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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Responding to the Question ........

(Ustaz Zhulkeflee responds to e-mail query from a non-Muslim regarding
polygamy and Islam - usually a common subject to question from those who may
have misunderstood the teachings of Islam and practices of Muslims)
The following question was received:
"I got your mail id from a friend of mine, Muneerah. I am trying to understand Islam. Would like to clarify some of my doubts with you. Thanks for your time. In Quran, there are lot of instances where the statements sound like something made up by some people with vested interest. For example, allowing men to have more than one wife etc. Looks like they were made up for the convenience of the people who were in command at that time. Even if this could be justified by the fact that lot of men dies in the war, how come it is still relevant?
I have a few more questions that I would like to ask later.
Once again, thanks for your time.
May God bless you.

Thiru Moorthy

Bro, Thiru Moorthy,

I'll be glad to assist in anyway that I can.

Let me respond to your statement:

"In Quran, there are lot of instances where the statements sound like something made up by some peoplewith vested interest."

In the above statement, your conclusion seems to be based on ‘hunch’ or what is called “wahm”. The phrase “sounds-like” betrays the lack of insight into the history of al-Qur’an. Surely, relying on hunches is not being intelligent. Please remember that the Qur’an from the beginning when it was revealed and expounded, is claimed as a direct revelation from God. It’s perfect Arabic (previously unheard of) and inimitable beauty is the proof that was presented as challenge to the Arabs then. None was able to refute this claim. Even the enemies of Islam then had to concede that it is something, which they had never heard of, nor were they capable of producing the likes of it.

If by ‘people with vested interest’ you are referring to Muhammad s.a.w, and by this you would suggest that this religion was spread for the sake of ‘some people’ meaning Muhammad’s self-interest, then tell me what did he benefit out of this? He was already married to the richest widow in Makkah; already well-respected and highly regarded by all in Makkah (in fact they called him ‘Al-Amin’ (the Trustworthy) ); his family affiliation is one of the most respectable in Makkah; he was offered more wealth, power to rule or even women if wanted in return for not continuing with his mission to preach the Qur’an and Islam. Yet he rejected such opportunity, and he together with the Muslims were all persecuted until they had to migrate.

And if you think that perhaps those verses you are referring to since it may have come only in the later part of his life, i.e. in Madinah, then my question is “If so, wouldn’t this be obvious then to the majority living there for them to level such accusation? But there weren’t any such objections raised!

Your statement: For example, allowing men to have more than one wife etc. Looks like they were made up for the convenience of the people who were in command at that time.

Firstly your statement ‘Allowing men to have more than one wife’, let us start by putting things in their proper perspective. Even before those verses, not only the Arabs but in many other societies, men have been practising polygamous relationships. It was in fact ‘unlimited polygamy’. Also the women before Islam had no status except to be regarded as property that can be discarded by men. Islam came to correct this. To elevate women to their rightful place, women were accorded equal status as wives. The institution of Family was paternalistic i.e. man are to be held responsible in providing and maintaining guardianship over women, be they his wife, his daughters (as long as she is single unmarried), his sisters and nieces (if their father is deceased and she remains unmarried even divorced). Marriage was stressed and adulterous relationship strictly forbidden. But Islam is not rigid in advocating only monogamy but it recognises that under exceptional circumstances, polygamy can be accommodated. It must again be stressed that polygamy was not started by Islam. In this light, although such possibility for polygamy is acknowledge by Islam, yet none (no religion previously) before this has put a cap on how many wives can a man marry.

The verses that you are concerned with came to limit the number of wives, which a man could have, it did not start polygamy. To do justice, please refer directly to what it says:

“And if you have reason to fear that you might not act equitably towards orphans, then marry from among [other] women such as are lawful to you – [even] two, three, or four; but if you have reason to fear that you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then [only] one – or [from among] those whom you rightfully possess. This will make it more likely that you will not deviate from the right course.” (Surah an-Nisa: 4: 3)

My question to you is “Which religious scriptures clearly stipulate monogamy as the norm for marriage?” And polygamous relationship abounds in every culture and civilisation, again my question to you is “which religious scriptures clearly limit such marriage’? If you can show me, whether in Bible or other?

In the above verses (especially: "then [only] one") is a very clear statement stressing monogamy as the rule. No other scriptures in any other religion (in my knowledge) has ever explicitly limit polygamous marriage, except the Qur’an. Yet, Islam also allows for, under exceptional circumstance, and after stating the strict condition of ensuring treatment towards them with equal fairness as wives, it still limited polygamy up to only four.

Your statement: Even if this could be justified by the fact that lot of men dies in the war, how come it is still relevant?

Al-Islam, as a way of life, has been perfected and there will be no other prophet after Muhammad s.a.w. In other words, all principles for the guidance of mankind has been established (in the Qur’an as well as the pattern of life of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.). So apart from stipulating monogamy as the norm in marriage, there must be provision for exceptional circumstances where polygamy could and should be allowed (as you have agreed by mentioning e.g. war). Yet you questioned the relevance of it today? Aren’t there wars still going on in the world today? In Chechnya, in some parts of Africa etc.

And it is not only in instances of war. Do you know that there is a world wide surplus of women in many parts of the world? (E.g. America has 8million more women than men; Russia, about 9 million). In these countries, even if all the men were married, you’d still have women deprived of a husband. How to solve? And such women do have illicit relations with married men, without any privileges given to them as a legal wife. These married men (having such polygamous relationship), many of them can actually maintain these women as wives with equal rights, but they cannot do so because of the bigamy law. Claiming the moral rightness of monogamy in their institution of marriage, and yet in reality many of their men frequently indulges in polygamous relationship, is indeed a gross hypocrisy.

Or another example is when a wife suffers a debilitating disease, where she could not fulfill her conjugal role, and the husband would like to seek fulfilment of his needs. Can’t he still maintain her as a wife and be permitted to marry another? Or do you recommend divorce for such cases or would you encourage adultery? Do remember that Islam totally abhor adultrous practices and it even specify strict punishment to those committing them. So, to divorce the sick wife would be most unkind, and disallowing marriage to another would surely tempt the husband into committing adultery. Where is the justice? I hope you can see, not only justification but also the compassion in the Islamic law.

These above are some example of it’s perennial relevance.

In conclusion, let me quote you J.E. McFarlane in “The case for Polygamy":

“Whether the question is considered socially, ethically or religiously, it can be demonstrated that polygamy is not contrary to the highest standards of civilisation …… The suggestion offers a practical remedy for the problem of the destitute and unwanted female; concubinage and distressing spinsterhood”

Hope that your query has been adequately answered. Feel free to enquire or better still to come visit the association. Do not worry, we do not and cannot compel anyone in matters of faith. But we love knowledge and fair exchanges.Truth will be clear from misguidance, and every right thinking person can find out for themselves the truth - as long as there is sincerity in our hearts.
May God guides us all to the Truth.
WaAllaahu a'lam

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