The concept of polygamy is something I’ve never been able to come to terms with. Despite the many arguments put forward for it, I just have never been comfortable with the idea that a man can marry more than one woman, whereas a woman can’t. I simply can’t imagine being in love with a man and having him marry another woman, or even just knowing that he could if he wanted to.

“And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course.”

Many scholars have put forward the argument that it was only for that specific time and context: there had just been a war, and many women were without husbands (and therefore protection), and thus polygamy was a good solution. In today’s context, however, it no longer makes any sense.

Other scholars have put forward the idea that the Qur’an is in effect disallowing polygamy because of the following verse:

“You cannot be equitable in a polygamous relationship, no matter how hard you try.” (4:129)

In effect it seems to say that man cannot treat all his wives equally, and thus shouldn’t try. However, another argument was put forward that says that God only meant legal and financial equality. Unsurprisingly many fundamentalist Muslims hold this view, and I never bought it until a few days ago when I read this in a book by an author I respect:

“It is clear, from both the Qur’anic rules of marriage and the Prophet’s own example, that equality of treatment refers strictly to legally enforcable matters such as a woman’s right to her own household.”

He (Malise Ruthven) doesn’t elaborate on the “Qur’anic rules of marriage” that he brings up, but he is right about the Prophet’s example – the Prophet did have a favoruite, Aisha. Thus his example may mean that the Qur’an is only referring to legal and financial matters, and not emotional/sexual/other matters. Is this a widespread view? I would not be surprised if many conservative ulama hold this view, but what about other Islamic scholars, and what about Muslims in general?

This finding has gotten me all bothered about polygamy again. I just can’t bring myself to be 100% okay with it, which of course makes me feel guilty since it’s in the Qur’an. A big part of me thinks there must be an explanation for it, but I’m not sure what it is. I was sure about the above-mentioned argument about the Qur’an in effect saying men cannot treat 4 women equally, but if this author is right then the argument is no longer valid.

What do you think?


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