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Islamic Society ( 17 Aug 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Messenger Muhammad’s Polygyny Practice and Folklore: Different Picture Emerges on Re-Examination of Quranic Codes


By Rashid Samnakay, New Age Islam

August 18, 2013

In the conventional sense of the word ‘Polygyny’-a man marrying multiple wives, that is, with conjugal rights with many women, was an established practice from ancient times in all communities, cultures and religions. Some of the bygone prophets are said to have had hundreds of wives and concubines similarly too the Emperors, kings, the rich and those of higher status. This was accepted in keeping with their status and entitlement.

It was then and is also the reflection of the status of women in societies.

The imbalance of male/female ratio that was caused by WWI and WWII where the men soldiers perished in large numbers; the sociologist say gave rise to myriads of social, moral, economic and labour problems.

Some of the solutions to these problems though helped liberate the female in many ways.

To some extent a few of these problems still exist in the West. Yet it had not taken any steps to redress it nor adopted Polygyny as a solution to legally redress the situation.

Although some societies even in the West, would practice Polygyny on the basis of their religion and pursuit of freedom, if it was legally allowed. However socially, the society there has evolved in far more liberal attitudes to the extent that one can have as many ‘partners’ as one wish to have.

In the current complexity of world politics and military strategies adopted for wars and civil conflicts, for over three decades in the Muslim world in particular; one would suspect the imbalance and problems besetting the widows, single women and orphans being left behind in large numbers almost on daily basis, surely must be traumatic!

Some such problems were faced by the small community in the very early history of Muslims. The Quran has given general guidelines to address this imbalance; on emergency basis.

NB. A reader of any book, particularly one that is famous and has acquired certain notoriety in the folklore, approaches that book with preconceived “attitude” to its contents, its author and the main character depicted therein. This is specially the case with religious Scriptures. Here then is an example from Quran, its Message and the Messenger Muhammad. A second look at the practices of Muhammad on this issue paints a different picture of his marriages. In this respect:

Chapter Four, ‘Nisa’- Women- gives the following and is quoted in full with appropriate emphasis in bold italics:-

4-2: “Orphans in the community are like your family members (33-5). Be vigilant in guarding their rights (4-127). Protect their property honestly, and give it to them when they have come of age. Do not exchange their valuables with your worthless items, nor consume their property by combining it with yours: doing such would be grave offence”.

4-3: “If you fear that you (the society) shall not be able to do justice with orphans (as may happen in times of war and political turbulence, the government shall announce a state of emergency), then, in order to accommodate widows and orphans, men of sound finances and character shall be encouraged to marry these widows; two, three and four (4-127). But if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (4-34, 17-70, 18-28 & 20 for additional ref.), then, you must not take additional wives, and may continue with what you already have (4-129). This will be more suitable to prevent you from doing injustice and face financial hardship. (Second marriage during peace time is a frank violation of Quran – note if you fear…)”.Translation by Dr Shabbir Ahmed’s Al Quran.

The phrase ‘…two, three and four’ is then significant in terms of it excluding the first marriage as being one with conjugal rights!

Among further ordinances are the commands against any kind of compulsion in marriage, and against taking more than one ‘wife’: for there are not two hearts in your chest: 4-19, 20, and 33-4

But the society at large has taken liberties and shelters either under the umbrella of ‘freedom of choice’ and/or under the canopy of religious dogma, to circumvent the emergency condition, even when it does not exist!

To quote In Quranic terms–Nikah-is:  “……taken from you a very solemn pledge” (4-6):-

It is a Contract between physically and intellectually mature man and a woman 4-21 and is therefore an understanding of a solemn, legally binding pledge within the agreed terms of a contract. Marriage is therefore, a legal contract and not a religious issue at all.

For example, in Western society higher echelon and royalty, long legal contract is drawn for marriage on important issues such as sharing property, divorce settlement, the size of family, and even including the right of name change for the woman after marriage etc.

The marriage contract is not a matter to trifle with as it has legal, social and family and even community implications, and hence it is necessary to agree on its specific terms.

It stands to reason that a contract cannot be undertaken by a minor, let alone a child to understand its full impact on their life (“till they come of age”)!

On the issue of Muhammad’s multiple marriages, which took place after he had moved to Madinah to take refuge from the citizens of Makkah; the emergency situation created by the numerous defensive wars he and his people had to fight, was the obvious reason for him to give shelter and protection to war widows and divorcees- that is, the orphans on both sides of the conflict.

When these emergency conditions did no longer exist, the source Book tells us that these women were given the freedom to terminate the marriage contract they had entered into with the Apostle 33-28.

A very brief overview of Muhammad’s married life as is known commonly and accepted is:

He was aged over twenty when he married his first wife Khadija, a woman of independent means, and senior to him in age and that she was twice divorced before. Fifteen years with her, the apostle had sired four girls and two boys. However, the boys both died in infancy.

 After Khadija passed away in Makkah, he had not married there, till after he moved to Madinah. Surprisingly none of these details are given in Quran, except for alluding to the Apostle being made self-sufficient 93-7. in later life and also not being a father of any Man 33-40!

Significantly, it is also given that he had one more child, a son from one of them, out of so many women he is supposed to have had under his marriage contract in Madinah. This son too died in infancy. This child was not from the so called ‘child bride’ virgin that he is alleged to have married, against Quranic edict!

 Were they then all barren women, except the one? For it is established that he certainly was not impotent in the Madinah era!

So these conclusions arise:

- The Apostle married only one woman at a time in Makkah and then in Madinah with conjugal rights, that is, union in the marriage bed?

- That all his marriages, as man of means and head of State in Madinah, were to fulfil his obligations for protection of women’s rights?

-That the terms of marriage-contracts contained specifically agreed conditions for provision of protection and security to number of women during Emergency conditions only?

-That this number was capped to four, with conjugal rights with only one?

 The Quran ordains:-

1-    Marriage Contract can be drawn between a Man and Four Women to provide them protection and security under emergency situation only, when it is declared by the State.

2-    That the above is NOT Polygyny in the conventional sense with conjugal rights with multiple wives, and that is not allowed.

3-    The Union in the marriage-bed for procreation, between the man and one of the women amongst them is maintained as the principle code - that is Monogamy.

A second look at the Apostle’s married life therefore shows that he had followed, the ordained Codes (18-110)!

With this example it is therefore incumbent upon the enlightened people to have a second look at the Codes in their scripture so as to comply with the moral and ethical standards that prevail for all times for a civilised society and to take practical steps to bring about a change (13-53, 8-11) from imbalances in all aspects.

For example the wanton killing of innocent and non-combatants in the name of religions and misguided, unjust Jihad and Crusades, is denying the scriptures. A different picture then emerges from the relevant verse of Quran:-

“5-35: It is ordained that…if anyone kills a person -- unless it be for spreading mischief in the land—it would be as if they committed genocide of mankind and if any saved a life, it would be as if they saved the whole mankind…”.

A message with profound impact!

A regular contributor to New Age Islam, Rashid Samnakay is An Australian-Indian retired Engineer