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Polygamy - A Spurious Crisis

The law of the universe runs according to the perfect balance of pairs, as in the Qur'anic verse: 'We have created of everything in pairs so that perhaps you may take heed'. 87

However, this does not necessarily mean equality in terms of numbers but rather compatibility in terms of type, whereby each pair is ensured of fulfilling its natural role in life. For example in the world of ants and bees, the queen capable of procreation is one only, whereas the males which compete with each other for the prize of fertilising her are many. This is true of most of the animal kingdom.

Human beings by virtue of being alive like the remainder of living things in this existence are no exception to this rule. Granted, they have their own particularities but so does every other living thing, and just as the divine will has ensured for human beings perfect compatibility in terms of type, as with the rest of existents, it has also defined and shaped humanity in a way particular to itself whereby fulfilment, concord and continuance are ensured, each having its own proof and wisdom.

Among the teachings of Imam Sadiq to Al-Mafdal Ibn 'Amr are his words: Humanity was not created masculine and feminine except in order to be able to reproduce ... Had an organism given birth to males only or females only then reproduction would cease and the species would become extinct. Therefore some of the offspring came as males and others as females so that reproduction would continue and not be cut off'. 88

Imam Al-Rida, speaking about the prohibition of adultery and of violating the law of nature which was created by God to harmonise with the human species and his needs, said: 'God has prohibited adultery because of the corruption it can cause, from murder to loss of lineage and neglect to the children's upbringing and corruption of inheritances and other forms of corruption'. 89

It is possible to posit no more than the following four different marital systems between the two sexes :

1. Complete sexual freedom.
2. Polyandry.
3. Monogamy.
4. Polygamy.

There is no doubt that the first two are both invalid from an intellectual and religious point of view as the preceding report from Imam Rida points out. There only remains the latter two.

Statistics and surveys show that women outnumber men, particularly around the ages of puberty and sexual maturity despite the fact that some statistics in some countries show a relative parity between the sexes.

As to why women should outnumber men, that is one of the secrets of nature. However, its wisdom should not be lost on anyone who reflects upon it.

This phenomenon also gives rise to the fact that women are more long lived in comparison to men, perhaps as men are generally occupied with heavy work which can shorten their lives. Men are more often affected by wars and imprisonment or long absences; which necessitates the right of divorce by their wives in religious law, or by the men if they know that they will not be able to maintain the relationship because of imprisonment or the like.

Furthermore, those who are marrying a second, third or fourth wife are obviously not marrying a woman who is already married but one who is free of a husband.

What then is the intellectual problem with polygamy?

If we do not solve this problem through polygamy, then we will either see women without husbands or we will see them taking lovers both of which are in opposition to the balances of rationale and of nature.

Since the beginning of Islam, and for a long time there was no barrier to polygamy. It was in fact totally normal. Disputes amongst wives were as seldom as disputes amongst sisters or between mother and daughter. Then however, the matter became corrupted; by men through their oppression towards women in the context of polygamy, and by women because of their desire for favouritism and being singled out for benefits. Then the majority of women began to detest the concept of polygamy in many Islamic countries, even though polygamy was practised without mishap in countries like Chad and other African countries.

It is then necessary to adjust this situation so that so many women are no longer condemned to spinster hood which is one of the greatest forms of oppression against women.

If the man were to die, then society should take care to facilitate her marriage to someone else or, in the case of divorce, to try to bring about her return to her former husband where possible as is prevalent in countries practising polygamy.

The Prophet married the greater number of his wives after their divorces from former husbands or after the death of their first husbands as was practised from the beginning of Islam and for centuries onward and is still practised now in certain countries.

Is it not a kind of injustice that a young woman, or one who has lost her husband through divorce or by some accident, should remain single when she is a human being with emotions relating to sex, abode, children and so on. In the main though, the corrupted customs of some people deny her all of this. Customs though if transcended will fall. All that is needed is an agent - a powerful current in society, and an authentic culture - to transcend this situation.

87 The Holy Qur'an: The Winnowing Winds (51): 49.

88 Extracts from The Tawhid of Al-Mafdal Ibn 'Amr Al-Ga'fiyy.

89 Seas of Lights; Volume 6; Page 98.

Adapted from the book; "The Family" by: "Imam Muhammad Shirazi"

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