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Polygamy in Islam and Other Religions: Beauty Lies in the Divine Wisdom

"If you fear that you will not be able to treat them justly, then marry (only) one......." (The Holy Qur'an)

Word For Peace Special


What is polygamy?

Polygamy is a practice or custom of having more than one wife at the same time.

According to Article 15 of the Indian constitution and fundamental right, polygamy became illegal in India in 1956, uniformly for all of its citizens except for Muslims, who are permitted to have four wives and for Hindus in Goa and along the western coast where bigamy is legal. However, a polygamous Hindu marriage is null and void.

Why are Muslims allowed to marry more than 1 to 4?

In the world population, the 2nd largest religious community and about 1.907 billion population of the world consists of the followers of Islam. According to the sources, there are more women than men in this population. For this reason, Islam allows to marry more than one.

If Islam had restricted polygamy, the problem would be that even if every man had got married to one woman, there would still be more than thirty million females in the U.S.A who would not be able to get husbands (considering that America has twenty-five million gays). There would be more than four million females in Great Britain, 5 million females in Germany and nine million females in Russia alone who would not be able to find a husband.

Suppose, my sister happens to be one of the unmarried women living in the USA or suppose your sister happens to be one of the unmarried women in the USA. The only two options remaining for her are that she either marries a man who already has a wife or becomes a woman without her family. There is no other option. All those who are modest will opt for the first. Most women would not like to share their husbands with other women. But in Islam, when the situation deems it necessary, Muslim women in due faith could bear a small personal loss to prevent a greater loss of letting other Muslim sisters become deprived of families.

In Western society, it is common for a man to have mistresses and/or multiple extra-marital affairs, in which case, the woman leads a disgraceful, unprotected life. The same society, however, cannot accept a man having more than one wife, in which women retain their honourable, dignified position in society and lead a protected life. Thu, the only two options for a woman who cannot find a husband are to marry a married man or to become ‘family-less’ person. Islam prefers giving women the honourable position and family life by permitting the first option and discouraging the second. There are several other reasons,l why Islam has permitted limited polygyny, but it is mainly to protect the modesty and family of women. This is preciselywhy Islam has permitted man to marry more than 1 to 4 but the Holy Quran says the condition is strict as mentioned in 6sura Nisa (chapter-4, verses no; 3):

وَاِنۡ خِفۡتُمۡ اَلَّا تُقۡسِطُوۡا فِى الۡيَتٰمٰى فَانْكِحُوۡا مَا طَابَ لَـكُمۡ مِّنَ النِّسَآءِ مَثۡنٰى وَثُلٰثَ وَرُبٰعَ فَاِنۡ خِفۡتُمۡ اَلَّا تَعۡدِلُوۡا فَوَاحِدَةً اَوۡ مَا مَلَـكَتۡ اَيۡمَانُكُمۡ ذٰ لِكَ اَدۡنٰٓى اَلَّا تَعُوۡلُوۡا

(If you fear that you might not treat the orphans justly, then marry the women that seem good to you: two, or three, or four. If you fear that you will not be able to treat them justly, then marry (only) one, or marry from among those whom your right hands possess. This will make it more likely that you will avoid injustice).

In fact, in none of the other religious scriptures, be it the Vedas, the Ramayan, the Mahabharat, the Geeta, the Talmud or the Bible does one find a restriction on the number of wives.

According to these scriptures, one can marry as many as one wishes. Only later, the Hindu priests and the Christian pastors and the Church restricted the number of wives to one. Many Hindu religious personalities, according to their scriptures, had multiple wives. King Dashrat, the father of Rama, had more than one wife. Krishna had several wives. In earlier times, Christian men were permitted as many wives as they wished, since the Bible puts no restriction on the number of wives. Only a few centuries ago, the Church restricted the number of wives to one.

Polygyny is permitted in Judaism too. According to Talmudic law, Abraham had three wives, and Solomon had hundreds of wives. The practice of polygyny continued till Rabbi Gershom ben Yehudah (960 C.E to 1030 C.E) issued an edict against it. The Jewish Sephardic communities living in Muslim countries continued the practice till as late as 1950 when an Act of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel extended the ban on marrying more than one wife.

But in the Indian constitution, the Goa Hindu community can still marry more than 1.

Why Hindus of Goa allowed polygamy?

Goa has a common civil code called the Portuguese civil code of 1867.

The Hindu men have the right to bigamy under specific circumstances mentioned in Codes of Usages and Customs of Gentile Hindus of Goa (if the wife fails to deliver a child by the age of 25, or if she fails to deliver a male child by the age of 30).

As per the 1975 census of India Hindus are more polygynous than Muslims. Now, let’s know about polyandry

What is polyandry? 

It is the practice or custom of having more than one husband at the same time.

Islam has prohibited the polyandry system. Not only in Islam, but the fundamental constitution of India has also prohibited it. But polyandry in India still exists among minorities, and also in Bhutan, and the northern parts of Nepal. Polyandry has been practised in several parts of India, such as Rajasthan, Ladakh and Zanskar, in the Jaunsar-Bawar region in Uttarakhand, among the Toda of South India.

The following points enumerate the reasons why polyandry is prohibited in Islam:

If a man has more than one wife, the parents of the children born of such marriages can easily be identified. The father as well as the mother can easily be identified. In the case of a woman marrying more than one husband, only the mother of the children born of such marriages will be identified and not the father. Islam gives tremendous importance to the identification of both parents, mother and father.

Psychologists tell us that children who do not know their parents, especially their father undergo severe mental trauma and disturbances. Often they have an unhappy childhood.

It is for this reason that the children of prostitutes do not have a healthy childhood. If a child born of such wedlock is admitted to school, and when the mother is asked the name of the father, she would have to give two or more names! I am aware that recent advances in science have made it possible for both the mother and father to be identified with the help of genetic testing.

Biologically, it is easier for a man to perform his duties as a husband despite having several wives. A woman, in a similar position, having several husbands, will not find it possible to perform her duties as a wife. A woman undergoes several psychological and behavioural changes due to different phases of the menstrual cycle.

A woman who has more than one husband will have several sexual partners at the same time and has a high chance of acquiring venereal or sexually transmitted diseases which can also be transmitted back to her husband even if all of them have no extra-marital sex. This is not the case in a man having more than one wife, and none of them having extra-marital sex.

The above reasons are those that one can easily identify. There are probably many more reasons why Allah, in His Infinite Wisdom, has prohibited polyandry.

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