Polygamy in Islamic Law
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Muhammad and Polygamy
According to traditional sources, Muhammad practiced polygamy. Besides the numerous concubines, he married fifteen women and consummated his marriages with thirteen. According to Tabari he was also accused of being a "womanizer". He was also attributed the sexual prowess of many men:
Reasons for Muhammad's Marriages
Islamic scholarship gives the care of widows and poor woman as a societal reason for polygynous marriages. Yet Many of Muhammad's wives were not poor or widows. In fact, one of his wives (Muhammad's cousin, Zainab bint Jash) was originally the wife of his step-son Zaid bin Haritha. As was the case with Safiyah bint Huyayy, the traditional sources indicate that many of his marriages were the results of Muhammad's desire, not compassion for widows or poor women. This is nowhere more evident than in his numerous divorces, which numbered six in total. For example; he divorced ‘Amrah bint Yazid on their wedding night, due to her suffering from leprosy. He also divorced a women named Ghaziyyah bint Jabir when he realized that she was 'old'. Yet Muhammad refused to allow Ali bin Abu Talib (the husband of his daughter Fatima) to take even a second wife because "what hurts her, hurts me." This seems to indicate that at least for his own daughter he thought that polygyny hurt women, but would not take this fact into account with regard to his own marriages.
Polygamy Permitted in Islam
Regardless of it not being acceptable for the husband of Muhammad's daughter, Islam traditionally allows a man to marry up to four wives at any one time:
Islam also does not traditionally require that the man have the permission of his first wife before marrying a second:
FatwaIslam, Permanent Committee for Research and Verdicts: Fatawa Islamiyah Darussalam Vol: 5 No. 353
The Consequences of Polygamy
Female Genital Mutilation and & other Chastity Assurance practices
Polygamy causes Chastity Assurance practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Veiling, harems and footbinding.
In polygamous societies it is only the richest and most powerful men who are able to afford to keep multiple wives. However, these high-status polygamous men face a problem guaranteeing the fidelity of their many wives - and the more wives they have the greater the problem becomes. In a monogamous marriage a husband and wife can spend much of their time with one another, and become close to one another, and their sexual and emotional needs are more-or-less proportional. A polygamous man may have two, four, hundred or even a thousand wives, whom he must satisfy emotionally and sexually, and whose desire for motherhood he must also satisfy. If one of his wive's needs are not satisfied, she may be tempted be unfaithful, and this may result in the high-status man rearing a child that is not his own. Which, evolutionary speaking, is a disaster.
In order to assure themselves of the chastity and fidelity of their many wives, polygamous men have developed a variety of Chastity Assurance practices:
- harems - which keep wives locked away, guarded by eunuchs;
- footbinding (as once practiced by the Chinese) - which keeps wives from being unfaithful by reducing their mobility and independence;
- chaperoning and gender segregation - which hamper and eliminate interactions between the sexes;
- arranged marriages - which obviate the dangers that romance and courting poses to a girl's chastity and reputation;
- veiling - which makes girls less interesting and identifiable to males;
- 'honour' culture - which exacts disproportionate punishments for (perceived or actual) 'un-chastity';
- Female Genital Mutilation - which reduces a girl's capacity for sexual pleasure both physically (through the removal of the clitoris and labia) and mentally (through the effects of trauma). Where a girl has been infibulated her chastity is further guaranteed because her vaginal opening is sealed with a covering of skin, the penetration of which is extremely painful and which leads to severe hemorrhaging that is difficult to conceal.
Marriages to high status men are highly advantageous, to both potential brides and their families, who will benefit from having a high status male as a relative. The urge for women to marry into higher strata of society is called hypergyny. It is universal to all societies, but is much more intense in polygamous societies. This is probably because in monogamous societies, once a high-status man marries he is no longer available, whereas in polygamous societies a married high-status man remains available.
The high status polygamous man will require that girls who aspire to marry him conform to his expectations and standards. And a family wishing to marry a daughter to a high status man must persuade him that their daughter is 'pure', chaste and will be faithful to him. They demonstrate this by adopting (or having their daughter adopt) Chastity Assurance practices expected by that man, whether it be FGM or other practices in the above list.
The intensely hypergynous nature of polygamous societies means that the marriage practices of high-status polygamous men cascade down through the lower ranks of society, and are rapidly adopted by all families. Only the daughters of the poorest families, who can not afford to engage in such practices, are spared. These girls and their families are stigmatised as 'impure' and 'contaminating' and guaranteed to be unchaste, and will be considered as 'untouchables' and suffer from intense discrimination and persecution. Thus the avoidance of stigma becomes an added incentive for families to conform to the community's Chastity Assurance practices.
In polygamous kinship systems marriages require that some form of dowry or bride-price be paid (mahr). This is because the scarcity of marriageable women which polygamy causes makes them into a valuable asset that can be realised when she is 'sold' in marriage. The scarcer marriageable women are the more the value of dowries rises. This makes marriage unaffordable to low-ranking young men, even if they do manage to find a bride. It is a notable feature of Arabic folk tales (such as 'One Thousand and One Nights'), and similar tales from other polygamous societies, that their heroes are often poor young men (such as Aladdin) who love a girl, but who can not afford the bride-price required to marry her. The story is resolved when he becomes rich and powerful enough to marry her.
Nobel prize-winning economist Gary Becker argues in his book 'A Treatise on the Family' that families of young women become the biggest supporters of polygamy because they possess an inherently scarce resource. Love matches and courtship are frowned upon because they risk reducing the bride-price (the couple may be tempted to elope, or the bride request a merely symbolic bride-price). In order to preserve their market value, young women must be veiled or sequestered and kept out of contact with young men.
Child Marriage is endemic to polygynous societies. One way of alleviating the 'bride famine' that polygyny creates amongst men in the lower strata of society is to bring prepubescent girls into the marriage market. Dowry further incentives parents to sell-off their daughters before adolescence, when there is a greater risk of her reputation being spoiled and her losing her economic value. And if the bride is still a child, the dowry goes to her father, not to the bride. The bride-price for a child is generally less than for an adolescent or adult woman. This makes children a more affordable option for poor and low status men. Because of the great age differences in such marriages, and the degree of power inequality between husband and bride, the personal bond between husbands and wives is not strong and there is very little companionate marriage.
In monogamous societies, the incest taboo generally extends not only to daughters but also to all young women old enough to be a man's daughter. This separation of generations, which does not naturally occur in polygamous cultures, is what makes childhood, as we understand it, possible.
The Polygamous family
According to Somayya Jabarti of Arab News, Saudi Arabia has the second-highest divorce-rate in the world. Abdullah Al-Fawzan, a professor and sociologist at King Saud University in Riyadh, states that polygamy is responsible for up to 55 percent of divorces. He added that the loss of trust, sincerity, compassion and cooperation were also factors in the failure of marriages. The Maldives, an Islamic country with a 100% Muslim population, also has the highest divorce rate in the world, with 10.97 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants per year.
Islamic Defense of Polygamy
Muslim scholars often claim that the reason why Allah allowed men to marry four wives is that men are killed in battle, thus resulting in women being in more numbers more than men. They also claim that the practice of polygyny curbs adultery, thus leading to more and happier marriages and fewer divorces. Yet these claims are not supported by the facts:
World Population shows a surplus of men
Here's a breakdown of the world population according to CIA Statistics
- World Population age group 15-64 years: 65.2% (male 2,152,066,888/female 2,100,334,722)
This means there are 51,732,100 extra males in the world at marriageable age. Even the worst war in history did not kill off enough males to make polygamy justified. In WW2, 24 million "military" died, leaving still another 26 million spare men.
- GENERAL POPULATION: women and men casualties: 1,986,370,000 (probably mostly women)
- Military casualties: 24,456,700
Allah creates more females than males
The ratio of births is 105 males to 100 females, so this does not seem to be the case.
- Total Population by Gender and Gender ratio, by Country - UN Statistics Division population 2009 (est.)
- Monogamy Reduces Major Social Problems of Polygamist Cultures - University of British Columbia, ScienceDaily, January 24, 2012
- Ending Footbinding and Infibulation: A Convention Account Gerry Mackie, American Sociological Review
- The puzzle of monogamous marriage Joseph Henrich et al, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society
- al-Tabari vol.9 p.126-127
- "....Layla’s people said, "’What a bad thing you have done! You are a self-respecting woman, but the Prophet is a womanizer. Seek an annulment from him.’ She went back to the Prophet and asked him to revoke the marriage and he complied with [her request]...." - al Tabari vol.9 p.139
- Al-Tabari, Vol. 9, p. 139; Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, pp. 187-188.
- Ibn Ishaq, cited in Guillaume, A. (1960). New Light on the Life of Muhammad, p. 55. Manchester: Manchester University Press
- Ibn Hisham note 918 (here he has apparently confused her with Asma bint Al-Numan).
- Bewley/Saad 8:100-101.
- Women in Islam, By Anne Sofie Roald - Page 221 [Quoted: Najla Hamadeh, Page 335-6]
- al-Tabari vol.9 p.139
- Sahih Bukhari 7:62:157
- "An indication of their special relationship is found in the fact that Ali never married another woman as long as Fatima was alive. Sunni sources explain this curiosity in a tradition in which Ali asks for Abu Jahl's daughter in marriage, but the Prophet does not allow him to marry her because it would upset Fatimah." - "The Image of Fatima in Classical Muslim Thought," Denise L. Soufi, PhD dissertation, Princeton, 1997, p. 51-52
- A Treatise on the Family Gary S. Becker, Harvard University Press
- Somayya Jabarti - Alarming Divorce Rate ‘Must Be Addressed Urgently’ - Arab News, October 24, 2003
- The Maldives is the only country after Saudi Arabia that claims to have a 100 percent Muslim population. As per its constitution, only a Muslim can be a citizen of the country. Propagating any faith other than Islam, importing/publicly carrying literature that contradicts Islam or translation into the Dhivehi language of such books and writings, displaying in public any symbols or slogans belonging to any religion other than Islam, or creating interest in such articles are all against the law and are punishable with imprisonment, fines or banishment.
- Highest divorce rate - Guinness World Records, accessed January 5, 2013
- Global Population Statistics - CIA.gov
- WW2 Casualties - Wikipedia.org