Monogamy (Practice of being married to only one woman at a time) is the most natural form of matrimony. The spirit of exclusive relationship or individual and private ownership prevails in it, though this ownership is different from that of wealth or property. In this system the husband and wife each regard the feelings, sentiments and the sexual benefits of the other, as exclusively belonging to him or to her.
The opposites of monogamy are polygamy (Custom of having more than one wife at the same time) and sexual communism. The latter, in a sense, may also be regarded as a form of polygamy.
Sexual communism means no exclusiveness. According to this theory, no man should exclusively belong to any particular woman, nor should any woman belong to any particular man. It amounts to complete negation of family life. History and the theories related to pre-historical times do not point to any period when man totally lacked family life and when sexual communism prevailed. What is claimed to have existed among certain barbarian tribes was a midway state between exclusive family life and sexual communism. It is said that among certain tribes it was the usual practice that several brothers jointly married several sisters, or several male members of a clan jointly married several women of another clan.
Will Durant in his book, 'History of Culture', Vol 1, writes that at certain places collective marriage was popular in the sense that several male members of a clan jointly married several female members of another clan. For example, it has been customary in Tibet that several brothers have an equal number of sisters as their wives. Nobody knows which sister is the wife of which brother. Every brother cohabits with any of the sisters he likes. A sort of sexual communism exists there. A similar custom existed in ancient England. The custom, which was prevalent among the Jews and some other people of the past and, according to which, after the death of a brother, another brother married his widow, was a remnant of this ancient custom.
It appears that, while enunciating his theory of 'philosopher-rulers', Plato has suggested in his book, "The Republic", a sort of family socialism for this class. Several leaders of communism in the 19th century also made a similar suggestion, but, as reported by the author of the book, 'Freud and the Prohibition of Consanguineous Marriage', after some bitter experiences, several of the powerful communist countries officially recognised the law of monogamy in 1938.
Another form of polygamy is polyandry, viz. a woman having more than one husband at the same time. According to Will Durant this custom is found among certain tribes of Tibet etc.
Al-Bukhari, in his famous corpus of traditions, as-Sahih, reports Ayesha as having said that among the pre-Islamic Arabs there existed four kinds of conjugal relations. One of them was the proper marriage that is still being practised. In this form a man proposes to a girl through her father and, after the fixation of dower, carries her. There can be no controversy about the father of the children born in such a wedlock. There was another kind of marriage, which was called 'istibza To procure a better progeny for himself, the husband selected a man and asked his wife to allow him to have access to her for a fixed period. He himself kept aloof till the pregnancy of the woman. It was a marriage within a marriage and was indulged in with a view to improving the breed. According to another custom, a group of men consisting of less than ten people, established a liaison with a particular woman. On becoming pregnant, she called all of them, and, as the custom of the day was, they had to respond to her call. At this time she selected one man as the father of her child out of those who were willing to take that responsibility. The man, after being so chosen, could not decline to accept the fatherhood of the child.
The fourth kind of conjugal relations was known as prostitution. The prostitutes had a flag on the top of their houses. It served as their distinguishing mark. Anybody could have access to these women. If such a woman gave birth to a child, she called all those who had intimacy with her, and with the help of a physiognomist, determined who was the father of the child. The man concerned had to accept the decision of the physiognomist and to own the child.
These were the forms of the conjugal relations which prevailed in pre-Islamic Arabia. The Prophet abolished all of them, except the one which is practised today.
This shows that the custom of polyandry existed among the pre-Islamic Arabs also.
Montesquieu reports that the Arab globe-trotter, Abu Zahir al-Hasan, found this custom in India and China during his visit to these countries in the 9th century and regarded it as a form of debauchery. He also writes: "On the coast of Malabar there lives a tribe called Nair. The male members of this tribe cannot have more than one wife, but the women are allowed to choose several husbands. Probably the reason is that the Nairs belong to a martial race and their profession is fighting and hunting. Just as we discourage the marriage of the soldiers in Europe so that it may not interfere with their profession of fighting, the Malabar tribes have also decided that, as far as possible, the male members of the Nair tribe should be excused from shouldering family responsibilities. As, owing to the tropical climate of the area, it is not possible to ban marriage totally, it has been decided that several men should have only one wife, so that they may not be heavily burdened with family responsibilities and their professional efficiency may not be affected".
DEFECTS OF POLYANDRY
The main and the basic defect of the system of polyandry is that the paternity of the children practically remains uncertain. In this system, the relations between the child and the father are undetermined and that is the reason why it has not been successful. As sexual communism 1L1~ not been able to take roots anywhere, this system also has not been accepted by any society worthy of the name. As we have said earlier, the family life, the building of a home for the future generation and the definite connection between the past and the future generations are some of the demands of the human instinct. The exceptional cases of the existence of plurality of husbands among certain sections does not prove that the desire of the formation of one's own family is not an instinct of man. Similarly, perpetual celibacy or complete abstinence from conjugal life, as practised by a number of men and women, is also a sort of deviation. Polyandry is not only inconsistent with man's monopolistic nature and his paternal love, but it is opposed to the nature of woman also. Psychological investigations have proved that woman wants monogamy more than man.
Another form of polygamy is plurality of wives. It has been more commonly and successfully practised than polyandry and sexual communism. It has not only existed among the barbarian tribes, but has also been practised by many civilised people. Apart from the Arabs, it has been practised by the Jews, the Iranians of the Sasanian period and several other people. Montesquieu says that in Malaya it was permissible to have three wives. He also says that the Roman Emperor, Valentinian II, had, by an edict, allowed the subjects of the Empire to marry several wives, but as this law was not suited to the climate of Europe, it was repealed by other emperors like Theodore etc.
ISLAM AND POLYGAMY
In contrast to polyandry, Islam has not totally abolished polygamy, but has restricted it. On the one hand, it has fixed the maximum number of wives, which one can have, at four, and, on the other, it has stipulated certain conditions and has not allowed everyone to indulge in having several wives. We shall discuss the conditions stipulated by Islam later and will explain why Islam has not banned polygamy.
It is surprising that during the Middle Ages, when anti Islamic propaganda was at its highest, the opponents of Islam used to say that it was the Prophet of Islam who, for the first time, invented the custom of polygamy. They claimed that this custom was the basis of Islam and the rapid spread of Islam among the various people of the world was due to it. At the same time, they claimed that polygamy was the cause of the decline of the people of the East.
Will Durant in his 'History of Culture'. Vol.1, says that the ecclesiastics of the Middle Ages believed that polygamy was an invention of the Prophet of Islam, whereas this is not a fact. As we know, the matrimonial life in most of the primitive societies proceeded according to this system. There are many causes of its emergence. In the primitive societies men were mostly busy in hunting and fighting and the rate of mortality among them was naturally high. As the number of women exceeded the number of men. it became essential to adopt this system. It was not possible to allow some women to remain unmarried, for the rate of mortality being high in the primitive societies, every woman was required to procreate children. There is no doubt that this system suited those societies, not only because of the excess of women over men, but also because it strengthened them numerically. In modern times the most strong and healthy men usually marry late in life and beget only a few children. But in the olden days the strong men could have the best wives and could procreate a large number of children. That is why this practice continued to exist for a very long time, not only among the primitive people but even among the civilised ones. It is only recently that it has gradually begun disappearing from the countries of the East. Agriculture has stabilised the life of men and reduced the hardships and perils of the ancient times, with the result that the number of men and women has almost equalised. Now polygamy, even in primitive societies, has become a privilege of a small wealthy minority and the masses have to be content with only one wife and, as an additional enjoyment, they can only indulge in adultery, whenever possible.
Gustav Leabeon in his book, 'History of Culture', says that no Eastern custom is so infamous in Europe as polygamy, nor has Europe misjudged any other custom to the extent that it has misjudged this. The European writers have believed polygamy to be the basis of Islam and the main cause of its spread. They also hold this custom to be mainly responsible for the decline of the Eastern people. Other objections apart from these, showing sympathy with the women of the East, are raised alleging that these ill-fated women are detained within the four walls of their houses, under the hard-hearted eunuchs. They further say that the slightest action on their part, which may displease the head of the household, renders them liable to be put to death. Such notions have no basis at all. '[he unbiased Europeans should know that it is the custom of polygamy that has strengthened the family relations and uplifted the moral spirit of those people among whom it is prevalent. It is due to this custom that woman in the East enjoys more respect than she does in Europe. Before proving this point, we must make it clear that this custom is in no way related to Islam. Even prior to Islam, it was practised by all the people of the East, including the Jews, the Iranians, the Arabs etc. The people who embraced Islam in the East did not derive any benefit in this respect. So far, no such mighty religion has appeared in this world as could invent or abolish such a custom as polygamy. It has not been first introduced by any religion. It is the creation of the climatic and the racial characteristics and other causes related to the way of life in the East. Even in the West, where the climate is not congenial to the existence of such a custom, monogamy is a thing which is found in law books only. In actual life there is no trace of it. It is not known how and in what way the lawful polygamy found in the East is inferior to the clandestine polygamy of the people of the West. Apparently, the former is better and more dignified than the latter. The people of the East, when they visit a European country and are confronted with the European criticism of their custom, are naturally bewildered and feel offended.
It is a fact that Islam has not invented polygamy. It has only restricted it. It has prescribed a maximum limit for it. It has laid down strict conditions for it. This custom already existed among most of the people who accepted Islam. They were only compelled to comply with the conditions laid down by Islam.
In his book, 'Iran During the Sassanian Period', Christenson writes: "Polygamy was considered to be the basis of the family. Practically, the number of wives, which a man could have, depended on his means. The poor people apparently could not afford to have more than one wife as a general rule. The head of the family had special rights as such. One of the wives was regarded as the favourite wife and enjoyed full rights. Some other wives were treated as servants only. Legal rights of these two categories widely differed. The slave girls were included among the servant wives. It is not known how many favourite wives a single man could have. But there has been a mention of two favourite wives in the course of several legal discourses. Each of them was called the lady of the house. Apparently they lived in separate houses. The husband was bound to maintain the favourite wife so long as she lived. Every son till he reached the age of puberty, and every daughter till she was married, had the same rights. But only the male children of the servant-wives were admitted to the paternal family".
In the 'Social History of Iran from the fall of the Sassanians to the fall of the Omayyads' the late Sa'id Nafisi writes: "The number of women whom a man could marry was unlimited and at times it is observed in the Greek documents that one man had hundreds of women in his house."
Montesquieu, quoting a Roman historian, says that several Roman philosophers, who were being tortured by the Christians because they refused to embrace Christianity, fled from Rome and took refuge in the court of the Iranian King, Khusro Parviz. They were astonished to see that not only polygamy was legal there, but the Persian men had intimacy with the wives of others also.
It may be pointed out here that the Roman philosophers took refuge in the court of the Persian king, Anushirwan, and not in the court of Khusro Parviz. Montesquieu has mentioned the name of the latter owing to some misunderstanding.
During the pre-Islamic period, the Arabs could have an unlimited number of wives. It was Islam that prescribed a maximum limit. This naturally created a problem for those who had more than four wives. In exceptional circumstances, some had even ten. They had to part with six of them.
From the above it is evident that polygamy is not an invention of Islam. Islam only restricted it. Anyhow, it did not abolish it totally. In the following chapters we shall discuss the causes which gave rise to this custom and shall explain why Islam did not do away with it. We shall also discuss the reasons which in modern times have impelled both men and women to rise against this custom.
HISTORICAL CAUSES OF POLYGAMY (I)
What are the historical and social causes of polygamy? Why have many nations of the world, especially the Eastern nations, accepted this custom, and why have other nations, such as the Western nations, never practised it? How is it that out of the three forms of polygamy only plurality of wives could gain considerable popularity? Polyandry and sexual communism either have never been practised or have been practised rarely, and only in exceptional cases.
Unless we look into these questions, we cannot discuss the question of polygamy from the point of view of Islam, nor can we study it from the viewpoint of modern human requirements.
If we do not take into consideration the ample social and psychological studies made in this respect, we, too, may, like many superficial writers, harp on the old tune and say that the causes of polygamy are obvious. That is, this custom has come into existence as a result of the high-handedness and the domination of man and the subjugation of woman. It is an outcome of the patriarchal system. As man has dominated woman and has ruled over her, he has given the laws and the customs a turn to his own benefit. That is how he enforced this custom which is beneficial to him and harmful to woman, and has been practising it for centuries. As woman was suppressed, she could not put polyandry into practice. As now the age of the high-handedness of man is over, the privilege of polygamy should, like many other false privileges, make room for equal and reciprocal rights of man and woman.
This way of thinking is very superficial and puerile. Neither the cause of polygamy is the oppression of man nor that of the failure of the polyandry the suppression of woman. If the custom of polyandry has practically come to an end, that is not because the age of man's high-handedness is over. Man has lost no privilege; he has actually gained an advantage over woman.
We do not deny the factor of oppression as one of the factors which give a particular turn to history. We also do not deny that man has, throughout history, misused his domination over woman. But we believe that it is sheer short-sightedness to explain family relations on the basis of the oppression factor only.
If we admit this view, we must also admit that during the period when polyandry was popular among the pre-Islamic Arabs or, as reported by Montesquieu, among the Nairs on the Malabar coast, woman had got an opportunity to dominate over man and impose polyandry over him. It also must be admitted that that period was the golden period of woman. But we know for definite that the pre-Islamic period of Arabia was one of the darkest periods in the life of woman. Earlier we have quoted Montesquieu as saying that the custom of polyandry among the Nairs was not due to the domination or respect of woman, but was the result of the decision of society to keep the soldiers free from the burden of family responsibilities.
Further, if patriarchy is responsible for polygamy, how is it that this system did not gain popularity in the West? After all, the patriarchal system is not confined to the East. Have the people of the West been, from the beginning, pious Christians believing in the quality and reciprocity between man and woman? Has the factor of domination worked to the benefit of man in the East and for the promotion of justice in the West?
Till half a century ago, the Western woman was among the most unlucky of the world. Even her own property was controlled by her husband. The Europeans themselves admit that during the Middle Ages the position of the Eastern woman was far better than that of her counterpart in the West. Gustav Leabeon says that Islam, in its early days, gave the woman exactly that position, which the European woman could get after a very long time; that is, after the chivalry of the Arabs of Andolusia was transmitted to Europe. Courteous behaviour towards woman is the main part of the chivalry which the Europeans learnt from the Muslims. It was Islam, and not the religion of Christ, as is believed by the common people, that enhanced the position of woman. During the Middle Ages the chiefs and barons, though Christians, never held woman in respect. A study of ancient history leaves no doubt that the behaviour of the dukes and barons of Europe towards woman was most barbaric.
Other European authors have also given a more or less similar description of the position of women during the Middle Ages. Though patriarchy prevailed in Europe during that period, polygamy could not become customary.
The fact is that neither polyandry (wherever it was practised) was ever due to the power and domination of woman, nor was its ultimate failure due to her weakness and suppression. Similarly, polygamy in the East is neither due to the oppression and high-handedness of man, nor is it unpopular in the West owing to the existence of equality between man and woman.
CAUSES OF THE FAILURE OF POLYANDRY
The main cause of the failure of polyandry is that it neither suits man's nature nor woman's. It does not suit man's nature, because firstly, it does not conform to his monopolistic spirit and, secondly, because it is not in agreement with the principle that a father should be confident of his paternity. It is human nature to have an attachment with one's children. Every human being is, by nature, keen to beget children and wants that his relationship with his past and future generations should be definite and satisfactory. He wants to know whose son and whose father he is. Polyandry does not agree with this instinct of man. On the other hand polygamy creates no such problem, neither in the case of man nor in that of woman. It is reported that once, about forty women came to Imam Ali (P) and asked him why Islam had allowed men to have several wives, but had not allowed women to have several husbands. They asked whether it was not a case of undue discrimination.
Imam Ali (P) ordered some cups of water to be brought in and gave one cup to each women. Then he ordered them to pour all the water into a big utensil, which was placed in the middle of the room. When the order had been carried out, he asked them to fill their cups again, but only with the water which they originally contained. The women said that it was not possible as the whole water had mixed. Imam Ali (P) said that if a woman had several husbands, they would naturally have sexual connections with her. If she became pregnant and gave birth to a child, it would not be possible to determine as to who was the father of that child.
As far as woman is concerned, polyandry is neither in her interest nor does it conform to her nature. Woman does not want a husband to satisfy her sexual instinct only. Had it been so, it could be said: 'the more, the better'. Woman wants a man whose heart she may control, who may be her protector and defender, who may make sacrifices for her and who may work hard and bring money for her. The money which a woman earns through her own work and labour neither meets her requirements, nor has the same value as that which is given to her by the man who loves her. A husband meets the financial needs of his wife with the spirit of sacrifice. The wife and the children are the best and the strongest incentive for man to work.
In the case of polyandry woman cannot claim the love, devotion and sacrifice of any man. That is why, like prostitution, it has always been abominable to woman. Hence, polyandry neither conforms to the wants and the leanings of man, nor to those of woman.
FAILURE OF SEXUAL COMMUNISM
In the case of sexual communism, neither a man can align himself with any particular woman, nor can a woman with any particular man, and that is the reason why it could never become popular. It was proposed by Plato who limited its scope to the ruling class or the 'philosopher-rulers'. But his suggestion was not liked by others, and he himself had to revise his opinion.
During the past century, Frederick Engels, the second father of communism, put forward this idea and strongly advocated it. But it was not accepted by the communist world. It is said that the Soviet Union tried to implement the family theory of Engels, but following some bitter experience had ultimately to recognise monogamy as the official policy.
Polygamy may be regarded as a matter of pride for man, but polyandry has never been and will never be a matter of pride for woman. The reason is that man wants the body of woman and woman wants the heart of man. So long as man controls the body of woman, it is immaterial for him if he loses her heart. That is why man attaches no importance to the fact that, in the case of polygamy, he is deprived of the love and devotional sentiments of woman, But for woman the main and the most important thing is man's heart and his sentiments. If she loses them, she loses everything.
In other words, there are two important elements of matrimonial life, one material and the other sentimental. The material element of matrimony is its sexual aspect, which is at its height during youth and gradually declines afterwards. The sentimental element consists of mutual tender feelings and earnest devotion. It grows and becomes stronger with the passage of time. The nature of woman being different from that of man, she attaches more importance to the sentimental aspect of matrimony. But for man either the material aspect is more important or, at least, both the aspects are of equal importance.
We quoted earlier a lady psychologist who is of the view that woman has a mental disposition of her own. The child develops and grows in her womb and is nursed on her lap. She badly needs the devotion and attachment of her husband in the capacity of the child's father. Even the amount of her own affection and love for her children is directly in proportion to the amount of the love shown to her by their father, Only monogamy can meet this requirement.
It is a grave mistake to compare polyandry with polygamy and to say that there is no difference between them. It is also wrong to say that polygamy became popular in certain parts of the world, because man belonged to the stronger sex, and polyandry could not do so, because woman belonged to the weaker sex.
A contemporary writer, who happens to be a woman, says:
"We can say that as man can have four wives, woman also should have a similar right, for both are human beings. This logical conclusion is most appalling to men. They are enraged on hearing such an argument and shout: "How can a woman have more than one husband?" In reply we quietly say: "How can a man have more than one wife?"
She further says: "We do not want to promote immorality or to belittle the importance of chastity. We only want to make men understand that the views held by them, about women, are not based on any solid ground. Man and woman are equal as human beings. If man has the right to have four wives, woman also must have the same right. Even if it is granted that woman is not intellectually superior to man, it is certain that spiritually and mentally she is not weaker than he is."
As you might have observed, the above statement makes no distinction between polyandry and polygamy, except that man being the stronger sex has adopted polygamy to his own advantage, and woman being the weaker sex could not do so.
The above writer further says that man regards woman as his property, and that is why he wants to have several wives. In other words, he thus wants to acquire as much property as practicable. Woman, being in the position of a slave, cannot have more than one master.
Contrary to the views of this writer, the fact that the system of polyandry has never been accepted by any large section of people proves that man does not regard his wife as his property, for, as far as property is concerned, it is a common practice all over the world to own it jointly and to be benefited by it jointly. Had man considered woman to be his property, he certainly would have had no objection to sharing it with others. There is no law in the world, restricting the ownership of a property to one owner only.
It is said that the husband is one individual and the wife is another individual. They should have equal rights. Why should the husband have the right of enjoying polygamy and why should the wife not have the right of enjoying polyandry?"
We say, here lies the mistake. You presume that polygamy is a part of the rights of the husband and polyandry a part of the rights of the wife. The fact is that polygamy is a part of woman's rights and polyandry is neither a part of man's rights nor of woman's rights. It is against the interests of man and woman both. We shall prove later that the system of polygamy has been laid down by Islam with a view to safeguarding the interests of woman. Had the intention been to be partial to man, Islam could have allowed the husband to have extra-marital affairs with a woman other than his wife and would have laid no responsibility on him with regard to his legal wife and legal children.
Polyandry has never been in the interests of woman. It is not a right of which she has been deprived.
The writer whose views we have quoted has said: "We want to make men understand that the views held by them about women are not based on any solid ground".
Coincidentally, that is what we also want to do. In the following chapters we propose to explain the basis of the Islamic views regarding polygamy.
We invite all thinking people to look into it and see if the Islamic views are, or are not, based on any solid ground. We give our word of honour that we shall withdraw all what we have said, if it is proved by anybody that the basis of the Islamic viewpoint is defective.
HISTORICAL CAUSES OF POLYGAMY (II)
Man's lust for indulgence in sensual pleasure and his unrestricted domination alone are not a sufficient cause for the emergence of polygamy. There must be some other contributory causes also for a licentious man to satisfy his taste for variety. It is easier and less cumbersome to indulge in free love instead of having a woman of his choice as his legal wife and shouldering the responsibility of the maintenance of her possible future children. Plurality of wives gains popularity only in the societies where there are moral and social restrictions on free love and a voluptuary has to pay the price of seeking variety by accepting the woman concerned as his legal wife and by shouldering the responsibility of fatherhood of her children.
Now let us see whether there is any contribution of geographical, economic or social factors in this respect.
Montesquieu and Gustav Leobeon insist that climatic conditions are the main cause of the development of polygamy. These intellectuals believe that the climate of the East is such that this custom is inevitable there. In the Eastern countries puberty and old age in females commence earlier and, therefore, a man requires a second and a third wife. Moreover, they think that one woman cannot satisfy the sexual needs of a man brought up in the Eastern climate.
Gustav Leobeon in his book, History of Islamic and Arab culture says: "The custom of polygamy was not introduced by religion. It is an outcome of the climatic conditions, the racial characteristics and other causes related to life in the East. It needs not be emphasised that these are very strong and effective factors. Furthermore, their physical and temperamental traits, their nursing of children and their ailments and diseases often
force the women of the East to keep themselves aloof from their husbands. As the climatic conditions and the national characteristics of men in the East are such that they cannot bear even temporary separation, polygamy has become customary".
Montesquieu in his book, the Spirit of Law says: 'In tropical countries women attain puberty at the age of eight, nine or ten years and after being married, soon become pregnant. It may be said that in tropical countries, pregnancy immediately follows marriage".
Predo, giving an account of the life of the Prophet of Islam, states that he married Khadijah, at the age of five and consummated the marriage at the age of eight. Because of a very early marriage, women in the tropics become old at the age of twenty. He says that before they become mature, they are already old. In the countries having a temperate climate women retain their charm and beauty for a long time. They attain puberty at a later age and they are more mature and experienced at the time of their marriage. They have children at a comparatively advanced age and the husband and the wife become old almost at the same time. That is how equality between man and woman is established and men do not need to have more than one wife.
Thus it is because of the climatic conditions that the law prohibits polygamy in Europe and allows it in Asia.
The above explanation is in no way correct. The custom of polygamy is not confined to tropical regions in the East. During the pre-Islamic period this custom was common in Iran, where the climate is temperate. It is purely fictitious to say that in the tropics, women get old at the age of twenty, as alleged by Montesquieu. It is even more fantastic to say that the Prophet of Islam, married Khadijah at the age of five and consummated it at the age of eight. Everyone knows that at the time of their marriage Khadijah was forty and the Prophet was twenty -five.
Secondly, if it is accepted that the early onset of old age in women and the intense virility in men are the causes of this custom, why did the people of the East not adopt the practice of free love and debauchery, as the people of the West did both during the Middle Ages and in the modern times. In the West, as Gustav Leabeon has pointed out, monogamy is found only in the legal books and there is no trace of it in daily life.
Again, in the East polygamy exists in its legal form. The man has to accept the woman as his legal wife and has to bear the responsibility of her children. In the West, it exists in an illegal and clandestine form. Man indulges in free love and escapes all matrimonial responsibility.
POLYGAMY IN THE WEST
We deem it necessary to give a brief account of polygamy in Europe during the Middle Ages, as described by an eminent Western historian. This account should convince those who criticise the East for polygamy that in spite of all its defects it is much more dignified than what existed in Europe.
Will Durant in his book, History of Civilization, vol.17, gives an interesting account of the state of morality in Italy during the renaissance. We give below a summary of what he has said under the heading 'Morals in Sexual Relations'.
In the course of his brief introduction he says that before describing the morals of the laity it may be pointed out that by nature man is polygamous. Only strict moral restrictions, an adequate amount of hard work and poverty, and a continuous vigilance of the wife can compel him to maintain monogamy.
Then he says that adultery was not uncommon during the Middle Ages, prior to the Renaissance. As during the Middle Ages the guilt of adultery was extenuated by chivalry, similarly, during the Renaissance period, it was watered down among the educated classes by the craving for the polished manners and the refined spirit of the females. Girls belonging to respectable families were, to a certain extent, kept segregated from the males not connected with their own family and were taught the merits of pre -marital chastity. Sometimes these instructions were exceptionally effective. It is reported that a young woman, after being assaulted, drowned herself. That must have been an exceptional case, because a bishop took the trouble of installing her statue after her death to commemorate her chastity.
The number of pre-marital affairs must have been considerable, because there were innumerable children born of illegitimate relations in every town of Italy. It was a matter of pride not to have an illegitimate child, but to have one was not a matter of shame. Usually a husband persuaded his wife at the time of the marriage to bring her illegitimate child with her, to be brought up along with his children. Illegitimacy was not a slur on the reputation of anyone. Furthermore, a certificate of legitimacy could easily be obtained by bribing a clergyman. In the absence of other lawful or eligible heirs, an illegitimate son could inherit property and even a crown, as Frante-I, succeeded Alfonso-I, King of Naples. When in 1459 Pius-II came to Bavaria, he was received by seven princes, all of whom were illegitimate. Rivalry between the legitimate and illegitimate sons was an important cause of a long series of commotions during the Renaissance period. As far as homosexuality is concerned, it was only a revival of the ancient Greek tradition.
San Bernardino found this sort of perversion so common in Naples that he thought it to be threatened with the fate of Sodom. Artino found the perversion equally prevalent in Rome. The same thing can be said about prostitution. In 1490, out of a total population of 90,000, there were 6,800 registered prostitutes in Rome. Of course, this figure does not include clandestine and unofficial prostitutes. According to the statistics of 1509, out of a population of 300,000 of that city, there were 11,654 prostitutes. In the 15th century, a girl who had reached the age of 15 without having a husband, was regarded as a slur on the fair name of her family. In the 16th century, the 'age of disgrace' was extended up to 17 years, to enable the girls to receive higher education. Men, who enjoyed all the facilities provided by widespread prostitution, were attracted to marriage only if the woman concerned promised to bring a considerable dowry. According to the system of the Middle Ages, husband and wife were expected to love each other and share each other's joy and grief. Apparently in many cases this expectation came true, but still adultery was rampant. Most of the marriages of the upper classes were diplomatic unions contracted for political and economic gains. Many husbands regarded it as their right to have a mistress. The wife might feel dejected, but usually connived at the situation.
Among the middle classes, some people thought that adultery was a lawful pastime. Machiavelli and his friends apparently did not feel uneasy about the stories of their unfaithfulness which they exchanged with each other. When in such cases, the wife followed the example of her husband to wreak vengeance upon him, he usually connived at her behaviour and did not feel jealous or perturbed.
This was a specimen of the life of the people who regard polygamy as an unpardonable crime of the East and have occasionally blamed its climate for this supposedly inhuman custom. As far as their own climate is concerned, it does not allow them to be unfaithful to the wives and to exceed the limits of monogamy!
By the way, it should be remembered that the absence of lawful polygamy among the Europeans, whether good or bad, has nothing to do with the religion of Christ, who never prohibited it. On the other hand, it confirms the rules of the old Testament, which expressly recognise polygamy. Thus we can say that, in fact, the religion of Christ allows polygamy, and the ancient Christians have actually practised it. Hence, the legal abstinence of the Europeans from it must have some other reason or reasons.
Some others attribute polygamy to woman's menstrual periods and her aversion to sex during that time as well as to her exhaustion after child-birth and her desire to avoid sexual intercourse during the nursing period.
Will Durant says that in the primitive societies women grow old quickly. That is why, in order to be able to nurse their children for a longer period, to lengthen the interval between their own pregnancies, without interrupting the husband's desire to have children, and to enable him to satisfy his sexual urge, they encourage their husbands to have a new wife. It has been often observed that the first wife, with a view to making her own burden lighter, has persuaded her husband to contract another marriage in order to have more children and to acquire more wealth.
There is no doubt that woman's menstrual periods and her exhaustion as the result of child-bearing place man and woman, sexually, in dissimilar positions.
These reasons often make men turn to another woman, but they alone cannot be a sufficient cause of polygamy, unless there exists some social or moral impediment preventing man from indulging in free love. The above factors can be effective only when man is not free in the pursuit of his sexual desires.
LIMITATION OF THE PERIOD OF FECUNDITY IN FEMALES
Some believe that the limitation of the period of fecundity of a woman and her menopause, are one of the causes which gave rise to polygamy, for it may happen that a woman reaches this age without being able to bear enough number of children. It is also possible that her children may have died.
In such cases, if the husband does not like to divorce his first wife and at the same time wants to have more children, he has no alternative but to have a second, or sometimes even a third wife. Similarly, the sterility of the first wife may be another reason for the husband in contracting a second marriage.
Some economic factors have also been mentioned as the cause of polygamy. It is said that in ancient times, several wives and a large number of children were regarded as an economic asset. Man extracted work from his wife and children and treated them like slaves. Sometimes he even sold them out. Most of the slaves were not captured in battles, but were sold by their fathers.
This may be a cause of polygamy, because man can have children only by accepting the woman as his legal wife. Free love cannot ensure this advantage. Anyhow, this cause cannot explain all the cases of polygamy.
Some primitive people had several wives with this idea. But that was not the case with all the people. In the ancient world polygamy was customary among the classes which lived with dignity and decorum. The kings, the princes, the chiefs, the divines and the merchants had several wives.
As we know, these classes never exploited economically their wives and children.
NUMBER OF MEMBERS OF A FAMILY
Interest in the numerical increase of the children and the expansion of the family has been another cause of polygamy. The position of a man and a woman with regard to the number of children each of them can have is different. The number of children a woman can bear is very limited, whether she has one husband or several husbands. But the number of children which a man can beget depends on the number of women he has at his disposal. It is theoretically possible that a man may have thousands of children by hundreds of wives. Unlike the modern world, in the ancient world the number of family members was counted as an important social factor. The tribes and the clans did all they could to increase their numbers It was a matter of pride for the ancient people to have a large tribe. It is obvious that polygamy was the only means of achieving that end.
The last and the most important factor, which has contributed to the emergence of the custom of polygamy, is that women have always outnumbered men. It is not that the birth-rate of females is greater than that of males. If occasionally in certain places more females are born, in other places more males are born. But still the number of the women eligible for marriage is always higher than the number of men so eligible. The reason is that the mortality rate among men has always been higher. It is possible that, in case monogamy is enforced strictly, a large number of women will go without having legal husbands, legal children and a household life.
There can be no doubt that at least in the primitive societies this was the position. We have already quoted Will Durant, who says that in primitive societies the life of man was constantly in danger because he was always busy with hunting and fighting, and that is why the rate of mortality among men was higher than among women. As the number of women increased, there were only two alternatives: either to adopt polygamy or to force a large number of women to pass their entire life as spinsters.
We have described above all the causes which can be presumed to be the source of polygamy. As you must have observed, some of these causes such as climate are actually no causes at all. Hence we ignore them. Other causes can be classified into three categories. The first category includes those causes which might have been effective in persuading man to adopt polygamy, but they provide no justification for his action. They have an aspect of oppression, high-handedness and cruelty. The economic causes come under this category.
It is evident that the sale of children is one of the most cruel and barbaric human acts. To resort to polygamy for this purpose is as unlawful as this act itself.
The second category includes those causes which may be regarded as a justification as far as the husband or society is concerned. Sterility of the first wife, her reaching the age of menopause while the husband still requires a child or the need of a large body of people by the tribe or the country, are such causes. As a general rule, all causes, which emanate from the dissimilarity between husband and wife as regards their sexual needs or procreation power, have a justifying aspect.
The third category consists of a cause which, if it is admitted that it ever existed or still exists, not only provides a justification for polygamy, but also makes it obligatory. In this case, polygamy is a woman's right which man and the society must discharge. This cause is the numerical superiority of women over men. In case the number of women eligible for marriage is larger than the number of such men, polygamy becomes an obligation of men and a right of woman, for, in the case of legally enforced monogamy, a number of women are bound to be deprived of their right of family life.
The right of marriage is a basic human right and no one can be deprived of it under any pretext. Society cannot take any action which may deprive a section of the people of this right.
The right of marriage is as natural a right as the right of freedom, the right to work and the right to get food, shelter and education. Hence, the law of monogamy is repugnant to the natural human rights in the case of the existence of a larger number of women eligible for marriage than the number of available men.
This, at least, has been the case in the past. In the next chapter we shall see whether there still exist circumstances which not only justify polygamy, but also create a woman's right to it. And if such circumstances do exist what is the position of this right vis-a-vis the right of the first wife?
RIGHT OF WOMAN IN "MORE-THAN-ONE" MARRIAGE
We have explained the causes of the failure of polyandry and the prevailing of polygamy and have shown that multifarious causes have contributed to the origin of the latter custom. Some of the causes originated from the man's spirit of oppression and domination and others from the disparity between man and woman as regards the duration of their power or procreation and the number of children which each of them can beget. The latter type of causes can be regarded as a justification for polygamy. But its main cause, throughout history has been the numerical superiority of women eligible for marriage over such men. This cause leads to the creation of a right of woman and an obligation of man.
To avoid a lengthy discussion, we skip over those causes which can be regarded merely as a justification for polygamy and confine our attention to its main cause which, when in existence, turns it into a right of the fair sex.
To prove the case two preliminary points have to be established. First it is to be proved that according to the reliable statistics the women eligible for marriage actually outnumber such men. The second point to be proved is that the actual existence of circumstances creates a right which married men and women owe to the women who have been deprived of marriage.
As for the first point, fortunately almost authentic statistics exist in the modern world. A census is taken in every country periodically. In the advanced countries not only are the total figures of males and females collected, but the number of men and women in various age groups is also shown. These figures are regularly published by the United Nations in its annual reports on world population.(We have before us the 1964 report, republished in 1965.)
It may be pointed out that for our purpose it is not enough to know the total number of males and females in any given country. Simultaneously, we should also know the ratio between the number of men and the number of women eligible for marriage. In most cases this ratio is different from that which exists between the total population of males and the total population of females. There are two reasons for this difference. One is that the onset of puberty in females is earlier. That is why in most countries the legal age of consent in the case of girls is lower than in the case of boys. Practically in most of the countries of the world the husband is on an average five years older than the wife.
The other and the more important reason is that the mortality rate among the boys is higher than among the girls, with the result that during the marriageable age the balance between them is upset. Sometimes the disparity becomes very marked. It may be that the total number of males and females in a country is almost equal, or even the number of males is higher, but still the girls of marriageable age far exceed the boys of the corresponding age group.
The United Nations Population Report for the year 1964 bears witness to this fact.
For instance, according to this report, the total population of the Republic of Korea is 26,277,635 people. Out of this total 13,145,289 are males and 13,132,346 are females. Thus the number of males is 12,943 more than that of females. This ratio is maintained in the children of less than one year, of 1 to 4 years, of 5 to 9 years, of 12 to 14 years and of 15 to 19 years.
Statistics show that in all these age groups the number of males is larger than that of females. But in the age group of 20 to 24, the ratio changes. In this age group the total number of males is 1,083,364 and the total number of females is 1,110,051. In all the higher age groups, which are the groups of marriageable age, the number of females is greater.
Still the case of the Republic of Korea, where the total number of males is greater than females, is exceptional. In almost all other countries, not only in marriageable age groups but also in the total population, the females outnumber the males. For instance, the total population of the Soviet Union, is 216,101,000 and out of this total 97,840,000 are males and 118,261,000 are females. This disparity is maintained throughout all age groups, pre-marriageable as well as marriageable, that is from 20 years to 24 years, from 25 years to 29 years, from 30 years to 34 years and even from 80 years to 84 years.
The same is the case with other countries, such as England, France, West Germany, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Rumania, Hungary, U.S.A., Japan etc. Of course at certain places, such as West Berlin and East Berlin, the disparity between the number of males and the number of females is abnormally large.
In India, in the marriageable age group the number of men exceeds the number of women. Only in the age group of 50 and above, the number of women is greater. Apparently the supposed paucity of women is due to the fact that many people in that country do not like to mention the names of their young wives and young daughters at the time of census.
According to the figures of the last census, Iran is one of the exceptional countries, where the number of males exceeds the number of females.
It is surprising that some critics insist that the law allowing polygamy should be abolished at least in those countries where the number of men exceeds the number of women. In the first instance, this law is universal. It is not meant for any particular country. Secondly it is not enough to know the ratio of males and females in the total population. We have seen that in the Republic of Korea, though the number of males is greater in the total population, there are more females in the marriageable age group. Furthermore, the census figures are not very reliable in many countries. For example, we know for definite that though polygamy has been customary in Iran, both in the urban and the rural areas, yet never has a shortage of would-be brides been felt there. This fact speaks better than the census figures.
Ashley Montague, in his book, 'Woman the Superior Sex', admits that throughout the world the number of women in the marriageable age exceeds the number of men.
The statistics of 1950 show that the number of women of marriageable age in America exceeded the number of men by about one million four hundred and thirty thousand.
Bertrand Russell in his book, 'Marriage and Morality' says that, in the present day England, more than two million women exceed men. According to the custom they should forever remain childless, which is a big privation for them.
Some years ago a news item appeared in the press. It said that following much pressure by those German women, who were unable to get husbands and family life, because of the huge German casualties in the Second World War, the German Government had approached Al-Azhar University to provide it with the formula of polygamy. Later it was learnt that following serious opposition by the Church the proposal had to be dropped. The Church preferred the privation of women and the spread of licentiousness to the system of polygamy, because this system is Eastern and Islamic.
WHY ARE THERE MORE WOMEN OF MARRIAGEABLE AGE THAN MEN?
Though the birth rate of girls is not higher than that of boys, yet there are more women of marriageable age than men. The reason is clear. The mortality rate of men is higher. Deaths usually occur at the age when man should normally be the head of a family. If we take into consideration the deaths which occur following accidents such as, wars, drowning, falls, motor collisions etc. we shall find that most of the victims are men.
It is seldom found that woman is among the victims. Whether it is a case of a clash between human beings or between man and nature, most of the victims are male adults To know why the balance between men and women of marriageable age is upset it is enough to realise that since the beginning of human history there has not been a single day when wars have not been waged and men have not perished.
The casualties resulting from wars in the industrial age are a hundred times more than those which occurred in the hunting age or in the age of agriculture. During the last World War, the casualties numbered about seven million. You will agree with us if you calculate the casualties of the regional wars in the Far East, the Middle East and Africa during the past decade only.
Will Durant says that several factors have contributed to the decline of this custom (polygamy). Stable agricultural life has lessened the hardships and perils of the life of men, with the result that the number of men and women has almost equalised.
What Will Durant has said is quite amazing. Had the losses of human life been confined to the struggle of men against nature, there would have been a difference between the hunting age and the agricultural age. But the wars have taken a greater toll of men's lives and the number of war casualties has not gone down in any age. Further, the main reason why women have suffered less casualties is that men have always protected them and have themselves shouldered the most dangerous jobs. Thus like the hunting age disequilibrium has continued during the agricultural age also.
Will Durant has not uttered a word about the industrial age, though this is the period which has witnessed the greatest killings of men and during which the balance has been badly upset.
WOMAN HAS A GREATER POWER OF RESISTANCE AGAINST DISEASES
It has been lately discovered that man possesses lesser power of resistance against disease than women. This is another reason why the mortality rate among men is higher.
Some years ago, the French Bureau of Statistics reported that in France, 105 boys were born against every 100 girls and the number of women exceeded the number of men by one million, seven hundred and fifty-eight thousand. It attributed the difference to the female power of resistance against disease.
Not long ago an article was published in the illustrated UNESCO magazine, Courier. According to this article, woman is intellectually superior to man. Her average longevity is more. Usually she is healthier than man and has a greater power of resistance against disease. She is cured earlier. Against one stammering woman there are five stammering men. Against one colour-blind woman there are 16 colour-blind men. Haemorrhage is almost confined to men. Women are more immune against accidents. During the last World War it was proved that, in similar circumstances, woman could bear the hardships of blockades, prisons and concentration camps better than man. Almost in all countries the cases of suicide by men are three times those by women.
Ashley Montague has mentioned his theory of woman's greater power of resistance against disease in his book, 'Woman - the Superior Sex'.
If by chance one day man decides to wreak his vengeance upon woman and succeeds in plunging her into the most dangerous and fatal jobs or pushes her into the battlefield to face the guns and the bombs, even then the balance between men and women will not be restored, because she has a greater power of resistance against disease.
This much is about the first point viz. numerical superiority of the women of marriageable age over the men of marriageable age. We know that this superiority is an actual fact. We also know its causes. And its cause or causes from the beginning of the human history do exist even now.
RIGHT OF WOMAN IN POLYGAMY
The second point is that the numerical majority of women of marriageable age not only creates a right for them but also an obligation for men and married women.
There is no denying the fact that marriage is one of the most natural and most basic rights of human beings. Everybody, whether man or woman, has the right to lead a family life and have children. This right is similar to that of doing work, having a house, receiving education, utilising the health services and enjoying freedom and security.
It is the duty of the society not to place any obstacles in the way of the enjoyment of this right. On the other hand, it should provide all possible facilities for this purpose.
In our opinion it is a big drawback of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that it has not paid any attention to this right. It has recognised the right of liberty and security, the right of approaching competent national tribunals, the right of having a nationality and changing it, the right to marry without any limitation of race or religion, the right to own property, the right to form an assembly, and the right of rest and leisure, but it does not mention the right of leading a legal family life.
For a woman this right is of utmost importance, for she needs a family life more than a man. As we have already said, to a man the material aspect of marriage is more important and to a woman its spiritual and sentimental aspect. If man has no family, he can at least partially fulfil his needs by indulging in free love and debauchery. But to a woman a family has a greater importance. Debauchery cannot even partially fulfil her material and sentimental needs.
To a man the right of having a family means the right to satisfy his lust, the right to have a partner in life and the right to have legal children. But to a woman it also means the right to have a protector and patron and the one from whom she may draw moral support.
After the establishment of the two premises, viz. the number of women eligible for marriage is larger than the number of men and it is a natural human right to have a family life, it is easy to draw the conclusion that if monogamy is regarded as the only legal form of marriage, a large number of women are bound to be deprived of their natural right, and it is only polygamy, which of course with specific conditions, can restore it.
It is the duty of liberal-minded Muslim women that they, in the name of defending the just rights of women at large, in the name of protecting morality and in the name of protecting the human race, call upon the U.N. Commission for Human Rights to recognise officially the Islamic system of plurality of wives as a human right, and thus render a great service to the fair sex and to morality. The fact that a formula has come from the East and the West has to follow it, should not be regarded as a sin.
As pointed out earlier, Bertrand Russell was conscious of the fact that in the case of monogamy being the sole form of marriage, a large number of women are to be deprived of their right. He has suggested a very simple solution to the problem. He wanted women to be allowed to entice men and bear father-less children. As the father usually supports the children, the government should take his place and give a subsidy to the unmarried mothers.
Russell says that at present, in Britain, there are more than two million surplus women who cannot ever hope to have children because of the law of monogamy. This is a big privation. He says that the system of monogamy is based on the presumption of approximate numerical equality between men and women, but where no such equality exists it gives a raw deal to those women who, in accordance with mathematical law, are doomed to remain unmarried. Anyhow, if it is desired to increase the population, such a raw deal is not even in the public interest, let alone in the private interest.
This is the solution of this social problem, as suggested by a great philosopher of the 20th century. But, according to Islam, the whole problem is solved if an adequate number of men having the necessary financial, moral and physical qualifications agree to bear the responsibility of more than one legal wife showing no distinction between her and his first wife and between the children by both of them. The first wife should accept the second one cheerfully with the spirit of doing a social duty, which is most necessary and the best form of morality.
Contrary to the Islamic mode of thinking, this philosopher advises the deprived women to steal the husbands of other women and call upon the government to support the children born of such illicit connections.
It appears that this philosopher of the 20th century maintains that woman needs marriage only for three reasons:
to satisfy her sexual needs, to get children and to meet her economic requirements. The first two needs can be met on the sly. As for the third one, it should be looked after by the government. He forgets that woman also has some sentimental needs. She wants that she should be under the protection of a loving husband and that her contact with him should not be merely of a sexual nature. Another point to which this philosopher attaches no importance, is the position of the children born of illicit connections. Every child needs well-recognised parents and their sincere love and affection. Experience has shown that the mother seldom shows affection to that child of hers whose father is not known. How can the lack of this love be compensated? Can the government do anything in this respect?
Lord Russell regrets that a large number of women will have to remain childless unless his proposal is given a legal form. But he should have known that the British women cannot wait for any law. They themselves have already solved the problem of maidenhood and the fatherless child.
In the annual report for 1958, prepared by Dr. Z.A. Scott, head of the Medical Department of the London Council, it was pointed out that out of every ten children born in the previous year one was illegitimate. The report further said that illegitimate births were constantly on the increase. The figures of illegitimate births shot up from 33,838 in 1957 to 53,433 in the following year.
It appears that the British people have solved their problem without waiting for the enactment of Lord Russell's suggestion.
POLYGAMY PROHIBITED, HOMOSEXUALITY PERMITTED!
The British Government instead of acting upon the advice of Lord Russell and solving the problem of unmarried woman has taken a step in the opposite direction. It has more than ever deprived woman of the male sex by legalising homosexuality. At present polygamy is prohibited in Britain, but homosexuality is lawful.
In the eyes of the British people it is inhuman to have a woman as a second wife. But if the second "wife" happens to be a male, then there is no harm. They regard homosexuality to be a dignified act in conformity with the requirements of the 20th century. According to the verdict of the British authorities, plurality of wives is not objectionable provided the wives other than the first one have whiskers. It is said that the Western world has solved the sexual and family problems, and we should follow its example. This is how it has solved them.
This Western action is not surprising in the least, for it is a logical outcome of the way the West is going.
What is surprising is that our people, especially the educated young men, have lost their power of independent thinking and analysing problems. They have lost their personalities. They are too credulous. If they have a diamond in their hand and the people from the other side of the world say it is a walnut, they throw it away. But if they see a walnut in the hand of an alien and are told that it is diamond, they readily believe that.
IS MAN POLYGAMOUS BY NATURE?
You will be surprised if you are told that the psychologists and the social philosophers in the West believe that man is born polygamous and monogamy is against his nature.
Will Durant, explaining the present day moral chaos, says that much of it is due to our incurable interest in variety. Man by nature cannot be content with one woman.
He says that by nature man is polygamous. Only the strongest moral restrictions and an appropriate amount of poverty and hard work, along with the external vigilance of the wife, can impose monogamy on him.
The German professor, Schmidt, says that throughout history man has been unfaithful to his wife. There are indications that even during the Middle Ages the young men changed their sweet-hearts again and again, and 50% of the married men were unfaithful to their wives. Robert Kinsey in his report, known as the Kinsey Report, says that American men and women surpass all other nations in unfaithfulness. In another section of the report he says that, unlike man, woman dislikes diversity and that is why she often does not submit to his overtures, but man regards diversity as an adventure. What is more important is that he is more interested in physical pleasure than in spiritual and sentimental pleasure. Man pretends to have a purely sentimental and spiritual relation only so long as he does not get an opportunity to have physical contact. A famous physician told Kinsey that obviously man was polygamous and woman monogamous, because millions of sperm developed in man while one ovum was produced in the ovary of woman during each period of fecundity. Apart from the theory of Kinsey, it will not be a bad idea if we ask ourselves whether it is difficult for a man to be faithful.
A French sociologist answering this question says that for a man to be faithful is not merely difficult but it is impossible. One woman is born for one man, but one man is born for all women, If a man is unfaithful and betrays his wife, he is not to blame. It is the fault of nature, which has put all the forces of unfaithfulness in him.
A French magazine under the heading, "French way of Love and Marriage", writes that French couples have solved this problem. They know the rules of the game. So long as the husband does not exceed the limits, his occasional affairs with other women are of little importance. As a rule a husband can in no case remain faithful after two years of married life. It is somewhat different in the case of women and fortunately they are aware of this difference. In France, a wife does not feel offended if her husband commits adultery
She consoles herself by saying that he might have taken his body to another woman, but his soul and sentiments continue to be her own.
Some years ago there was a controversy on the views expressed by a biologist named Dr. Russell Lee. He was of the view that a man's contentment with one wife weakened his progeny and hence this action amounted to an act of treachery against the human race. He thought that the system of multi-relations made the children healthy and strong.
We believe that the above description of the nature of man is not correct at all. These thinkers appear to have been inspired by the particular atmosphere prevailing in their own part of the world.
Anyhow, we believe that both biologically and psychologically man and woman are dissimilar to each other and nature has purposely made them so. Therefore, the equality of their rights should not be used as a pretext for the uniformity of their rights. Even from the viewpoint of those who support monogamy, the spirit of woman is different from that of man. Woman is monogamous by nature. Polyandry is against her spirit and does not conform to what she expects of her husband. But man is not monogamous by nature in the sense that polygamy is not against his spirit and is not inconsistent with what he expects of his wife.
But we do not agree with the view that the spirit of man does not conform to monogamy. It is absolutely incorrect to say that his passion for diversity is incurable. We also do not believe that man cannot be faithful, or that one woman is born for one man and one man is born for all women.
To our belief the causes of man's unfaithfulness are related to the social atmosphere and man's nature is not responsible for it. Factors causing unfaithfulness stem from that atmosphere which, on the one hand, encourages woman to employ all sorts of temptations and seductions to lead a stranger astray and, on the other hand, deprives millions of women of their right of marriage by enforcing the law of monogamy.
In the Muslim East, prior to the introduction of Western ways and manners, 90% of the men adhered to monogamy in the real sense. They neither had more than one legal wife nor did they indulge in concubinage.
POLYGAMY AS THE FACTOR SAVING MONOGAMY
You will be surprised if we say that polygamy was the most important factor which served monogamy in the East. Its legality is really the biggest saving factor, in case the number of women requiring marriage exceeds the number of men eligible for it, because if the right of the surplus women to marriage is not recognised and the morally, financially and physically well-qualified men are not allowed to have more than one wife, free love and concubinage are bound to become rampant, destroying the very basis of real monogamy.
In the Muslim East, on the one hand polygamy was permissible and, on the other, temptations and provocations to immorality did not exist. Therefore, true monogamy prevailed in most of the families. Concubinage never developed to the extent that gradually a philosophy had been invented to justify
it. In the East, it was never claimed that man was born polygamous and could not at all adhere to monogamy.
It may be asked what alternative a man has when polygamy is legally prohibited and, as the intellectuals say, man is polygamous by nature.
According to the thinking of these gentlemen the answer is quite clear. Man should be legally monogamous and practically polygamous. He should not have more than one legal wife, but he can cohabit with any number of women he likes. Concubinage is the natural right of man. It is unchivalrous to restrict him to one woman.
We believe that the time has come when the readers should have a clear idea of the problem and should know what the question really is. It is not the question whether polygamy is better or monogamy. There is no doubt that monogamy is preferable, for monogamy means an exclusive family life. In this system the body and the soul of each of the husband and the wife exclusively belong to the other. It is obvious that the spirit of marriage is the union of hearts which manifests itself better in an exclusive marriage. Humanity does not have to choose between monogamy and polygamy.
The only problem is that absolute monogamy is not practical in certain social circumstances, especially when the number of women in need of marriage is greater than the number of eligible men. Absolute monogamy pervading every family is only a fiction. There are only two alternatives: either to officially recognise polygamy or to encourage unrestricted concubinage. In the case of the first alternative only a small percentage of married men, in no case more than 10% will have more than one wife and all women in need of a husband will be able to secure a home and family life. In the case of the second alter-native every woman having no legal husband will have sexual relations with several men, and thus almost all married men will become practically polygamous.
This is the correct picture of polygamy. But the partisans of the European way of life are not prepared to present the true picture of the problem. They do not want to tell the truth openly. In reality they defend concubinage. They regard the legal wife as a burden and a stumbling-block in their way. T() them even one wife is too much, let alone two, three or four. They pretend to be the supporters of monogamy, but, in fact, complete freedom from matrimonial restrictions is what they would like to have.
WILES OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY MAN
The 20th century man has succeeded in befooling woman on many questions related to family rights. He uses the high-sounding words of equality and liberty to reduce his own commitments and to add to his opportunities of enjoyment. But there are few questions in respect of which he has been so successful as in disparaging polygamy.
Occasionally we come across writings that make us wonder whether their authors are simpletons or rogues. One writer says: At present, in the advanced countries relations between husband and wife are based on a system of reciprocal rights and obligations, and for that reason it is as difficult for a woman to recognise polygamy in any form, as for a man to bear the existence of rivals in the field of his conjugal relations.
We do not know whether that is their conception of the problem, or they really do not know that polygamy has resulted from a social problem, which puts a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of married men and women and of which, so far, no solution other than polygamy has been discovered. Shutting the eyes to the real problem and raising the slogans 'long live monogamy' and 'down with polygamy' can serve no purpose.
Do they not know that polyandry is neither a part of woman's rights nor a part of man's rights. It has nothing to do with their reciprocal rights.
It is ridiculous to say that it is as difficult for woman to agree to polygamy as it is for a man to tolerate the existence of rivals in the matter of conjugal relations. Apart from the fact that such a comparison is wrong, it appears that these gentlemen do not know that the present-day Western world, by the glitter of which they are so greatly dazzled, actually requires the husband to respect the love-affairs of his wife and tolerate the existence of rivals. It deprecates any interference on the part of the husband as jealousy and fanaticism. We wish that our young men had a deeper knowledge of what is going on in the West.
As polygamy is the outcome of a social problem and is not man's instinct, it is obvious that in a society where women are not in a numerical majority, it should automatically disappear or at least its incidence should be minimised. But it will not be proper to ban it even in such circumstances, if such circumstances exist at all. Legal prohibition of polygamy is neither sufficient nor something correct. There are certain prerequisites to achieve this end. First of all, social justice should be ensured and adequate opportunities of suitable employment made available for every man, so that everyone eligible for marriage should be in a position to have a family life. The second condition is that every woman should be free to choose her husband and should be under no compulsion by her guardians or anyone else to marry any particular person of their choice. It is obvious that a woman who has a chance to marry a bachelor will never like to marry a man who has a wife. It is only their guardians who sell women for the sake of money and give them in marriage to the moneyed people.
The third condition is that there should not exist too many temptations that seduce even women having husbands not to mention women having no husbands.
Should society be earnestly interested in reformation and in enforcing true monogamy, it should endeavour for the fulfilment of the above three conditions. Otherwise, a legal ban on polygamy will only lead to moral depravation.
CRISIS RESULTING FROM THE PRIVATION OF THE WOMEN HAVING NO HUSBANDS
If the women in need of marriage outnumber such men (bachelors), the prohibition of polygamy is a treachery to
humanity. It is not merely a question of suppressing the rights of some women only. Had it been so, it could have been tolerated to a certain extent. The crisis which society faces as a result of legally enforced monogamy possess a bigger danger than any other crisis, for the family organisation is more sacred than any other organisation.
A woman who is deprived of her natural right is a living being prone to all the reactions of a living being such as in the case of privation. She is a human being who is susceptible to psychic disorders and complexes. She is an Eve armed with the weapons for seducing men.
She is not wheat or barley, the surplus stock of which can be dumped into the sea or stored for any future emergency. She is not a house or a room which, if not acquired immediately, can be locked. She is a living person. She is a human being. She is a woman. She has marvellous potentialities. If she is frustrated she can ruin the society. She cannot be an idle onlooker while others enjoy life. Her privation will give rise to complexes and malice. If malice and instinct join hands together, the consequences can only be catastrophic.
The women deprived of family life will do their utmost to seduce men and to exploit their weakness in this respect. Even then the matter will not end. The wives who will find their husbands to be unfaithful, will think of taking revenge upon them and thus will themselves become unfaithful. About the final result the less said the better.
This final result has been summarised in the well-known Kinsey Report in one sentence: "The men and women of America have surpassed all other nations in unfaithfulness."
It is to be noted that the matter does not end with the corruption and perversion of men. The conflagration in the end also engulfs the women having husbands and families.
VARIOUS REACTIONS ABOUT THE EXCESS OF WOMEN
The phenomenon of the comparative super-abundance of women has always existed in human history, but the reactions to this phenomenon, which create difficulties for the society, have not been the same in all societies. The people who were more attached to the spirit of piety and chastity and were guided by the teachings of the great heavenly religions, solved the problem by adopting the system of polygamy. Other people who were not so greatly attached to this spirit used the phenomenon as a means of indulging in debauchery.
Neither was polygamy in the East introduced by Islam, nor its prohibition in the West in any way related to the religion of Christ. This custom existed in the East before the inception of Islam and was sanctioned by the Eastern religions. Even in the Bible, it has not been prohibited expressly.
A greater blow has been given to monogamy by the nations, which have taken to debauchery, than by those which have adopted polygamy.
Dr. Muhammad Husayn Haikal, author of the book, 'Life of Muhammad' after quoting several verses of the Holy Qur'an on the question of polygamy, says: These verses favour adherence to monogamy. They say that if you fear that you will not be able to do justice to more than one wife, then have only one. Incidentally, they emphasise that absolute justice is not possible. Anyhow in view of the fact that there may be occasions when polygamy is unavoidable, they allow it conditionally. The Holy Prophet himself contracted several marriages, when a large number of Muslim women lost their husbands during the early battles of Islam. Is it possible to say that following wars, epidemics and disturbances which take a toll of thousands and sometimes millions of people, it is still preferable to adhere to monogamy rather than to adopt polygamy as an exceptional case and with the condition of doing justice to their wife or wives? Can the people of the West claim that after the World War the law of monogamy has been enforced in the same way in which it now exists in name?
DRAWBACKS AND DEFECTS OF POLYGAMY
A happy married life depends on sincerity, tolerance, sacrifice and unity. All these things are endangered in the case of polygamy. Apart from the unenviable position of the wives and the children in a plural marriage, the responsibilities of the husband himself are so heavy and crushing that it is no fun to shoulder them -Most of the men, who are happy and satisfied with polygamy, are those who practically evade their legal and moral responsibilities. They turn all their attention to one wife and ignore the other, whom they leave, in the words of the Holy Qur'an, 'hanging', What is called polygamy by such people is in reality a sort of monogamy coupled with high-handedness, tyranny and criminal injustice. There is a proverb current among the common people which says: 'One God, One Wife'.
That has been and is the belief of most of the people and, if we measure the problem by the standard of individual happiness, it is correct. The rule of monogamy, if not applicable to all men, is certainly applicable to most of them.
If someone thinks that polygamy, with all the legal and moral responsibilities it entails, is a bed of roses, he is sadly mistaken. From the angle of personal comfort and happiness, monogamy is definitely preferable.
Anyhow, a correct appraisal of the system of polygamy, which emanates from personal and social needs, cannot be made by comparing it with monogamy. The right way of evaluating such a system is to give consideration to the causes which give rise to it, to see what evil consequences will follow, if those causes are overlooked, and at the same time to give a thought to the defects and drawbacks of the system itself. It is only after fully weighing all the pros and cons of a system that we can arrive at the right conclusion. To illustrate the point we give an example. If we look at the system of conscription only from the angle of the interests and inclinations of a family, to which a recruit belongs, there can be no doubt that the law of conscription is not a good law. It would have been much better if there had been no such law, and no darling of a family had been snatched from his family and, occasionally, sent to the warfront.
But this is not a correct evaluation of the question. Along with the separation of a son from his family, we should also take into consideration the defence requirements of the country. If we do that, it will appear perfectly reasonable and logical that an adequate number of citizens should always be kept ready for the defence of the country and their families should willingly put up with the inconveniences caused by the compulsory military service.
Earlier we referred to some individual and collective needs which sometimes justify polygamy. Now, to prepare the ground for an overall judgement, let us discuss the defects and drawbacks of this system. We admit that it has certain demerits, but we do not believe that all that is said against it is valid. Anyway, we propose to discuss its defects from various angles.
FROM THE PSYCHOLOGICAL ANGLE
The conjugal relations are not confined to such material and physical matters as bodily contact and financial support. If they had been so confined, it would have been easy to justify polygamy, for material and physical matters are divisible between several people, each having a share.
The basis of conjugal relations is emotional and psychological. They are based on such things as love, emotions and feelings. Married life means the union of hearts. Like all metaphysical things, love and feelings are not divisible. They cannot be rationed among several people nor can a definite quota thereof be allotted to any one. A heart cannot be divided between two people. Love and worship are concomitant. They do not admit a rival. Love cannot be measured and distributed like wheat and barley. Furthermore, feelings cannot be controlled.
The heart dominates man, man does not dominate the heart. The spirit of marriage, that is, its human aspect, which distinguishes the relations between two human beings from the purely instinctive relations between two animals, is neither divisible nor controllable. Hence, polygamy should not be permitted.
To our belief the above statement is exaggerated. It is true that emotions and feelings constitute the spirit of marriage. It is also true that feelings are not controllable. But it is pure fancy, rather a fallacy, to say that feelings are not divisible.
It is not a question of dividing and distributing feelings in the same way as a material object is divided and distributed. It is a question of the mental capacity of man, which is not too limited to accommodate relations with two people. A father having ten sons loves all of them to the extent of worship and makes sacrifices for them.
Anyhow, one thing is definite. Love cannot be as intense in the case of several wives as it can be in the case of one. Intense love is not consistent with plurality, but it is not consistent with reason too.
Russell in his book, 'Marriage and Morality'. says that many people today regard love as a fair exchange of feelings. This argument alone, irrespective of all other arguments, is enough to condemn polygamy.
If it is only a question of fair exchange of feelings. we wonder why the exchange should he monopolistic. A father having several children loves them all and they all reciprocally love him. Is not the exchange of feelings between them fair? Incidentally even in the case of several children, a father's love for each of them is always greater than the love of each child for the father.
The most amazing part of the above statement is that it has been made by a person who advises the husbands to respect their wives' love-affairs with strangers and not to interfere in them. He gives the same advice to the wives also. Does he believe that the exchange of feelings between a husband and a wife will still be fair?
FROM THE ANGLE OF BEHAVIOUR
In the case of polygamy the relations between co-wives are proverbially notorious for incongruity. A woman usually regards the co-wife as her worst enemy. Plurality often induces wives to action against each other and occasionally against the husband also. It creates malice and turns the family atmosphere, expected to be an atmosphere of sincerity and serenity, into a veritable battlefield. Enmity and rivalry existing between the mothers passes on to their children and two or more blocs are formed. The family atmosphere, instead of being the first school of moral training for the children, turns into a school of dissensions and inhuman behaviour.
There is no doubt that polygamy has all these evil effects. But one point must not be overlooked. We have to see whether they are the natural effects of plurality or the product of the unreasonable attitude of the husband and the second wife. We believe that most of the evil effects are not the direct result of plurality, but are the consequences of its wrong implementation.
Suppose a husband and a wife live together and lead a normal life. In the meantime the husband comes across another woman and takes a fancy to her. After a secret understanding between the two, the second woman raids the house and takes undue advantage of the husband, and challenges the authority of the first. It can be easily imagined what the reaction of the first wife would be. There is nothing more disturbing to a woman than the impression that her husband despises her. To be unable to retain the affection of her husband is the biggest failure of a wife. When the husband takes to arrogance and licentiousness and the second wife plays the role of a freebooter, it is useless to expect the first wife to be patient.
But the things will be different and the internal conflict will be greatly reduced if the first wife knows that her husband is justified in having a second wife and that he is not fed up with her. The husband also must not assume arrogance nor should he indulge in sensuality. After having a second wife, he should more than ever be kind to his first wife and should more than ever respect her feelings. The second wife also should remember that the first wife has certain rights which are to be respected. In short, all the parties concerned should remember that they have taken a step to solve a social problem.
The law of polygamy is a progressive solution of a social problem and is based on the broader interests of the society. Those who execute it, should possess a standard of high-thinking and should be well-trained in the Islamic ways.
Experience has shown that if the husband is neither licentious nor arrogant and the wife is convinced that he needs a second wife, she herself volunteers to arrange the second marriage of her husband. In such cases the aforementioned troubles do not arise, as most of them result from the misbehaviour of the husbands.
FROM THE MORAL ANGLE
It is said that polygamy means indulgence in sensuality. Morality demands that the gratification of sexual desire is minimised, for the nature of man is such that the more he indulges in sex, the more intense his yearning for it becomes.
Montague in his book, 'Spirit of Laws', while dealing with the question of polygamy, says: "The King of Morocco has, in his harem, women of all races including white, yellow and black. Even if this man had twice as many women as he has, he still would have craved for more. Sensuality is like miserliness. The more it is practised, the more intense it becomes. As the collection of more and more gold and silver intensifies greed and avarice, indulgence in polygamy promotes vicious and unnatural ways of love-making, for in the field of sensuality every act which exceeds the limit encourages perversion. When disturbances broke out in Istanbul, not a single woman was found in the harem of the ruler, because he indulged in unnatural love-making (homosexuality).
This objection can be looked at from two angles. Firstly, it has been claimed that sexual acts are repugnant to pure morality and that sexual desire should be controlled to the utmost extent. Secondly, it has been asserted that human nature is such that the more a man indulges in sex, the more intense his yearning for it becomes.
As regards the first view, it may be said that unfortunately it represents a wrong thinking. It has been inspired by Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Cynic ideas of morality based on renunciation. From the Islamic point of view, it is not correct to say that the less the gratification of sexual desire, the more moral it is. (Perhaps according to this theory perfect morality means no gratification at all). It is only excessive indulgence which is regarded by Islam as repugnant to morality.
To ascertain whether polygamy means excessive indulgence let us see whether by nature man is or is not monogamous. As stated earlier, now nobody believes that man is purely monogamous or that polygamy is an act of perversion. To the contrary many sociologists are of the view that by nature man is polygamous and monogamy is as unnatural as celibacy.
Though we do not believe that man is polygamous by nature, we also do not believe that he is purely monogamous and that polygamy is unnatural and a sort of perversion like homosexuality.
Those who, like Montesquieu, regard polygamy tantamount to licentiousness, have harems in their mind. They think that Islam, by allowing plurality, wants to provide an excuse for the harems of the Abbasid Caliphs and the Ottoman Sultans. But in fact Islam is totally opposed to such a thing. The terms and conditions laid down by Islam in respect of plurality are such that the chances of licentiousness are absolutely eliminated.
As for the second point: that the more the natural desires are satisfied, the more they grow and the more they are suppressed, the more they are pacified, it is diametrically opposed to the current Freudian theory.
According to the Freudists, instinctive desires are pacified if they are satiated, hut if they are suppressed, they become violent. That is why the Freudists advocate complete freedom and the violation of all traditional restrictions and restraints in sexual matters. I wish that Montesquieu had been alive today and had seen how his theory is being ridiculed by the Freudists.
From the Islamic point of view both the theories are false. Human nature has its own laws and limits which must be recognised. It becomes passionate both as a result of privation as well as unrestricted freedom.
Anyway, neither polygamy is immoral and disturbing to spiritual peace, as Montesquieu and the like presume, nor is it against human nature, to be content with one or more legal wives as the Freudists claim.
FROM THE LEGAL ANGLE
By virtue of a marriage contract both the husband and the wife belong to each other, and each of them has a right to enjoy the other. As far as the marital benefits are concerned, the marriage contract creates a sort of proprietary right. In the case of polygamy it is the first wife who has the first claim to the marital benefits, and as such any transaction between the husband and another wife is ultra vires, for the goods under transaction, as marital benefits may be called, have already been sold to the first wife. Hence no subsequent transaction can be valid without her consent. As such, if polygamy is to be allowed, its validity must depend upon the consent and agreement of the first wife. She should have the right to decide whether she can or cannot allow her husband to have another wife.
This means that to have a second, third and fourth wife is just as if a person had sold his property to a person and then resold it to a second, third and fourth customer. The validity of such a transaction will depend on the consent of the first, second and third buyers respectively. If the vendor actually delivers the property to the subsequent buyers without such a consent, he is liable to prosecution.
This objection is based on the presumption that the legal nature of marriage is that of exchange of benefits, and that each of the husband and the wife owns the marital benefits accruing from the other. Though this presumption is not sound, for the present we do not want to dispute it. Let us presume the position to be actually so. But this objection can be valid only in case the husband takes another wife only for fun. Obviously if it is admitted that the legal nature of marriage is that of exchange of marital benefits, plurality of marriage is not justifiable only so long as the wife can in every respect meet the lawful needs of her husband. But if there exists any of the justifying causes mentioned earlier, the objection becomes void. For instance, if the wife is barren or has attained the age of menopause and the husband is still in need of a child, or the wife is sick and not fit for cohabitation, the right of the wife will be no bar to plurality of marriage.
This is the position in case polygamy is only a personal requirement of the husband. But if it is a social requirement, for example, if women outnumber men in a society or the society needs a larger population, then the case is quite different. In such cases, plurality is a duty which is to be performed by an adequate number of men. It is a duty to be carried out to save the society from corruption and prostitution or to increase the population of the community. When it is a question of social duty, obviously the question of the consent and permission of the wife does not arise. Suppose in a society women outnumber men or the society needs a larger population, then a social duty devolves on all married men and women which should be carried out by an adequate number of them in the spirit of self-sacrifice. This is exactly like the case of conscription. The defence of the country devolves a duty on all families to send
their dear ones to the front for the sake of the society. In such cases there is no question of the consent of the parties concerned.
They who maintain that justice demands that polygamy must depend upon the consent of the existing wife, look at the question from a narrow angle. They think that a husband always wants to have more than one wife only for pleasure and variety. They forget that there can be other individual and social needs also. Basically plurality of marriage should not be acceptable even with the consent of the existing wife, if no individual or social need is involved.
FROM THE PHILOSOPHICAL ANGLE
The law of polygamy is repugnant to the principle of equality between man and woman as human beings. As man and woman both have equal rights, either both of them should be allowed to practise polygamy or neither of them. It is a pure and simple discrimination to allow man to have several wives and not to allow woman to have several husbands. To allow man to have up to four wives means that the value of a woman is only one-fourth that of man. This position is derogatory to woman and is not even in keeping with the Islamic view in respect of inheritance and evidence. In respect of giving evidence, two women are regarded as equal to one man.
This is the most flimsy objection. It seems that the critics have paid no attention to the individual and the social causes of polygamy. They think that it is only a question of passion. Hence man and woman should be treated equally. We have already discussed the cases in which polygamy is justified. We have also pointed out the circumstances in which a duty in respect of a husbandless woman devolves on all married men and women. Hence, it is not necessary to dwell on this question any more.
It is enough to say that if the teachings of Islam in respect of polygamy, inheritance and evidence had been due to any apathy to woman's rights, and had Islam discriminated between man and woman as human beings, it would have held a uniform view on all relevant questions. In the case of inheritance it would not have allowed woman only a half of the share of man in some cases and an equal share in others. Similarly, in the case of evidence there would not have been different rules in different cases. All this shows that Islam has some other philosophy. We have already explained the question of inheritance in a preceding chapter. We have also pointed out elsewhere that from the Islamic point of view the question of equality between man and woman as human beings is a part of basic human rights. Anyhow, while dealing with family rights, Islam has taken into consideration certain other aspects also which are more important than the question of mere equality.
ROLE OF ISLAM IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF POLYGAMY
Islam neither invented polygamy (for it had been in existence for centuries before the inception of Islam), nor did it abolish it, for there existed no other solution of certain social problems. Islam only reformed this ancient custom.
Before Islam, one could have an unlimited number of wives and could form a harem. Islam prescribed a maximum limit. It did not allow anyone to have more than four wives. Those who had more than four wives at the time of embracing Islam were required to release the extra wives.
We come across the names of several such people in the early history of Islam. A man named Ghaylan bin Aslamah had ten wives. Another man named Nawfal bin Mu'awiyah had five. The Holy Prophet ordered them to part with their extra wives.
The Shi'ah traditions report that during the days of Imam Sadiq (P) a Zoroastrian embraced Islam. He had seven wives. The Imam was asked as to what that man should do with his wives. The Imam said that he must part with three.
JUSTICE AND EQUAL TREATMENT
Another reform introduced by Islam was the condition of giving equal treatment to all the wives. Islam does not allow any discrimination between the wives or between their children. The Holy Qur'an expressly says: "If you [ear that you will not do justice (to them) then have one only". (Surahan-Nisa,4:3)
The Pre-Islamic world observed equality neither between the wives nor between their children. We have already quoted Christenson and others who say that during the Sassanian period polygamy was customary in Iran. One or more wives were called favourite wives and they enjoyed full rights and others known as servant-wives had lesser legal rights. Only the male children of the servant-wives were recognised to be the members of the paternal family.
Islam abolished all such customs and usages. It does not allow any wife or her children to be regarded as inferior to the other wife or children of her husband.
Will Durant in his book, History of Culture, Vol. I, says:
"When a person accumulated wealth he feared that if it would be divided among all his children, each one of them would receive only as small portion of it. So he felt anxious to make a distinction between his real and favourite wife and other mistresses to enable the children of the real wife only to inherit from him."
This shows that in the ancient world discrimination between the wives and between their children was common. Anyhow, surprisingly enough Will Durant adds: "Till recently this continued to be the case in Asia. Gradually the real wife took the position of the sole wife. Other wives either disappeared or became clandestine mistresses."
Will Durant did not take notice of the fact, or he did not want to do so, that 14 centuries ago Islam abolished discrimination between the children. To have one real wife and several secret concubines is a European and not an Asian custom. It has only lately infiltrated into Asia.
Anyhow, the second reform which Islam introduced in the domain of polygamy was the abolition of discrimination between the wives and between their children. No form of favouritism with any particular wife is permissible. Almost all jurists are unanimous on this point. Only a few minor juristical schools have interpreted the rights of women in a way that smacks of discrimination. But there is no denying the fact that their view is in contradiction with the correct interpretation of the Qur'anic passage. The Holy Prophet is reported by both the Shi'ah and the Sunnis to have said: "He who has two wives but does not treat them equally and shows leaning towards one of them, will be raised on the Day of Resurrection in such a state that one side of his body will be dragging along the ground. He will eventually go to Hell".
Justice is the greatest moral virtue. To prescribe the condition of justice and equal treatment means that the husband is required to be in possession of the highest moral qualities. As the feelings of man in respect of all his wives usually are not the same, observation of justice and abstinence from unequal treatment is one of his most onerous duties.
We all know that the Holy Prophet, during the last ten years of his life, that is, during the period of his stay in Madina, married several women. This was a period of Islamic wars and at that time the number of women, who had nobody to look after them, was quite large. Most of the wives of the Prophet were widowed and aged. Several of them had children by their former husbands.
The only maiden he married was Ayesha, who often proudly said that she was the only woman whom no husband other than the Prophet, had ever touched.
The Holy Prophet, always gave strict equal treatment to all his wives and never discriminated between them. Urwah bin Zubayr was a nephew (sister's son) of Ayesha. He inquired of his aunt as to how the Holy Prophet treated his wives. Ayesha said that he treated them with justice and complete equality.
He never gave preference to anyone of them over anyone else. Almost daily he called on every wife and inquired after her health etc. He passed the night with one wife, turn by turn. If by chance he wanted to pass a night with another wife, he formally came to the wife whose turn it was and took her permission. If the permission was given, he would go, otherwise he would not. Ayesha said that she personally declined to give permission as and when he asked for it.
Even during his last illness which led to his death and when he was too weak to move, the Holy Prophet scrupulously adhered to the principle of equality in his treatment with his wives. His bed was shifted from one room to another daily. At last, one day he called all his wives and asked them to permit him to stay in one room. With their permission he stayed in the room of Ayesha.
At the time when he had two wives, Imam Ali (P) was so particular that he performed even ablution before prayer (wuzu) in the house of the wife whose turn was there.
Islam attaches so much importance to the principle of justice and equality in treatment that it does not allow the husband and the second wife to enter into an stipulation at the time of their marriage, by which the second wife agrees to live on unequal terms with the first wife. This means that it is an obligatory duty of the husband to treat each wife on terms of strict equality, and that he cannot renounce this responsibility by entering into a prior agreement with anyone of his wives. All that the second wife can do is to forego some of her rights for practical purposes. But no such condition can be stipulated, nor is it possible that she should not have equal rights. Similarly, the first wife also can voluntarily forego some of her rights for practical purposes, but she cannot formally renounce them.
Once Imam Baqir (P) was asked whether by mutual consent it could be stipulated that the husband would visit one of his wives only once a week or once a month, or that the maintenance allowance of one wife would not be equal to that of another wife. The Imam said that such stipulations were not valid even with the consent of any wife. By virtue of marriage, every wife was entitled to full marital rights. All that she could do was to forego some or all of her rights after marriage, either to please her husband or for some other reason.
With all these strict moral conditions polygamy becomes a duty instead of being a means of pursuit of pleasure. Pursuit of pleasure and licentiousness are possible only in an atmosphere of complete freedom to pursue one's desires. But where there is a question of discipline, justice and duty, there can be no room for lewdness.
Those who indulge in licentiousness under the pretext of polygamy misuse an Islamic law and the society has every right to call them to account and punish them.
APPREHENSION OF NOT DOING JUSTICE
To be fair, it must be admitted that the number of those, who observe in letter and spirit all the conditions laid down by Islam in respect of polygamy, is very small. According to the Islamic law, if a man apprehends that the use of water may be harmful to him he should not perform ablution for prayers, and if he apprehends that fasting may be harmful to him he should not keep fast. You come across many people who inquire of you whether they should or should not perform ablution, or whether they should or should not keep fast, for they apprehend that performing ablution or keeping fast might be harmful to them. Such inquiries are in order. Such people should not perform ablution and should not keep fast.
But the Holy Qur'an specifically says that if you fear that you will not treat your wives equally, you must have only one wife. Still you do not come across a single person who may say that he apprehends that he might not be able to treat two wives equally, and may inquire whether in his circumstances he should or should not have a second wife. It is evident that some people knowing well that they will not be able to do justice, still have several wives. They do so under the cloak of Islamic law. These are the people who bring a bad name to Islam by their unworthy action.
Another reason why Islam is criticised for polygamy is the system of harems adopted by the former caliphs and sultans. Some Christian writers and missionaries have described polygamy in Islam as equivalent to the system of harems with all its shameful and cruel aspects.
Unfortunately some of our own writers who, like a parrot repeat the ideas expressed by the Europeans, unnecessarily associate polygamy with harems. They are not endowed with enough independence of thinking to be able to distinguish between the two.
Besides the condition of justice and equality of treatment, there are also other conditions which a husband has to fulfil. We all know that a wife has a number of financial and other rights which the husband has to discharge. A husband has the right of having more than one wife, provided his financial condition allows him to do so. Financial soundness is a pre-requisite to monogamy also. Anyhow, we skip over further discussion of this question.
Physical and sexual potentialities are another pre-requisite.
It is reported in Al-Kafi and Al-Wasail that Imam Sadiq (P) has said that in case somebody collects several women, while he is not fit to satisfy them all, he will bear full responsibility if any of them takes to sin.
The historical accounts of the harems narrate many stories of young women, who, forced by the pressure of their sexual urges, had recourse to sin and occasionally became the cause of crimes and murders.
By now our readers should have become aware of the causes of polygamy and why Islam has not abolished this system. They should also have become aware of the conditions and limits prescribed by Islam in this respect. Islam has not disparaged women by allowing this system, but has rendered a great service to them. If polygamy is not allowed even where women of marriageable age outnumber men, women may become worthless toys in the hands of men. They may be treated worse than slave-girls, for man recognises the child of a salve-girl as his own, but he makes no such commitment in respect of his mistresses and concubines.
MODERN MAN AND POLYGAMY
Modern man is averse to polygamy, not because he wants to be content with one wife, but because he wants to satisfy his sense of variety by indulging in unlimited adultery, for which ample facilities are available. Sin and not fidelity has taken the place of polygamy. That is why modern man is opposed to plurality of wives which commits him to many duties and responsibilities, financial and otherwise. In the past, even for a licentious man, opportunities of sin were limited. That is why he had to take recourse to polygamy and, in spite of evading many duties, he still had to shoulder certain responsibilities in respect of his wives and children. The modern man who has ample opportunities of enjoyment does not see any necessity of making the least commitment. Hence he is averse to polygamy.
The modern man employs women as secretaries, typists etc. for his enjoyment, and credits the expenses to the account of the government, his firm or any other organisation in which he may be working, without having to pay a single penny from his own pocket.
The modern man changes his mistress after every few days without undergoing any formalities of dower, maintenance and divorce. M. Tshombe was vehemently opposed to polygamy, but he always had a young, beautiful secretary at his side whom he changed every year. With such possibilities there is evidently no need to countenance polygamy.
We read in the life account of Bertrand Russell, who was a severe opponent of polygamy, that two women, besides his grandmother, played an important role in his life. One was his wife, Alice, and the other was his sweet-heart, Morrel. Morrel who was one of the most prominent women of that period, was on friendly terms with a number of the writers of the early 20th century. Evidently such a man could not support polygamy.
Apparently it was Russell's extra marital love which put an end to his relations with Alice. He himself writes that one afternoon, while he was going on a bicycle to a summer resort in the suburbs, he suddenly felt that he no longer loved Alice.