Matrimonial happiness and prosperity consists in purity, sincerity, forbearance, sacrifice, oneness and unity, while all these things are exposed to danger in polygyny.
Besides the unusual condition of the wives and the children with two different mothers, as also the man himself, there are such burdensome and bewildering responsibilities that to meet them is to do away with all pleasure and ease of life.
Most of those people who are satisfied and happy with polygyny are those who practically ignore the religious obligations and moral responsibilities. They take an interest in one wife and totally neglect the rights of the other wife and, in the words of the Qur’an “leave her alone like someone hanging on.” This thing these people call polygyny is, as a matter of fact, some thing in the nature of monogamy with some added cruelty, crime and savagery.
There is a vulgar saying common among people. They say, “One God and One wife.”
Most men had and still have the same belief. If we regard the joy and pleasure of life as the criterion as reflect on it from an individual and personal point of view, then that is the correct belief for them. It may not be universally true for all men, but for the majority of men it is the correct one.
If a man thinks that polygyny, with all its religious and moral obligations, is in his interest, and considers it worthwhile for his own pleasure, he is seriously mistaken. There is no doubt that monogamy, from the point of view of personal joy and well-being, is preferable to polygyny, but…..
A correct analysis:
Research into the right or wrong of matters like polygyny which arise from personal and social necessities is not correctly done by comparing it with monogamy.
Correct research into this kind of problem depends, or the one hand, on keeping in view the causes and motives that necessitate their coming into existence, and then seeing what the consequences are and why they are usually ignored. Then, on the other hand, we should take into account the evil effects and the consequential shortcomings that arise from these very problems. It is only then that a judicious and overall examination of the effects and consequences that arise from either side of the problem can be made. It is only in this way that problems of this nature, in their real form, can be seriously propounded and deliberated upon. To explain myself I would like to give an example. Suppose we want to think about conscription. If we look at it from the angle of the benefits and advantages to the family to which the man, recruited under compulsion, belongs, undoubtedly the law of compulsory military service is not a good law. How good it would have been if there had been no law of conscription, and the dear ones of the family had not gone far away, and, it may happen, if they had not been dragged in the soil and blood of the battlefield.
Anyhow, it is not correct if we look into this problem in this way. The proper way to analytically solve this problem is that along with attention to the separation of the son and the fear of loss to the family, the consequences of the non-existence of the country’s defensive forces should be kept in view. It is only then that one can realistically and logically arrive at the conclusion that a number of the sons of the homeland should be prepared to go as soldiers to defend their country, and that their families should bear the sufferings consequent on military operations.
We hinted in our preceding discussion at the personal and social needs which sometimes justify polygyny. Now we propose to look into the disadvantages and ill consequences of polygyny, so that a basis may be available for a thorough examination of the problem. By the way, we want it to be understood that, while we admit that there is series of unfortunate consequences in polygyny, we nevertheless do not accept some of the objections and misgivings raised against it, as will soon be made clear. The disadvantages of polygyny which are worth mentioning are many, and we shall discuss them under different headings.
From the psychological point of view:
Matrimonial relations are not limited to material and physical matters, that is, they are not confined to bodily and monetary matters. If they had involved only this much, polygyny would have been justifiable because the material and physical things could be shared among numerous individuals and to everyone a part could be given.
In matrimonial relations the main and basic thing is the spiritual and emotional aspect. This is love, emotions and the feelings. The focus and point of unison for matrimony in both ides is the heart, Love and feelings, like other psychological matters, are not divisible and cannot be divided into portions. It is not possible to distribute and ration them out among several persons. Is it possible to cut the heart into two halves, and devote it to two situations? Is it possible to surrender it to two individuals? Love and adoration knows only one person and does not acknowledge a partner or a competitor. It is not like barley and wheat which can be weighed out and distributed to everybody. Besides that, the feelings cannot be controlled: man is under the control of the heart while the heart is not in the control of man. So the thing which is the real spirit of matrimony, its human aspect which distinguishes two human beings from two animals, which is not limited to sexual and instinctive drives, is neither divisible nor controllable, and so polygyny is out of question.
We believe that the above statement is somewhat exaggerated. Though it is true that the real spirit of matrimony is the feelings and the sentiments and that it is also right that heart- felt emotions are not under the control of man, to say that the feelings are not divisible is merely a poetic fancy and deceptive fallacy. There is no question of dividing any particular sentiment into two parts, like dividing a physical body and handing over to each one its share, in justifying idea that emotional matters are not divisible. The question is to do with the mental or emotional capacity of a human being. Undoubtedly the emotional capacity of man is not so limited that he is unable to be attached to more than one person. A father may have ten sons, and he may love them all to the point of devotion, and make all sorts of sacrifices for them all.
We certainly accept that love and the sentiments to not rise to the same height in the case of several persons as they do in the case of a single individual. The rising of love and the sentiments to such heights does not fit in with polygyny, just as it does not fit in with reason and logic.
In Marriage and Morals, Russell says: “Many persons of the present age consider love the equitable exchange of sentiments and this argument by itself, leaving aside all other arguments, is sufficient for the rejection of polygyny.”
I am at a loss to appreciate this proposition. If he claims that the exchange of sentiments should be equal and reciprocal, and as a consequence should be exclusive and monopolistic, the proposition is just not tenable. When a father loves his several children and those children, likewise love their father, the reciprocity is not evenly balanced. Many a time, the position that in spite of the sons being several, the attachment of the father to every one of his sons outweighs the attachment of each son to the father.
What is surprising is that this thing is said by a man who is always exhorting husbands to honour the love of their wives for a stranger, and who says they should not stand in the way of their wives’ love affairs. He correspondingly puts in the same advice for the wives. According to Russell, is the exchange of sentiments then still equal between husband and wife?
The point of view of up-bringing:
A rival wife is a bi-word for discord. For a woman an enemy deadlier than a rival wife does not exist. Polygyny opens the way for confrontation and strife between the wives and in certain cases with the husband also. The environment of married life, which should be a milieu of peace and cordiality, is transformed into a battlefield, into a site of malice and revenge. The enmity, rivalry and hatred between the mothers are transmitted to their respective children. Two or more hostile groups are formed. The family environment which is the first school and spiritual nursery for children, and should be the inspirer of righteousness and courtesy, becomes an institute of discord and foul play.
There is no doubt that polygyny paves a way for all these unpleasant impressions in connection with the up-bringing of future generations. However, one salient point should not be lost sight of, and it is this: it should be examined how much these impressions arise from the very nature of polygyny and how much they are due to the attitude which the husband and the second wife assume. We believe that all these troubles do not arise from the nature of polygyny itself. Very many of these troubles spring from the way it is put into practice.
A husband and a wife live together and their life proceeds in its normal course till the husband comes in contact with a woman and is fascinated by her and the fancy for another marriage gets a hold of him. Then after surreptitious negotiations and secret agreements, all at once a second wife steps into the house, the previous refuge of the first wife, and grabs her husband and her life. The new-comer makes a surprise attack by night on the life of the first wife. Evidently the mental reaction of the first wife is bound to be nothing except that of grudge and revenge. There is nothing more distressing for a wife than to be despised by her husband. The deadliest defeat for a woman is that she should feel that she was unable to win and attain the heart of her husband, and see that somebody else has won him over. When the husband assumes an attitude of obstinacy and capriciousness and the second wife maintains the stance of a surprise attack, then to expect forbearance and fortitude from the first wife in these circumstances is hoping against hope.
However, if the first wife feels that her husband is justified in what he has done, and is not fully satisfied with just her, and that the bringing in of a certain number of wives does not mean giving her the cold shoulder, and if the husband on his part does not pose an attitude of willfulness, obstinacy and capriciousness, and if he adds to his regard, care and kindly feelings for the first wife; likewise if the second wife is considerate, and is alive to the fact that the first wife has certain inviolable rights and to encroach upon them is not permissible; if everyone concerned takes special care to take steps to solve a social problem, undoubtedly most of the infernal worries will be alleviated.
The law of polygyny arises from a progressive and advanced outlook in solving a great social problem, and so, inevitably, its promoters must put it into practice on a high moral level; they should be gifted with a higher Islamic vision.
It has been observed that in cases where the husband did not assume an attitude of willfulness and capriciousness, and the first wife acknowledged that her husband was really in need of a second wife, she herself took the initiative for that purpose and brought the second wife to the house of the husband, and none of the above-mentioned troubles were created. As a matter of fact most of the troubles arise due to the unmanly ways that men adopt in pulling this legal right into practice.
From the moral point of view:
They say that permission for polygyny is permission for a promiscuous and lustful life. It is permission for man to indulge in sensualism. Morality demands that one should lessen and combat ones passions to the lowest possible degree, for it is the nature of mankind that as much as one allows freedom to one’s passions, the appetite and desire increases, and the passions are all the more excited.
In L’Esprit des Lois, Montesquieu says concerning polygyny: “The King of Morocco has in his harem women of all races, white, yellow and black, but if he had twice that number even then he would have desired more women. The reason is that sensuality is like stinginess and meanness. The more one indulges in it the more it increases, just as when one gets a large amount of wealth, the greed for more wealth and riches increases. Polygyny also leads to the usage of unnatural (homosexual) love affairs, because, when someone is involved in lustful practices, any action which is in transgression of the normal limits induces one to other perversions. When there was a revolt in Istanbul, not even one woman was found in the palace of its ruler because he indulged solely in unnatural sexual practices.”
This objection should be examined from two aspects: One aspect is, they say, that good morals are incompatible with sex and that for moral purity sexual inclinations should be curbed to the lowest possible degree. The other psychological aspect, they claim, is that it is the nature of a human being that the more his requirements are met the more he longs for better and more, while the more these desires are curbed, the more he is relaxed and is calm.
Now, concerning the first aspect of the objection, we would regretfully say that it is wrong, The Christian code of ethics has self-mortification as its base and is impressed by Hindu and Buddhist ethics and the ethics of the Cynics. Islamic ethics is not based upon this maxim. Islam does not uphold the view that the more one curbs his passions the nearer he approaches to a higher standard of morality (and that if he curbs his passions to zero point, he is a hundred per cent pious), Excessive voluptuousness is, of course, incompatible with morality.
To decide whether polygyny is an act of extravagance, we should see whether man is by nature monogamous. In a previous discussion we arrived at the conclusion that today not a single person can he found who thinks that man is by nature monogamous and considers polygyny to be an act of excess and extravagance. On the contrary, the belief of many persons is that man naturally tends towards polygyny, and that monogamy is some thing like a bachelor’s life which is against the nature of man.
Although we do not subscribe to the view that man is by nature polygamous, yet neither do we maintain that the nature of man is monogamous, and that polygyny is against the nature of man, a sort of perversion which is against the nature of man like homosexuality.
Those like Montesquieu who consider polygyny equivalent to voluptuousness have their eyes on the question of the harem. They think that Islam meant leveling the grounds for the harems of the ‘Abbasid and Ottoman caliphs and others like them. Islam is against these acts more then anybody else. The limits and conditions that Islam has laid on polygyny have altogether barred a licentious man’s freedom.
We now take up the other aspect of the question that the more a person is provided with his requirements, the more his longings and desires are excited, and conversely, that the more a man’s desires are curbed, the more peaceful he becomes. This statement is exactly contrary to the belief which is nowadays held by the followers of Freud and regularly propagated by them.
Freudians say that human nature finds peace and tranquility by satisfaction and satiation, and by abstinence the longings and desires are intensified and stirred up. So this group is a hundred percent in favour of freedom and the breaking of all formalities and conventions, especially in sexual matters. We wish that Montesquieu were alive today to see how his theory is ridiculed by the Freudians.
In the view of Islam, both of these beliefs are mistaken. Human nature has rights and limitations, and those rights and limitations should be understood. Human nature rebels and is perturbed as a result of two factors. One is deprivation, and the other is being given full liberty, removing all checks and limitations.
However, neither is polygyny an immoral act, nor is it a cause for neither reproaches by the conscience, nor is it against piety as people like Montesquieu said; nor is being content with one legal wife or wives against morality, as the Freudians actually say.
From the point of view of rights:
By virtue of the marriage contract, each of the married couple is attached to the other and becomes part and parcel of the other. The right to get satisfaction and contentment is reciprocal, which means that each of the parties is equally entitled to all benefits which come from the other. On this basis, when the husband marries another wife, the first rightful person is the first wife. The deal that the husband concludes with another woman is, as a matter of fact, an ‘unauthorized’ contract. The reason is that the subject matter of the bargain, namely the benefits of marriage with regard to him have previously been sold out entirely to the first wife and are the parts of her rights. So the person who first of all matters is the first wife. If, however, the husband intends to marry a second wife it should depend upon the permission and consent of the first wife. It is really the first wife who is empowered to take a decision with regard to her husband and whether he should marry another wife or not.
For this reason marring a second, third and fourth wife is exactly like selling certain goods, which he has already sold to someone, for a second, third and fourth time to someone else. The genuineness of this transaction depends upon the consent of the first, second and third owners. If the seller actually transfers the said goods to the latter persons and puts them in possession thereof, he surely deserves punishment.
This objection rests upon our assuming that the nature of the rights created on account of the marriage is a deal of exchange of profits, and on our supposing that each one of the married couple is the owner of profits accruing from the other. I will not here discuss this interpretation, which is, of course, doubtful and objectionable. We may, for the while, suppose that the nature of rights created by marriage is as asserted.
This objection may be relevant only when this step is taken by the man for the sake of amusement and out of a desire for variety. Evidently, if the nature of the marriage union is an exchange of interests, and the wife is in a position in every respect to guarantee her husband’s interests, the husband would not be justified in taking another. However, in case mere entertainment and variety is not meant, but one of the grounds of justification which we pointed in our last articles, this objection would not be valid. For example if the wife is barren or has reached her menopause and the husband wishes to have children, or if the wife is ill and not fit to performance of the function of a wife, how could the objection is maintained? In cases like these the right of the first wife would not stand in the way of polygyny.
Anyhow, all this is if the justification of polygyny is a personal matter related to the husband. However, if there is social imperative, and polygyny becomes an altruistic obligation due to the excess of the number of women over the number of men, or if it is resolved to be necessary in the public interest to increase the number of the population, this objection would be viewed differently. On occasions like that polygyny would be a general obligation and a binding duty for the deliverance of society from corruption, immorality and prostitution; similarly when, for the increase of the population, this public duty is to be performed. Obviously where there is the question of a social duty, the permission and consent of anybody is meaningless. If we consider that society is really suffering from an excess in the number of women over the number of men, or is in need of an increase in the population, there is a duty for, and a general obligation on, all married men and women. There arises a question of sacrifice and self-denial for the married woman for the sake of an altruistic good. It is exactly like the responsibilities of rnilitary service which are faced by the families of the recruits. They should bear the heartfelt agony of parting with their dear ones and sending her to the battlefield. On such occasions as that it is a mistake to make it conditional on the consent and permission of the interested parties.
Those persons who claim that rights and justice demand that polygyny should be with the permission of the first wife have in their mind only those cases w hen that step is taken for the sake of pleasure and a desire for change and have altogether ignored the cases of personal as well as social necessity. In principle, if personal and social forces, do not exist, polygyny even with the permission of the first wife, is not acceptable.
From the philosophical point of view:
The law of Polygyny is inconsistent with the basic philosophy of the equality in the rights of men and women which rests upon their equality as human beings. As a man and a woman are both human beings, and have equal rights, they should either both be allowed to have several spouses or neither of them should be allowed to have more than one. However, the idea that a man should have the freedom to have several wives, while a woman should not have the freedom to have several husbands is an unjust discrimination, and an act of undue favour to man: To allow a man to have up to four wives means that the value of one woman is equivalent to one fourth of the value of man. This is an extremely insulting thing for a woman and is inconsistent with even the Islamic view in connection with inheritance and evidence where in the evidence of two women and the share in inheritance of two women is equal to the evidence and share in inheritance of one man.
This objection is one of the most foolish objections that are leveled against polygyny. It seems that those who try to find fault with polygyny have not given the least attention to the rationale and obligations of individuals and society. They seem to think that the only subject under discussion in connection with polygyny is its physical aspect, and that is why they say the sensuality of men is being attended to, but the sensuality of women is ignored.
As we have previously examined in detail the causes, obligations and cases of justification of polygyny, especially with reference to the situations where polygyny becomes a right of unmarried women to be claimed from men and married women, we shall not discuss the matter any more.
Here we shall only say this much that if the basis of Islamic philosophy in polygyny, inheritance and evidence were an insult to women and the result of indifference towards their rights, and if Islam had believed in discrimination between men and women, it would have consistently maintained this attitude. It would not have ordained in one place that a woman shall inherit half the share of a man and at other place ordained that a woman shall inherit as much as that of man. Similarly, on another occasion it would not have said that a man may marry up to four wives. It would not have commanded a particular course in particular situations. By this, it can clearly be understood that Islam has some other philosophy in view. In a previous section we have explained the matter of inheritance, and in another part we have said that in the view of Islam the matter of man and woman as human beings and the rights accruing from that position is a basic and fundamental matter. In the view of Islam, there are certain matters with respect to man and woman which are far above the question of equality, and it is necessary that these things should be scrupulously observed and enforced.