Thursday, September 17, 2009


The concept of polygamy is something I've never been able to come to terms with. Despite the many arguments put forward for it, I just have never been comfortable with the idea that a man can marry more than one woman, whereas a woman can't. I simply can't imagine being in love with a man and having him marry another woman, or even just knowing that he could if he wanted to.

"And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course."

Many scholars have put forward the argument that it was only for that specific time and context: there had just been a war, and many women were without husbands (and therefore protection), and thus polygamy was a good solution. In today's context, however, it no longer makes any sense.

Other scholars have put forward the idea that the Qur'an is in effect disallowing polygamy because of the following verse:

"You cannot be equitable in a polygamous relationship, no matter how hard you try." (4:129)

In effect it seems to say that man cannot treat all his wives equally, and thus shouldn't try. However, another argument was put forward that says that God only meant legal and financial equality. Unsurprisingly many fundamentalist Muslims hold this view, and I never bought it until a few days ago when I read this in a book by an author I respect:

"It is clear, from both the Qur'anic rules of marriage and the Prophet's own example, that equality of treatment refers strictly to legally enforcable matters such as a woman's right to her own household."

He (Malise Ruthven) doesn't elaborate on the "Qur'anic rules of marriage" that he brings up, but he is right about the Prophet's example - the Prophet did have a favoruite, Aisha. Thus his example may mean that the Qur'an is only referring to legal and financial matters, and not emotional/sexual/other matters. Is this a widespread view? I would not be surprised if many conservative ulama hold this view, but what about other Islamic scholars, and what about Muslims in general?

This finding has gotten me all bothered about polygamy again. I just can't bring myself to be 100% okay with it, which of course makes me feel guilty since it's in the Qur'an. A big part of me thinks there must be an explanation for it, but I'm not sure what it is. I was sure about the above-mentioned argument about the Qur'an in effect saying men cannot treat 4 women equally, but if this author is right then the argument is no longer valid.

What do you think?


Candice said...

I agree, it has no place in our society. The time could come again in the future, but for now I decided it's not worth the effort thinking about it because I simply would not accept it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Candice, I would never accept it, no matter what the circumstances, even if I can't conceive (which is one argument for polygamy), then my husband and I would adopt. I see absolutely no reason for polygamy, and I don't care WHO says it is ok. If another woman wants to accept it, that is her business, but in this day and age, the trend I see is any man who wants more than one wife is obviously selfish, and many times an abuser.

BUT, before I go too far in my rant, I know a girl from Malaysia who comes from a polygamous family, her Dad had more than one wife. I do not know full details, but they obviously were rich because she is going to college in the United States. The only details I have are that she is her Dad's favorite, and that she cheated on her boyfriend and caused a huge gossip fest among all the Muslim students. :) Taking after her father, eh?

LOL, ok, that was rude... I'm done now.

Nikki said...

My husband's sister's in-laws are in a polygamous marriage. Her mother-in-law is the second wife.

I've spent a great deal of time with this couple while they were here visiting in the states. Since they were visiting 'they're' son and granddaughter, the first wife stayed home in the middle east.

I can't imagine being the first wife, in my big house alone (most of their children are grown) thinking about how the man that I committed myself to is off thousands of miles away with the 'other wife' that upset the balance almost 30 years ago. And the second wife is the one that bore him a son, so in that sense, she is favored.

Watching this couple interact, though, I often wonder if they ever found love (the husband and the second wife). They share a son, but do they share anything else?

My husband gets upset with me for looking down at it, because it's allowed in Islam. He says I do not have to practice it, but I have to accept it as a practice.

I can't. At this point in my life I really just can't.

Jaz said...

I think that in today's society it is uncalled for and from my study of this subject, it's my personal opinion that we do not live in circumstances in which we can say we have a reason for polygamy.

I hate it when people say "but what if she can't have babies?"

Is a woman's need for children not greater than a man's need?

If HE can't have babies, do we expect her to marry on top of him?

Also, I was reading an "islamic" book and there was a chapter; Reasons for Polygamy.

One of the reasons the writer gave was; A Man's Needs.

This writer went on to say that, if one woman isn't enough for your husbands sexual needs won't you prefer he marries another ? Isn't it better than cheating

He also said that if men have to go away on business trips then he will almost definitely cheat so you should let him have another wife so that he won't be technically cheating..

I was like WOAH. Totally non-Islamic. One woman is enough for any man who doesn't have severe hormonal problems. What if it was the woman who said "One man cannot satisfy me"?

Anyway, for me the point of marriage is this; you promise yourself to each other and ONLY to each other.

I don't really see the point in being married if I'm the only one who can't have another while he can still go with 3 other women.

I totally completely disagree with polygamy in todays context and I believe that my beliefs are completely in agreement with Islam. I've studied this alot.

Allah told the Prophet that he can't marry any more women 2 years before the Qur'an gave everyone else instructions.

It was obviously being phased out; to the point that the Qur'an said "only marry if you can treat your wives equally" and on the same page;
"you can NEVER treat your wives equally".

Why didn't the Qur'an say that clearly? Maybe for those rare situations in which the world may revert to the conditions that make an exception.

BTW: Another scholar once said, what if your wife has OVARY CANCER, shouldn't you keep her safe? But you still need to fulfill your needs? The solution is to marry another woman.

WOW what a great way to support your wife when she has cancer.

Some scholars give Islam a really, really bad image.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Just to clarify: I don't agree with polygamy at all, and obviously would never be in a polygamous marriage. My problem is that it is allowed in the Qur'an (or is it) and that bothers me.

Candice: I wouldn't accept it either.

Sarah Elizabeth: lol, yeah, aparently she does take after her father! And yeah, I also see it as abusive when a man takes another wife, esp in this day and age.

Nikki: that's exactly my dilemma: I would NEVER practice it, but should I accept it as a practice if the Qur'an says it is allowed? If not, does this apply to other things in the Qur'an? It's so hard to know the correct interpretation sometimes. I would love to think that my interpretation is right (and usually I do think that :P) but there's always a nagging feeling that I might be wrong, usually because most ulama and sheikhs have the opposite view I have.

Jaz: you're right, some scholars give Islam a REALLY bad name. What I don't get is why it's always about a MAN'S needs. I don't buy the whole "men have more needs and can't control them blah blah" stuff. We ALL have needs. If he can have another wife, why can't I have another husband.

I also can't imagine marrying TWO men, let alone four. It bothers me that there are so many Muslim men out there who wouldn't think twice about marrying more than one woman. To me that's a strange kind of love.

And finally, it's so true what you said about a woman being sick - she gets cancer, he gets another wife - great show of support!

Ikram Kurdi said...

As Salaamu Alaikum,
You don't have to be OK with it. You haven't been brought up in a society that has polygamy as a normal part of life.

We have all been brainwashed by decades of movies, songs and books that the pinnacle of our lives is meeting that someone special.

This is a great article that demonstrates that real differences between men and women: (It is titled Is There Anything Good About Men?).

A man's specialty is larger networks of shallow relationships, while a woman wants intimate relationships. So a man enjoys having relationships with more than one woman, while as Esther Vilar says, "A woman would be bored to tears in her own harem of men."

Anonymous said...

Assalamu alaykum! I read your blog sometimes and I love how you really think trough thinks, you don't just accept it without questioning it (that's what I think you do anyway :) I've been wondering so much about hijab, should muslim women really wear it or not? In today's society, in the West, or even in the East. What do you think? Is it wajib? Or is it a personal choice? Why do you wear it? Or why don't you wear it? Thank you.

Bahlool said...

Salam Alaykum
To be honest, even today there are many proof for having a polygamy marriage. If you see statistics, you will see that women are exceeding men in numbers. Furthermore a man has by nature been given the possibility to get children even if he is over 70 while a woman usually is stopped by nature when she reaches 50. I live in sweden and we have like 51% women and 49% men.

As for Aisha, i think its a big misconception that she was the Prophets favourite. The Prophet had one favourite and it was Khadija. When he married women later on he had no favourite because its beneath him to treat anyone as favourite (many are the hadiths by Aisha her self about how the Prophet loved Khadija more then anyone else and that Aisha even was jealous of other women he married)
You as woman have the right to write in the marriagecontract that you dont allow your husband to have anyone else but you (this is in sharialaw of the Jafarischool not sure how it is with the other schools of thought)
My mothers mother was the second wife of a man and they treated each other with respect and love, they all lived in the same house and the children from both wives see each other as sibblings. I think its like Ikram says, we are brainwashed by some weird ideals that go against nature.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Ikram - like you said, I haven't been brought up in a society where polygamy is normal, and in today's world that's pretty much most of the world's societies.

Yes, movies etc have brainwashed us, but that doesn't mean monogamy is wrong. I think that in fact many ulama have brainwashed people into thinking polygamy is the natural way.

I also think we need to move away from generalizing certain things to all men and all women. I know many men who are comfortable with intimate, deep relationships, and many women who would love having a harem of men. We can't really say that ALL men are a certain way.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Anon - thanks for your lovely words :) I do like to think things through, I think it comes from being a feminist and a sociologist.

Anyway about hijab, I've done lots of research and have lots of ideas about it, so maybe I could tell you in an email...drop me a line and I'll reply :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Bahlool - so what about countries where there are more men than women, such as China? Should then the opposite happen, according to that logic?

Many historical sources say that Aisha was indeed the Prophet's favourite. Of course we know Khadija was his favourite when he was married to her, but Aisha was his favourite after. When he was about to die who did he ask to spend the night with, even though it wasn't her turn?

Also I really don't think monogamy goes against nature. In fact the Qur'an itself makes it quite clear that monogamy is the IDEAL in Islam, NOT polygamy, and that polygamy should only happen in special circumstances (if at all). Thus if monogamy is against human nature, why would the Qur'an prescribe it?

Bahlool said...

Kina in itself as India is commiting the same sin the kuffar did when they killed small girls. They are going against nature and this is their punishment.

But otherwise this example is a really good one..but usually, if its no wars or no stupidity amongst men, then women are in majority, with or without wars..

When a man has two wives and he is inclined to one of them, he will come on the Day of resurrection with a side hanging down.
Sunan Abu Dawood, Bab ul Nikah Book 11, Number 2128

Would the holy Prophet really be biased towards his own wives and have one favourite?

Imam Ahmed records:

Anas narrated that the prophet (s) said: "The most excellent of the women of all worlds are: Mary the daughter of Imran, Khadija the daughter of Khuwaylid, Fatimah the daughter of Muhammad, and Asiya the wife of Pharaoh"
Musnad Ahmed bin Hanbal, Volume 3 page 135 Hadith 12414

This is a hadith that has been reported by many accounts. Why isnt Aisha amongst these 4 women?

I think a great problem with muslims of today is that they trust too much into the propaganda of the Ommayyids...The Prophet is above such behaviour where he chooses one favourite and at the same time is the representative of Allah who says treat them alike..

If Aisha was the most beloved, why would she be jealous of others? The story of the honey is a famous example, anohter is her jealousy of Khadija...
In Sahih Bukhari, Volume 5 Tradition 166, Ayesha herself narrates:

"I did not feel jealous of any of the wives of the Prophet as much as I did of Khadija though I did not see her, but the Prophet used to mention her very often, and whenever he slaughtered a sheep, he would cut its parts and send them to the women friends of Khadija. When I sometimes said to him, "(You treat Khadija in such a way) as if there is no woman on earth except Khadija," he would say, "Khadija was such-and-such, and from her I had children."

SarahC said...

"You cannot be equitable in a polygamous relationship, no matter how hard you try." What is the consequence of this verse then, if it refers to material things rather than emotional matters? I don't really understand why your mind has changed.

But it would be hard to say polygamy is categorically wrong anyway. It's not just the fact that it's in the Quran, it's the fact that the Prophet you believe was the best/perfect example practised it. There may have been "other reasons" for his marriages, but clearly monogamy is not as important as those other reasons.

What Jaz said about it being phased out is interesting, I would love to know if it is true that the chronological order was: (1) restrictions on Muhammad's marriages (2) restrictions on everyone else's marriages (3) the verse above. Any sources to support this chronology?

Even slavery was "phased out" rather than explicitly banned, as far as I am aware - and it's far easier to make the case that slavery is wrong. So why should polygamy be declared wrong if slavery, which is even worse, wasn't?

It seems that there are very few things which are absolutely wrong. It depends on the intention and the way it is conducted. To a certain extent, that also depends on the cultural context.

Can you even imagine a "universal" moral code? If we wrote one today, I'm sure centuries from now people would find shocking things in it. There may be universal *values*, which naturally lead in time to the abandonment of things like slavery and polygamy because they (usually) do more harm than good as measured by those values. I think that's the way I would make sense of it.

NoortheNinjabi said...

Salaam alykom wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,
I'm going to take a slightly minority position here...

I have absolutely no problem with polgyny, provided that the women involved have no problem with it.

It's not my place to judge other people's living situations. Would I choose it for myself? It depends. I wouldn't want to share my husband, but if it were a very poor woman with no one to provide for her (and she needed to be provided for) and no one else willing to marry her? There'd be the potential to offer up my husband as a candidate.

I know other sisters who have been in this situation and done just that. And mashaAllah, they have the husbands that can handle the situation and do try to treat each wife equally and justly. There's a sister I know in my old city with 6 kids who may become a second wife to a good man.

That said, I take huge issue with idiot sheikhs in Egypt trying to push second wives on men, especially my husband :S And I have even bigger problems with the men who take on multiple wives who can't handle it, like the owner of a shipping company I know who was looking for a second wife because his first was Egyptian and he wanted out of Egypt (and she wasn't "good enough" for him. GRRR!)

I think that polygamy was meant as a rahma to both incredibly needy sisters and to men who are incredibly just and fair (and their supportive first wives that encourage them). I don't think that it's right that it's used so much by men, especially clerics, to get more booty. And I don't think it's right that a lot of said clerics are arranging multiple marriages and making women sign their rights away.

But Allah SWT put the allowance there for a reason and I've seen the reason before.

I guess that's why a wise sister once told a group of sisters (including me) not to think too much about it and not to talk about it or disdain it unless we were in the situation. It's too easy to get emotional about or disdain without taking in the other perspective.

Cairo, I'd encourage you to talk to sisters who are in the situation. Sisters Magazine also had an article in it about a year and a half ago on the may be on their website . And we should ALL try to keep a clear head on it.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Bahlool- thanks for posting those Hadith. I think I have to research the subject a bit more. From what I read there seems to be a few stories that point to the Prophet favoring Aisha over his other wives, emotionally. This doesn't include Khadija of course, since he wasn't in a polygamous marriage with her.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah C - the phasing out question is really interesting, because like you said it could point to the Qur'an trying to phase out polygamy, like it tried to do with slavery.

The example of the Prophet is an interesting point. He also owned slaves, so does that mean we are to see slavery as morally just until the end of time? I guess I would apply that argument to polygamy.

I haven't changed my mind re. polygamy; the author I mentioned just brought up my uncomfortable feelings towards the whole thing. If polygamy is okay if a husband is legally and financially just, then it's okay for a lot of men, since a lot of men can be legally and financially just. However, if it applies also to emotional equality, then it is almost impossible for a man to treat all of his wives equally in that sense. Thus making polygamy pretty much impossible for most men.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Noor - you're right, it is very difficult to judge a situation like this when we aren't in it. And you're also right about there being certain situations where it makes sense, such as if a woman has no way of supporting herself (and society doesn't allow for her to support herself). Quick question - do you agree with polygamy for anyone and everyone, or just for specific instances?

Bahlool said...

Salam alaykum
The issue with Aisha is a big issue with whole books written about it. I think a lot of the hadiths we have seen or heard of, are a project of a very smart and cunning kingdome that ruled the arabs for many generations.
If you look into the issue with men like Abu Hurayra you will see that he knew the holy Prophet for some few years and still had more hadiths then a lot of the closest friends of the holy Prophet, when asked why you hear he had a good

We have two differend views on the Prophet. He was a creation of Allah and was the best of this creation. He was just, honest and reliable. Or he was a (may Allah forgive me) pedophile, who was violent, womenizer and dishonest killer.
There is no inbetween. If he was flawed and would treate his women differendly, then the whole religion would be flawed. We are not jews, we do not believe that the prophets were filled with flaws and mistakes (Lot having sex with his own daugthers, David killing a man to sleep wit his wife and so forth) We believe in a religion that is built on one great man. If this man really is a man who sought pleasure for him self and treated his women differendly, then his whole message would be flawed.

I think that its good if a man can have more then one wife, if he treats them with respect and tries as much as possible to treat them a like..but we know how men today are. They are too often dishonest towards their women, they are unjust to them and they are not following our religions rules.
So i think most men today who have more hten one wife are breaking the rules of our religion.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Bahlool: "They are too often dishonest towards their women, they are unjust to them and they are not following our religions rules." Amen! We've found something we agree on :D lol.

Like I just posted, what about the fact that the Prophet had slaves? There is always the possibility that the Prophet's actions at the time depended on the social context - it was normal at the time to own slaves, but today it is wrong. Maybe similarly it was normal at the time to be in polygamous marriages, but today it isn't anymore. Just some thoughts...this blog is to explore these issues I'm confused about :)

b said...

Salam It might apply, when you consider that there is another vers in the holy quran (you stated it yoruself) that says there isnt anyone who can treat two wives a like. So it could be that negates the vers that allows you to marry more then one.
The issue with slavery is that many hadiths state which benefits you get if you release slaves. For instance according to my lawschool i can free slaves, if i have to pay "kuffarh" if i have sinned in some or other way under Ramadan.
But i cant find any ruling that says do not marry a second wife :p

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the notion that the verse in the Quran regarding a man being unable to treat his wives equally to be a reference exclusively to material things.

From experience, when it comes to the Quran, there are various examples of Muslims taking issue with a verse that may seem strange and thus resort to taking it figuratively or applying a cop-out interpretation.

For example, the verse referring to the "lowest part of the Earth", being interpreted as "near".

What's interesting to note is that often times the Quranic verse is found to be both figurative AND literal, almost EVERY time. (There are numerous other examples).

What I'm saying here is that yes, the Quranic verse could be figurative and referencing material issues, but I believe this to be an interpretation and can therefore not be taken as gospel. I believe that since every word in the Quran is carefully chosen, and since God did not seem to point out that the verse is only in reference to "material" things that it is more likely that God means you cannot be equal between them in the literal and general sense.

Ikram Hadi said...

As Salaamu Alaikum,

I wasn't saying monogamy is wrong. Prophet Muhammad spent decades of his life in a monogamous relationship, until later he started marrying other women, usually for the greater good of Islam and not his own enjoyment.

NoortheNinjabi said...

Mmmm, that's a really hard question.

I believe that any man who is able to be fair and just according to the rules of Islam, has a wife who's willing to become a first wife, and has a candidate for a second wife that's willing to be a second wife, should be able to have that arrangement, with the condition that divorce is granted to the women immediately if they want out.

I believe that the Allah SWT gave this dispensation for men specifically marrying the needy, so I don't necessarily agree that the multiple wives be of a higher status or not in need. I don't agree with a virgin from a good steady home being married as a multiple. Divorcees, orphans, and those on the streets (or very near them) are a different story, of course.

And at the end of the day, for me, Allah knows best. If the men screw up, they get to show up to the Last Day with half their faculties paralysed.
(The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: "A man who marries more than one woman and then does not deal justly with them will be resurrected with half his faculties paralysed"
(Sahih al-Bukhari). )
So while some men use it to their advantages in this life, they'll pay in the next one.

So do I have the right to object to polygyny? Mmm, not really. Do I have a huge objection to everyone doing it? Not entirely, provided they follow the rules. If they don't follow the rules, it's still not my business. That's their hellfire, not mine. Will I arrange marriages (as I've been asked to do many times before) for men I don't think are just? No. They can dig their own holes. Will I do so for men that I've seen to be just? Maybe. Will I look down on those who do it? No. Only Allah knows what they go through or how they feel.

Does that make sense? I don't know if it makes sense. I might just be a hippie :S

I wanted to add, I found a different version of the verse you posted...
"You are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire: but turn not away (from a woman) altogether, so as to leave her (as it were) hanging (in the air)... (Surah al-Nisa, 129). "

Anonymous said...

There is an interesting trend emerging now, especially among evolutionary biology and psychology, where scientists are attempting to prove that human beings are simply not supposed to be NATURALLY monogamous. However, what they're trying to prove is that marriage itself is not a natural institution. As the view is that human beings are simply just evolved animals, so their mating habits, instinctively should mirror those of the animal kingdom.

Meaning, a man should be able to impregnate multiple women within a tribe and then maybe have a few romantic ties till the children are old enough and then they move on.

I'm not saying I agree with any of this, but what I think it implies if true is that there is a distinction between what a human being is naturally inclined to do and what he/she should do within a society. The contemporary evolutionary psychology opinion that anything that goes against our animal roots should be avoided is ridiculous.

So all this talk about monogamy being the product of romance novels and movies is not valid in my opinion. I believe marriage in itself, like basic community law is a necessary social institution, not a natural, instinctive one. Therefore, both polygamy and monogamy are too.

I believe there will exist societies where polygamy is essential for survival and monogamy would make things problematic (societies where men are financially dominant and women need support). However, I believe that with today's societies, where both men and women share the same rights, that polygamy can simply be problematic.

There is a rampant case of zero cultural relativism going on between the east and the west. I believe that western societies that have chosen monogamy as their model should not be accused of "brainwashing", and their methods should be respected as it is simply the law they have chosen to conduct their community with, just like any one of their social institutions.

Bahlool said...

Anonymous the problem with the western system is that it leads to great numbers of sex outside the marriage. Many are unfaithful and many betray their partners, without the state or society even considering it as a bad thing.
Its not allowed to have 2 or 3 wives, but its allowed to have 2 or 3 lovers..
If you are polygamist, then you can be jailed, if you are unfaithful and sleep with 3 differend women or men, or at the same time, then you are not breaking the law.

If society punished those who are unfaithful then i would say your right, its the western system and its what people chose..but did we really choose this system of unfaithfulness?

Sara said...

Salamz. I did a post on my veiw on polygamy, I hope you accept the concept of Polgymay because surrendering to god's will means surrenddering to everything- even if you dont like it.

SarahC said...

Interesting comments! A couple of things to add:

1. I looked at the Arabic and it seems that the word which is being translated as "treat them with equal fairness" or "deal justly" is ta'dilou (taa, ayn, daal, laam, waw, alif). If it's just this one word, it seems reasonable to me that it could refer to different things in each of the two verses. i.e. it could refer to equality of time and affection in the second instance, saying that this is impossible, because of course it is impossible. I don't see how this could mean that polygamy is always wrong, though, because God clearly willed it for Muhammad.

2. Re the comment about evolutionary psychology, I don't think that there is a contradiction between morality and our nature. There are motivations pulling us in different directions, and doing the right thing is always a difficult choice, but that doesn't mean that it goes against our nature (i.e. that there is no evolutionary benefit to it). I believe science will eventually "explain" all our morality (and they will not succeed in proving that marriage is not natural). This will actually complement Islam because in Islam our inborn nature (fitrah) is inclined to do good.

I totally agree about cultural relativism - polygamy may not be the best model in all situations, but it could be, in some situations. When we are stuck in our own culture we always think the other way is bad.

Even in the western system there are still rules, and being unfaithful is still seen as morally wrong even if it's not a crime. We don't generally have open promiscuity with zero commitment, which is what some scientists apparently are trying to prove is "natural", and I don't think we ever will. Because it *isn't* natural. I do agree with Bahlool that the rejection of morality and adoption of these "scientific" views causes big problems when society subconsciously takes them on board and starts to practice them. But I think it will be temporary, until we all come to our senses. :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Wow, lots of interesting comments!

When I wrote this post I was looking at it from a more personal perspective: how would I feel if I was married to someone who then wanted to take a second wife, and I know I would never ever allow it or be okay with it. Like Bahlool said, it's allowed to write in your marriage contract things like this.

It's easier for me to accept polygamy existing at the time of the Prophet because it made sense: women couldn't support themselves. However this doesn't seem to apply today in most societies, just as slavery doesn't apply today anywhere. What bothers me the most is seeing men abuse the polygamy verse and think they can marry four women and not care about how they treat them; or they think they can marry more than one woman without any valid reason (and no, a big sexual appetite is not a valid reason).

What also bothers me is people using this polygamy thing to justify men being better than woman. This is 2009 people - look at the social context to understand why polygamy was allowed, and don't use vague generalizations backed up by scant "scientific" evidence about how men think with their heads and women with their hearts, or how a man can handle four women but a woman can't handle more than one man. Sorry, that is NOT true, and no self-respecting scientist or scholar would agree to that.

(By the way this comment isn't to anyone in particular, it's more to those Muslim men I mentioned earlier who marry lots of women for no good reason and then treat them bad.)

NoortheNinjabi said...

I agree with you on most of that, however, the majority of the ulema agree that a large sexual appetite, if the first wife can't keep up or the man will commit adultery if he doesn't take a second, would be considered a valid reason; though the condition still being that he treat both wives equally and justly. That whole "avoiding sin" thing, since zina is one of the highest major sins.

SarahC said...

I thought it was about whether the Quran does - or "should" - forbid polygamy.

But I agree with you that men should not be allowed to abuse it. Maybe the problem here is oppression of women. If women were free to assert themselves, then it seems that polygamy wouldn't exist except in situations where it was useful, because women would simply refuse to enter polygamous marriages (for the most part).

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Noor - I don't know, I've always been skeptical of the argument that men have much bigger sexual appetites than women. I've heard scientific research "proving" both sides but I'm still not sure about that whole argument.

Sarah: yes, the post was also about whether the Qur'an does forbid polygamy, I was just pointing out that my dilemma also has a personal dimension. It's sometimes difficult to evaluate a legal/theological doctrine when I keep thinking of how I feel about it.

I also feel I am not really ready or qualified to say definitively what the Qur'an is saying about most topics, but at the same time I have a problem trusting many ulama, because of their pronouncements on women that are often quite negative. I guess it comes down to answering this question: is the Qur'an simple enough for everybody to understand and interpret it by themselves, or is it so grammatically, linguistically, and theologically complex that we HAVE to listen to the ulama?

Anonymous said...

Investing in what the consensus of the "ulema" say at this time is still investing in something that isn't solid. What the "ulema" agree on today, isn't necessarily what they agreed on then, or what they will agree on tomorrow. What "ulema" are we even referring to here ? There are "ulema" that could disagree with it. Also what qualifications do they have ? During earlier times scholars of Islam had various expertise in biology, mathematics, etc. However, today a lot of ulema are simply versed in Quran and Hadith, and wouldn't have any authority in the scientific realm.

The idea of a man's sexual appetite exceeding a woman's is the most blatant form of gender stereotyping possible. If you live in a society that subjugates women, and this includes for example Victorian England, a woman is forced to suppress her sexuality lest she be considered lewd. However, today there are various examples of women being open about their desires towards men in freer societies, and many have even written books about it like Anais Nin.

The idea that women are supposed to not be sexually active or even enjoy sex, but men are, has led to all sorts of problems like FGM.

In the Quran, there's an example of Youseff being harassed by a woman who could not control herself around him:

"The woman in whose house he dwelt sought to seduce him and shut firm the doors upon them." (12:23)

Further along you hear of other women who had knives being taken with him too.

What's interesting to note is that despite her being in complete non-control of her desires, Yousef is able to control himself. Although God notes that if Yousef did not see the proof of his lord, then he would have fallen for her too.

The issue is far more complex than men thinking with heads, and women thinking with hearts. The problem is that today's "ulema" are following a model where a person that has expertise in say hadith in the Quran makes assumptions about things outside their jurisdiction. The Quran transcends sociology, anthropology, biology, physics, gender studies, etc. In the earlier stages of Islam, the Quran was open to a variety of scholars from different scientific disciplines who would bring in their own insight.

A great deal of the "scientific miracles" you can read about online now, actually came about when a Canadian embryologist named Keith Moore asked to have a variety of scientific verses in the Quran looked at under the light of western science.

This brings me to my other point, that I see gross generalizations about the west by imams who have either never been to the States or Europe, or have been there with paradigms in mind. Some converts even take refuge in Islam as an excuse to reject western values. This in my opinion is complete disrespect for another community and goes against the Quranic saying that deals with communities avoiding criticizing each other, lest one be better than the other (la yaskhar qaum men qaum).

Yes there is promiscuity in the west, and sex before marriage, but they do still practice a model of partnership. Meaning, most people in the west still have to be a "couple" before they have sex. Many abstain and choose to be celibate till sex. In fact, there are derogatory terms like "slut" for people who choose to just sleep around. I find generalizing the west as more promiscuous or living in sin to be stereotypical and borderline prejudice.

Like any society they have their mixture of truth and falsehood, and no one has the right to judge, the way they don't have a right to judge the middle east. It's just offensive because the current climate seems to make it like the Quran itself prescribes hatred of the west. When it could be very possible that God actually looks kindly upon them. You cannot make assumptions.

SarahC said...

Anon, your comments are really interesting. You should write a blog.

Are we sure that men don't have a higher sex drive? From a biological point of view a man who is driven to have sex more often and with more women will propagate his genes more, whereas this is not true for a woman. A woman only needs to have sex about every 9 months to maximise her reproduction (assuming a high fertility).

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah - that's true. But this could mean that men are more likely to go out and look for sex, while women are more likely to be satisfied with sex in a committed relationship. It doesn't mean women want sex less or feel less gratified by it. In a marriage, for example, the husband and wife could both want sex as much as each other.

I'm not an expert but I'm just not sure about this whole male sex drive thing, esp. b/c it's so often used to justify cheating, polygamy, etc.

SarahC said...

It wouldn't justify cheating; cheating is bad because it's dishonest and disloyal and a breaking of trust.

I don't think it would justify polygamy either because it's not as if men explode if they don't have sex as often as they might want. They can deal with it.

But it might lend weight to the argument that polygamy is a natural model for relationships - not the only natural model, but one natural model. Polygamy wouldn't work very well if men didn't have higher sex drives.

If it's not a natural model, then it is a perversion, and that's a difficult stance to take in Islam (and Judaism and others).

I think all relationship models are a compromise of one sort or another.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah - hmmm, interesting. I think I just have trouble accepting polygamy because I'm looking at it from a feminist p.o.v. It could very well be a natural model. What I do know is that today's society (most of them) as well as the Qur'an itself prescribe monogamy as the ideal. Hopefully I'll be able to do some more research as to whether the Qur'an is effectively banning polygamy or not with that one verse.

SarahC said...

I'm not sure about an "ideal", but I do think monogamy is a better compromise than polygamy for the most part. There are not 4 times as many women as men in the world, so polygamy could never be the norm.

Some women actually opt for polygamy, and not just religious people either. It might be baffling to you and me but I suppose we have to respect it as a valid alternative choice, albeit a minority one.

I think the moral dilemma is whether a man should have the freedom to decide on his own to take a second wife at some point. He could conceivably threaten his wife with this prospect, which I think is very unkind and wrong. I don't agree with men being able to do this, but I think at the time of the Quran men had all the power like that, and women wouldn't have questioned whether they had a choice. So does Islam support the idea of women having the right to say no to a second wife? I don't know.

NoortheNinjabi said...

From what I've read and been taught, the woman does have the right to refuse to be a first wife if there isn't a "valid" reason, ie no children or...actually, I think that's it. A couple of wise sisters have also said that if a man does take another wife, he has to give the existing one(s) a big gift to compensate for her gift to him.

I've also heard from the shuyukh I study with that it's absolutely haraam to threaten wives with behaviors such as taking multiple wives or even talking about the hoor el 3yn in a way that makes the wives dislike an Islamic principle.

Allahu alim if this is correct or not. But that's what I've learned.

Bahlool said...

Bismallah Al Ra7man al Ra7im
I have to explain certain things. I am a shiamuslim, in our system of teaching the ulamaa are not some student who studied some few years in Mecka or Medina but scholars who have to be versed in a lot of differend islamic scienses.
Amongst those scholars there are differend views on issues. Our view is even that those who can know or interpret the inner meaning of the holy Quran are the Prophets or the Imams. So that answers your question if the Quran is simple enough for everyone to understand everything.
Its not so. To understand some certain things of the Quran you can be a common person, but some things in the holy Quran are things that are only understood by those Allah thought and thinks are fit to understand them.
Thats why we have such differend views on issues like prophethood, imamhood, certain verses if they explain this or that.

To further explain the difficulty by saying i dont trust ulamaa or ulamaa are saying this or that i have to show more examples from the shia madhaab.

Some of the ulamaa say its ok to smoke, others say its ok to keep on smoking but not to start smoking.
So even in one madhaab, in one school of thought differend scholars differ.

We have to realise that women are mistreated. I have mistreated my sisters on many occasions. As a freind used to say, Islams biggest enemy are muslims. Many of us dont realise what a great man the Prophet was and what the holy Quran really means. So we take 2 or 3 women, and use them as slaves.
I have see how some men eat and then let the rest of the food be for their wives. I have seen how men tell their wives have hijab and at the same time the men go in shorts to the beach or go out party.

As for your subject (sorry that i am so lengthy) I havnt read any of the jafari schools ulamaa who have said that polygamy is out of date or something not fit for us anymore.
I doubt that these high scholars, who have studied religion for ages (30-40 years) would let their male convictions stand above the holy Quran or the holy words of the Prophet and his family. So this consensus should show us that its not just a male idea about polygamy.

I wish you all a eid mubarek inshallah.
(ps i like your blog and i am happy i found it so keep up with these hard questions :)

Sara said...

Sorry this post bothers me alot because you keep talking about how its 2009 blah blah Islam is not about getting with the times, whether any1 likes it or not. Islam is a religion that stands the test of time and stands the test of revolutions. You also say how its for "Men" how did you come up with that conclusion. If anything its financially difficult for the man to have 2 famalies. Its not easy at all. I dont like seeing muslims questioning God's word to the extent of saying offensive things.

Umm Omar said...

boy, how did I miss *this* post??
Well, I, too, could never imagine living that kind of lifestyle, but oddly enough, many do and are satisfied with it. I believe that this is allowed in Islam, and intellectually,I can see the need for it and benefit of it as a type of social welfare system. Emotionally, I could never handle it and so my stance usually goes something like, "it's not for everyone."

Anonymous said...

Well it looks like everyone has posted probably what I would post ... just got back from vacation so I didn't post earlier. :)

Here is my view of it: it's there to support the widows and orphans. Not for men to go out and collect wives ... or because they like to have a lot of sex.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Bahlool- thanks for all your posts, they've taught me a lot :) I'm glad you read my blog!

Sara - I'm sorry you feel that way, but this blog is for me to talk about my questions and thoughts about Islam. After having posted this and reading all the comments, I've learnt a lot and have really thought about the topic, so it helped me. Sorry if that bothers you.

And yes, the Qur'an is timeless but the way it is interpreted is often not. Slavery is in the Qur'an, should we still practice it?

Umm Omar: after reading all the comments I think that's my stance now too: it's not for everyone, but did and can have a social purpose.

Aynur: like you said, that social purpose is widows and orphans, not to satisfy men's sex drive or for them to collect wives.

Stephanie said...

I'm one that could never accept my husband taking another wife, and I made that very clear when I married. My husband just laughs and says why on earth would I want another to nag me all the time? Having said that, there was one occasion where a relative of my husband's was left a widower, very poor with 4 young children, living overseas. When I heard about it the first thought that popped into my mind was something like wouldn't it be nice if my husband could marry her and offer support for her and her kids. Much to my own horror, but that's the truth. So in short, I could never live knowing my husband was sharing intimate moments with someone else, but there is a benefit to it in the case of protecting widows and orphans.

Bahlool said...

Asalam Alaykum
eid mubarek to you all.

Well the holy Quran and the holy message of Allah have 2 approaches. One is that they can be reexamined and changed through times (thats why we have ijtihad) and others that are basic islam, that dont change that are as truthful as they have always been. As mentioned here polygamy is one of the things that are allowed.

I think its like some people here said, we dont know what happens when we get in a sictuation where we have to choose. I can say that i wont marry another woman but what happens if my wive gets sick or if she asks me to or if she doesent follow the agreement we had when we married.

Mohaly said...

1 women is already too much for a man :) She is a full time job :)
I really dunno how can guys handle to marry more than one!
Balash feelings, respect,..etc, from where do they get the time?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

LOL @ Mohaly.