By: Fahmida Rahman
Perhaps the most questionable word in today’s Muslim world is polygamy. Recently a number of articles are written to describe the dark sides of polygamy and thus to ban polygamy in Bangladesh. Since Islam allows the practice of polygamy, it becomes difficult for a Muslim country like Bangladesh to make laws prohibiting polygamy. In this article, I will discuss polygamy from Islamic point of view and focus the positive and negative impacts of polygamy over a society.
In the article “Socio-Legal Analysis of Polygamy in the Muslim Family Law of Bangladesh” published in www.e-mela.com , Begum shamshad (Ph. D. student of Nagoya University,Japan) said:
In Bangladeshi Muslim society, Muslims are governed by their Personal Law, which is derived from the Quran and the Hadith.” ….”Although in many Muslim countries polygamous marriage has been abolished, Bangladeshi Muslims have always resisted any change in this regard.”……….”Polygamy is legally recognized in the Muslim Family Laws because Islam recognizes polygamy.”…………”Polygamy also allows a man to fulfill his sexual appetite and detracts from the formation of strong conjugal bonds with individual women by treating them as play things.” ………”One interesting thing to note here is that in Bangladesh the most important events in women’s life, marriage, divorce, custody of children and inheritance. For example, are governed by the Personal Law, which in the case of Muslims is the ‘Shariah’ based on theQuran and Hadith.” ……..”In Bangladesh it is only the Muslim Population that practices polygamy. Christians, Buddhists and Hindus do not.”………..”During the old days on the Indian subcontinent there was a perception that Islam sanctions the practice of polygamy to boost the Muslim population…. Legal permission for plural marriage makes for family unhappiness. For example, a Daily Newspaper ofBangladesh (Ittefaq, May 20, 2001) reported that the life of a Bangladeshi famous artist is in danger from drug taking due to the family quarrels of his two wives.
In her article, she denounces polygamy and suggested to make a change in law prohibiting polygamy.
Polygamy should be considered a criminal offence under the criminal procedure code and civil code. Their needs to be provision of penalty or fine in the respective codes, if a new marriage are unlawful. The penalty should be ten times more than the actual meher amount. Though penalization seems a tricky idea, this kind of reform is essential in Bangladesh because of its social and cultural background and the education rate of the people.
According to another author Fate molla, problems of having co-wives in a house are described as follows: [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mukto-mona/message/5101]
First let us imagine a house of “Shoteens”, co-wives. We see there: -
1. Polarization of “Groups” centring each wife.
2. A competition/enmity/rivalry between/among the groups/wives.
3. Continuous quarrelling with high voices/indecent words.
4. Mutual distrust disrespects and insult.
5. Family-conspiracy (for property etc.) against each other, sometimes ending in killing.
6. Continuous absence of positive values and virtues in the home.
7. Kids grow up in that poisonous atmosphere with a negative philosophy.
8. Kids never receive a passionate, kind approach towards life and people.
9. Kids generally develop a strong resistance/repulsion to the stepmother and her kids.
10. Kids develop a silent hatred towards the father, making him responsible for the mess.
11. The father becomes a victim of the situation, as he grows older.
12. In poor countries it increases poverty of the home. Nobody can stop even a poor man from having co-wives.
After discussing the negative affects of polygamy, both the authors recommended to ban polygamy to improve the socio-economic status of woman and to establish the rights of woman.
The next questions come to mind: does banning of polygamy actually solve the problem? Will the women of Bangladesh get their status and dignity if polygamy is made illegal by law? Is polygamy so bad? If so, then why does Islam permit that?
Before making any comment, let me discuss briefly what Islam says about this issue.
Polygamy in Islam:
Permissibility of polygamy in Islam:
Polygamy is permitted by Islam with the condition of maintaining equality among co-wives.The following verse provides the permissibility.
“If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphan-girls, marry (other) women of your choice, two, three or four. But if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or that which your right hand possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.” (Nisa: 3)
Though this verse talks about orphan-girls but permissibility of plural wives for men does not have any connection with dealing of orphan-girls. This has been proved by the authentichadith from prophet (peace be upon him).
Superiority of monogamy over polygamy in Islam:
The last line of the verse says: “That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.” “That” refers to monogamy and is clearly declared as “more suitable” (over polygamy).
Question: Why monogamy is preferred over polygamy in Islam?
Answer: The condition “to treat the wives equally” posed by Islam is not very easy to obtain. There is more probability for a person to have bias for one wife whom he likes most. He might give more benefits to his lovely wife while depriving others. This “injustice” is clearly forbidden in Islam and is considered “unacceptable” according to Islamic law.
Rules of polygamy in Islam:
Though Islam allows polygamy, it is not unconditional. The rules are given below:
1. Maintaining equality among co-wives. Each wife must get same financial support.
2. Having the financial ability to bear his wives. Each wife is entitled to get at least a small house (one bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and a small storage), food, cloths and other support.
If a person does not fulfill these two criteria, he cannot get the advantage of polygamy. The person violating these conditions is forced to live with only one wife under the law of Islam.
Unfortunately these rulings of polygamy are not practiced well in our country. People often marry three/four wives and keep them in the same house, sharing same kitchen, bathroom etc. Some people are completely devoted to one wife and deprive others both financially and emotionally. They often deny the financial responsibility to their own children born from unwanted wife. These are considered “offense” in Islam and a state based on Islamic values should have some law prohibiting that.
From my point of view, there is more chance of violation if a poor person commits polygamy. Since marriage is tied with financial ability of men, polygamy among poor people should be controlled and well justified.
Social impacts of polygamy (dark sides):
The problems produced by adopting the practice of polygamy:
The two authors already mentioned the possible problems produced in a society by polygamy. A woman felt helpless and cheated when her husband brings another wife in presence of her. Even the people who married more than one wife do not want to marry their daughter to a married person. From practical experience, two or more wives never stay harmoniously with one husband.
Even the highly positioned women in Islam like Fatima (May Allah be pleased with her) or Sara (May Allah be pleased with her) did not like it. When Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) wanted to marry another woman, our prophet said, “Fatima is a piece of my heart. If she gets hurt, I also get hurt.” Sara (May Allah be pleased with her)’s case were more serious thanFatima (May Allah be pleased with her)’s. She forced her husband to marry Hazar (May Allah be pleased with her) for getting children but later she found that she could not tolerateHazar (May Allah be pleased with her). The same thing also happens in case of prophet (peace be upon him)’s wives.
The jealousy among co-wives is not a habit of “bad” women. It is a very natural thing. If a woman is not jealous towards her “shateen”, it may be the fact that she does not love her husband and becomes reluctant about her husband.
The dark sides of polygamy do affect men also. Constant jealousy between wives upset husband and as a result, it becomes almost impossible to have a happy family. BegumShamshad wrote, “For example, a Daily Newspaper of Bangladesh (Ittefaq, May 20, 2001) reported that the life of a Bangladeshi famous artist is in danger from drug taking due to the family quarrels of his two wives.”
From all these discussions, we can easily conclude that polygamy cannot be a “general tendency” of a society. The possibility of having a good family life is more probable by adopting monogamy than adopting polygamy (that is what Quran suggests “That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice”). A person must think all the aspects of polygamy before doing that in his own life.
In spite of all these possible problems produced by polygamy, Islamic law does not suggest to ban polygamy in a country.
Islam is a practical religion that allows polygamy to solve social ills and problems in society. The society without polygamy faces problems that are much more dangerous than the society with polygamy. The absence of polygamy in a society may produce quite a big number of problems. In some cases, presence of polygamy is essential for a society. Let me discuss the possible negative outcomes of abolishing polygamy.
Social impacts of polygamy (bright sides):
Polygamy: a better alternative to prostitution:
If all people are monogamous and live happily with one wife, the world would be so wonderful. This is an ideal situation what all people dream. But unfortunately, we live in a realistic world where women are often selling her beauty for money to the shameless persons. In western world, free-sex and extra-marital affair are very much common though they are not polygamous (but adulterers). A person cannot have more than one wife but he can have unlimited mistress if he wants. Not a single country will be found where monogamy guarantees a society without prostitution/free-sex.
Islam allows polygamy but bans prostitution. The outcome of prostitution is much more dangerous than the outcome of polygamy.
The people protesting polygamy seem to accept prostitution as an alternative. FromShamshad’s article, “Professor Mahubub Ullah of Chittagong University identified both the poor and affluent class of the Muslim population indulging in the practice of polygamy. He said, “ In a poverty society, people usually go for polygamy or social monogamy because of lack of enough recreational facilities, free-sex and extra marital matters [sic].”(DhakaCourier, 1998.10.13.p.2)”
According to this passage, lack of free-sex and extra-marital affair is one cause of polygamy. So, it is a choice between two: free-sex or polygamy – not the choice between monogamy and polygamy.
People must take the full financial responsibility in polygamy. For that reason, prostitution is much easier than polygamy. It also provides no bindings to men. But does the prostitution good for all?
Let me discuss the possible dangers of prostitution in a society:
1. The prostitute does not have dignity in society: Once a woman branded herself as a “sex worker”, she does not have any choice but to continue this inhuman profession. She faces constant humiliation, even from the people who hire them. She cannot be back into “normal” life even if she wants to do so.
2. Spreading of deadly deceases: Prostitution is the source of sexually transmitted deceases like AIDS and others. These deadly deceases spread through prostitution. The customers of prostitutes bring these deadly deceases to their home and their innocent wives also get infected. The infected wives give birth to children who might also bear these deadly deceases. In fact, this becomes so big problem in western countries that even their school authority started to give “sex education” and talk about “how to be safe” in the 5th grade, distribute “condoms” in 8th grade classroom.
3. Prostitution becomes the source of crime: Prostitution is often accompanied with heavy drinking and gambling. All three lead to serious crimes like blackmail, murder and robbery.
4. The children born from adultery do not have any future: The children of the sex workers often forced to choose her mothers’ profession. It becomes a fate for them. Since they do not have father to bear their responsibility, they indulge themselves in prostitution at a very young age. Often their “inferior in society” psychology makes them to do crime.
The dangers of prostitution are huge in numbers. Only some of them are mentioned. Prostitution has serious affects in a society, more serious than polygamy.
Polygamy becomes rescue for the deprived women who otherwise indulge themselves into prostitution. It provides better alternative for them. It brings identity to their children and guarantees the financial security for them and their children.
Polygamy: a solution for the case of “wife replacement”:
People go for second wife are often unhappy with their first wife. In a monogamous society, people have to give divorce to his first wife in order to marry another woman. But there may be cases where the first wife may want to live with current husband though the person wants to marry another woman. She may be old or sick and does not want divorce. On the other hand, the husband is not happy with her and going for another wife. In these cases, polygamy is a better choice.
In western society, people usually keep the second woman as mistress. This approach does not have any fundamental difference from polygamy. Polygamy is better than that approach since it secures the “equality of co-wives” and maintains the legitimacy of children born from each wife.
Polygamy: controls the number of “illegitimate” children in a society:
“Illegitimate” children are considered a problem in western society too. Let us see the problems of “fatherless” child in a society:
1. Since they are born out of wedlock, mothers are sole responsible for their financial support. As a result, young woman drops out from college/university and take jobs with low pay in hotels/shops. Their have to abandon their dream of career. In some cases, mothers start to look for a boy friend to get rid of her financial problems and neglect her own kids (even murder is also possible: see the talk show in television).
2. The “fatherless” children are being looked down by the society, neglected by their mother and other relatives and become victim of their parents’ ill jobs.
3. Finally, “inferior to society” psychology among these kids leads them to do crime.
“Illegitimate” children born out of wedlock suffer more than children of polygamous father. Children of polygamous father at least have their identity. They are accepted by their fathers and paternal relatives. They are also accepted by the society. But the children of unmarried mothers do not get shelter in any place. They become completely isolated from the society and for that, they do not have any option but being criminals.
Though some of us argue about polygamy, they cannot provide any better alternative of polygamy. Before thinking about banning polygamy, we must address the issues mentioned above. The banning of polygamy might result into “spreading of adultery” which in turn destroys “family value”. Instead, proper education and teaching will help decrease the rate of polygamy in our country. People should be educated properly about the possible outcomes of polygamy so that they themselves choose to be monogamous. Making polygamy illegal by law will stop it but increase prostitution and free-sex. All of us should agree that “legal relationship through polygamy is better than secret extra-marital affair or open adultery.”