By Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam
15 Jan 2013
Why does Islam allow Muslim men to marry more than one woman? If Muhammad (pbuh) “stands at the highest pinnacle of behaviour” should he not be emulated in marrying even more than 4 wives? Why is polyandry disallowed in Islam?
To answer these common, yet often troublesome questions, we need to see the bigger picture. By just looking at one aspect will often lead us to reach faulty conclusions.
Let us see what the Quran says regarding marriage.
“If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly [with them], then only one, or [a captive] that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice”. Ch 4 Verse 3
A few verses later Allah reminds us that we will never be able to deal with them justly.
“Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire: But turn not away [from a woman] altogether, so as to leave her [as it were] hanging [in the air]. If ye come to a friendly understanding, and practise self-restraint, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” Verse 129.
There are two things worth noticing in these verses: first, that Allah, although gives men permission to marry more than one wife, He also warns us that we will commit injustice to them. Secondly, Allah tells us that if we have already married more than one and we are not able to deal with them justly (as this will always happen) then we should not leave anyone of our wives as it will cause us to commit double sin: sin of injustice and sin of deserting our wives.
So these verses when taken as a whole lead me to conclude that polygamy, though allowed in the rarest of the rare of cases is looked down upon by God because of the sin of injustice being tied to the neck of a polygamous man.
One must remember that in the Pre-Islamic era, the Meccans buried their daughters alive. Women were, for them no more than a physical body. They mistreated them, they beat them and they gave no right to them. When Islam came, Muhammad (pbuh) tried to change all of this. He gave women the most important right, that is, the right to life. He gave them the right to marry a man (according to their choice).
It is a known fact that during wars more men died which led to a substantial rise in the number of widows. The Quran protects women by allowing widows to remarry. Those men who were already married could also marry them. Muhammad (pbuh) married some widows and sheltered them and protected them.
Those who say that Muhammad (pbuh) was a womanizer should sanely note that this man remained committed to a woman, who was around 15 years older than him, for 25 years (and she was the one who proposed him and not vice versa). If our beloved Prophet peace be upon him really sought sexual pleasure, then he would have married young virgins. He didn't practice polygamy for the sake of sexual pleasure at all. The Quran distinctively allows Muhammad (pbuh) to marry more than 4 due to exceptional reasons. Most of his wives were either widows (older than him in age too) or divorced women (also most of them were either older or same age). Only one of his wives was a virgin, and he only married her because her father was his best friend. He wanted to strengthen that relationship. And it was her father who offered her to Muhammad (pbuh).
To put it in one sentence- men are polygamous in nature, women are not.
This sentence may or may not shock people but those who study evolutionary psychology have ample proof that men “need more”. During most of our evolutionary process, more than 80% of all human societies were polygamous in nature, mainly for survival reasons.
It is a fact that most men are promiscuous in nature; it is hard-wired into his brain. Modern man is equipped with a large hypothalamus and enormous amounts of testosterone to fulfil his ancient urge to procreate. It is to be understood that in talking about men’s urge to procreate, I am not promoting an excuse for infidelity. Human biology is dangerously out of date.
A man can have so many wives because his hard-wired brain wants his “tribe” to be the most populous. But a woman, even if she has more than one husband cannot “produce” more than one child at a time. It does not matter whether she has 1 husband or 10, she will be able to conceive only one at a time and then she has to go through that gestation period which requires huge amount of care.
The safe conclusion that can be drawn is that Islam gives permission for men to marry more than one woman, but it is seen in a negative light. Although men’s genes are inclined towards polygamy, our genes come into effect only in the presence of the environment. There are some recent studies done on the condition of the families whose males have married more than one wife. The study says that polygamy leads to higher levels of crime, violence and poverty and gender inequality.
We have to keep these things in mind. One thing that must be remembered is that if religion and its teachings are not reformed and brought up to date with the present time then our minds will get fossilised.