Polygamy: An effort to get more out of Islam than there is
Geert Wilders thinks polygamy is all part of 2009 Europe, thanks to Islam, without ever knowing whether polygamy is a man or a horse. Click here for Wilders’ site:
Bigamy — or for that matter polygamy — as one of Islam’s widely misread concepts has just been examined with a fine-toothed comb and put in perspective by India’s law commission, a government panel for legal reforms.
To put the record straight, the law commission in its 227th report has said the popular view that Muslims could simply have two wives at a time was flawed. One of the authors of the report was Tahir Mahmood, a front-ranking legal expert on Muslim law, aside from the commission’s chairman AR Lakhsmanan.
“It is generally believed that under Muslim law, a husband has an unfettered right to marry again even when his earlier (read present) marriage is continuing. On a closer examination of the relevant provisions of the Quran and other sources of Islamic law, this does not seem to be true,” the commission’s report states.
These comments however were incidental to the main theme: “Preventing Bigamy via Conversion to Islam”. The legal experts were seized with cases of Hindu men using Islam as a licence to marry a second time without dissolving their existing marriage.
Since Islam itself did not permit a licentious use of bigamy provisions, the commission suggested amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act to put a stop to Hindus misusing Islam’s highly conditional permission to have a second wife concomitantly with the first one.
Islam is not what it is often made out to be and the real surprise is that realities are often ignored. You can pick several issues, like polygamy. There are more serious ones: if you kill enough non-Muslims you might even get to romp in a heavenly bedroom with 72 virgins. (I really doubt if God meant group sex! And even if He did, Islamophobes cringe at the very thought when Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion has far more bedrooms with far sexier bunnies.)
If I were to tell my wife that I care for second one now, I am not sure whether she will file for divorce. Eat me alive, she will for sure. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Muslim countries themselves have clear laws that do not view polygamy approvingly; Tunisia and Turkey having banned it completely. In Egypt, if a woman can prove that her husband is married to another, he can be prosecuted for bigamy.
Turkish family law and marriage legislation and regulations uphold monogamy. A second marriage cannot be executed unless the first is dissolved.
In Syria, polygamy is highly regulated. A judge “may refuse permission for polygamous marriage unless husband establishes lawful cause and financial capacity”. Inability to conceive is one widely held ground for Islamic bigamous marriages. Click here.
In Morocco too, polygamous marriages are discouraged. Polygamy may not be permitted if a woman fears unequal treatment, according to Moroccan family laws. Click here.
In India, polygamous Muslim marriages are indeed few and far between. Old wives’ tales to the contrary, the National Survey Commission on the Status of Women in India (1975), one of the few surveys on polygamy in India, found that incidence of bigamy and polygamy was higher among Hindu tribals than Muslims.
In the two decades between 1931 and 1951, the incidence of polygamy among Hindus and Muslims were comparable: 6.79% for Hindus and 7.29% for Muslims in 1931-41; and 7.15% for Hindus and 7.06% for Muslims in 1941-51. With access to education and its concomitant modern values, polygamy declined on the whole for all Indians, Hindus and Muslims. During 1951-61, 5.06% Hindus engaged in polygamy in contrast to 4.31% figure for Muslims.
It is universally acknowledged that the Quran does permit polygamy. My stand is that the conditions it puts are designed to actually discourage polygamy.
Four wives, that tempting luxury, are dealt with in Chapter 4 or Surah An-Nisa (Women) of the Quran, verse 3.
Here’s Pickthal’s translation: “And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or (the captives) that your right hands possess. Thus it is more likely that ye will not do injustice.”
It is common for theologians to explain it to madrassah students this way. God says ‘marry one, two or four’, you have to the freedom. But remember, you have to do equal justice to not just all of them, but also all your children, especially if they are orphaned. The verse then enjoins Muslims to restrict themselves to just one (wife) if they fear doing injustice.
How long can we go on propagating the myth that Islam permits reckless freedom to marry four wives at a time?
However, with those having pre-conceived notions, statistics don’t work. Prejudices do not melt away easily. Man finds it difficult to stomach anything that goes against his instincts.
If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, said Bertrand Russell, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. “If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.”
Islam appears radical only when you “essentialize” it. Examples: polygamy it’s there in the Quran; beating women, it’s there in the Quran. So, Islam endorses both. But then the Prophet never ever beat a woman in his life.
There are problems with the way Muslims have interpreted the Quran. There is a difference between religion and religious knowledge. Religion is divine, according to Muslim faith, but knowledge of Quran and how it is applied is not. Religious knowledge is human-developed. There is a need for non-Muslims and Muslims to shift from a literalist reading of the Quran to a liberatory one.
I am saying there can be more than one way of reading the Quran and we need to re-read it. I am against treating the Quran as an absolute text. That betrays its very meaning. True, the texts don’t change. But the Contexts do.
If you want an answer on whether I would criticize something I don’t like about Quran, then you have to understand the goalposts. There cannot be clinical answers to crises.
Are we dealing with a crisis in Islam? Yes. Am I looking to please an audience? No. If I say I disagree with a certain line in the Quran, this may please a big section of the audience. This is not the purpose. People who believe in a faith don’t question God. Atheists do. The solution in my considered opinion is to re-read the Quran and privilege a liberatory reading over literalist reading.
More and more Muslim countries have realized that what is applicable to religion may not be applicable to the state. Marriage is just one of them.