staring at the title above and yes, it sounds serious..actually last week I stumbled upon a brochure when I visited Masjid Jamek in KL. The title of the brochure is "Marry only one - Polygamy is either obligatory nor encouraged in Islam". Reading the title, I grabbed it instantly and put it in my bag, well it's not that I stole or anything, it was meant to be taken for the visitor of the mosque. Many other brochures with other topics were provided there, but I decided to take 1 only.

I found the information in the brochure are very good, we all know how sometimes Islam is associated with polygamy and probably that what was perceived by most of the people (both muslim and non-muslim) that Islam is encouraging muslims to do polygamy. So, I really want to share this info to people, but since the content is quite a lot, I can't just put it in facebook/twitter/path, so I'll just re-type it, Here we go

Polygamy was practiced in many societies before the rise of Islam. It is Islam that restricted the practice of unlimited polygamy. It also regulated this this restriction to protect the dignity and security of women in Islam. The Quran is the only religious book that says marry only one.

The do's and dont's in Islam fall into 5 categories: Fard (obligatory); sunnah (encouraged); mubah (permitted); makruh (discouraged); and haram (prohibited or forbidden). Polygamy is not obligatory for Muslim men. The overwhelming majority of Muslim man (more than 90%) have only one wife. Thus monogamy is the rule amongst Muslim and polygamy is the exception. Polygamy falls into the third category of permitted (mubah) activities in Islam. This permission is for exceptional situations, and is subject to stringent conditions.

The Quran permits Muslim men to have up to four wives at any one time [4:3]. It grants this permission only to those who can look after all their wives justly. This requirement removed the concept of "a secondary wife", for all wives have the same status and are entitled to identical rights and claims over their husband.

In 7th century Arabia, this Islamic revelation liberated thousands of women who were suffering under unrestricted and unregulated polygamy. Those men who fear that they will not be able to deal just, Allah commands them to marry only one.

"You will never be able to do perfect justice between your wives and even if it is your ardent desire, so do not incline too much to one of them so as to leave the other hanging. And if you are just, act righteously and fear Allah, then Allah is ever Forgiving and All Merciful" [4:129]

Some have misused this verse to demand the introduction of numerous rules to curb the limited polygamy permitted in Islam. The need to prevent the abuse of the permission given by The Almighty should not be stretched to make it impossible to practice what is permitted by Him. No one has the right to make unlawful what The Almighty has made lawful. The Quran acknowledges the difficulty of being "just and fair between women". Why does the Quran then permit a Muslim to have up to four wives at any one time?

The complete answer to this question is known only to Allah The All-Knowing. We have no way of knowing about all the situations that justify the need for this permission from The Almighty. Some situations may exist now. Others may occur several centuries later. The guidance found in The Noble Quran is for all mankind and for all times till the end of this civilization. The permission given in The Quran has to be understood in the context of compelling reasons that may occur in some places and at certain times. The effort to understand these reasons must begin with The Quran ifself.

What is the objective and historical context of the revelations relating to polygamy? The verse [4:3] that permits limited polygamy was revealed after the battle of Uhud in which many Believers were killed. One result of warfare is that many wives and children become widows and orphans. In the Quran, the permission for polygamy is associated with showing compassion to widows and the orphans. The permission given in The Quran is therefore not a right but a responsibility placed on Muslims to ensure that widows and orphans live in dignity and security. Applying the principle of "one man, one wife" in a postwar situation would result in many women without husbands. The choices these women have are a life of celibacy (which Islam opposes as it is not consistent with human nature) or illicit s** (which Islam forbids).

Most women would not accept these choices since most women would want a publicly accepted married life that gives them dignity, and the security and love of a legal husband and family. Permitting polygamy when necessity for it exists as, for example, in a postwar situation, provides a more humane solution compared to extramarital affairs. The second wife, legally married and treated justly, is better off than a mistress without any legal rights or social recognition. In Islam, marriage is a lawful contract freely entered into by a man and a woman to please Allah; a woman cannot be forced into a polygamous marriage against her will.

Ok, that's all, actually the moment I finish this, I just realized one thing, why didn't  just take a photo of the brochure instead of typing all of these..hahahaha,..anyhow, it's done already. I remember what my Father always said when people asked him why he didn't do polygamy, he said, I have one wife and I am not able to finish it, how can I add more? (in bahasa: punya istri satu saja ngga habis-habis, bagaiman mau punya dua?).

Basically what I like from the explanation are it highlights that polygamy really not an obligatory nor encouraged in Islam, it's only permitted with a very strict condition that you must be able to act justly, so in Islam really polygamy is more an exception than the rule, and lastly it highlights what is the reason behind why polygamy was permissible in the past, but for sure it's still permissible even in the modern time like now since whatever mentioned in the Quran would be applicable from Muhammad SAW's era until then end of time.

Hope it clarifies your curiosity (if ever there was).

Dr. Y Mansoor Marican, Ph.D
PERKIM International
Muslim Welfare Organization Malaysia

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