Polygamy (Part I): What Does God Say?

July 6, 2006 § 6 Comments

I would like to raise a topic that will likely bring varying feelings and emotions to the forefront, that topic is polygamy. It is my most sincere intention to shed light on the subject of polygamy by bringing hard facts of our American Society which need serious attention, I intend to prove that many of these social ills can likely be resolved by and through polygamy in a decent and honorable way for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

The TorahFirstly, as a devotee to any religion the first thing we must do in our lives and decision making is decide whether our decisions are lawful according to our religion in other words, according to God. So how do we do this, well as most religions rely on our Holy Books to answer what is permissible and what is forbidden the answer is simple. In other words we must address our Holy Book first. For Jews this means the al-Torat (the Torah), Christians should consult the Bible and Muslim will of course consult our beloved Qur’an. But what do these Holy Books say about polygamy surely they condemn them or else it would not be illegal in our country, right? No this is not correct… in al-Torat (the Torah) it says,

“If [a man] takes another [wife] for himself, he shall not diminish her sustenance, her clothing, or her marital relations. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go free without charge, without [payment of] money” (Shemot/Exodus, 21: 10-11).

There are several noble examples in al-Torat of men having multiple wives. Some of these men include: The Prophets Ibrahim a.s. (Abraham), Yaqub a.s. (Jacob) and then Gideon, Uzi and Dawud a.s. (David). I believe it is clear from these examples that at least in Judaism polygamy, although not necessarily popular, is permissible and not forbidden.

BibleHowever what about Christianity? We have already cleared the acceptance of polygamy in al-Torat (The Old Testament). But what does Isa ibn Marayam a.s. (Jesus the Christ) or his disciples have to say about it? Well Jesus does not address this issue in his own words according to the New Testament. But in First Timothy, the Apostle Paul warns imams (community leaders) against polygamy for fear of slander when he writes,

“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach” (The First Epistle to Timothy, 3: 2).

It then reads,

“Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well” (The First Epistle to Timothy, 3: 12).

Consequently, polygamy is not forbidden in the New Testament by God, nor condemned by Isa ibn Marayam a.s. (Jesus the Christ). It is however suggested by Paul of Tarsus that clergy should take one wife to protect them from things like slander, gossip and reproach. Therefore contrary to current trends and opinions the Bible (Old and New Testaments) does not forbid nor condemn marriages to more than one wife.

The Qur'anThis brings us to Islam, and the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.). As one of the three Abrahamic religions it too relies on the examples and lives of Prophets and figures from the historical accounts in al-Torat (the Torah). Likewise during the life of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) he too was married to more than one wife and being al-Qur’an (The Holy Book of Islam) revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) is also from the God of Abraham, it is most likely that the consistency will remain that polygamy is permissible in the site of God. But let us review text to support this:

“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.” (An-Nisa, 3)

This ayah (verse) is well known by all Muslims and will not be disputed! In this ayah (verse) God does not forbid polygamy rather He does that which had not been done previously which was limit the number of wives that a man can take to four (4). In the New Testament it was the Apostle Paul suggesting to clergy of the Church to take only one wife. But here in Islam God not only limits the number of wives but also admonishes ALL men that if a man is not able to deal with more than one wife justly than limit yourself to one.

In addition the Prophet of Islam (s.a.w.s.) left us a well documented Sunnah, a tradition of his sayings and practices recorded by his family and companions and thoroughly scrutinized by scholars as to prevent corruption and ensure accuracy. And in the Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w.s.) Sunnah we find him saying this about marrying women: Anas (Allah be pleased with him) reported that some of the Companions of Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) asked his (the Prophet’s) wives about the acts that he performed in private. Someone among them (among his Companions) said:

I will not marry women; someone among them said: I will not eat meat; and someone among them said: I will not lie down in bed. He (the Holy Prophet) praised Allah and glorified Him, and said: “What has happened to these people that they say so and so, whereas I observe prayer and sleep too; I observe fast and suspend observing them; I marry women also? And he who turns away from my Sunnah, he has no relation with Me.” (Sahih Muslim, 8: 3236).

Another authentic hadith (saying) of the Prophet of Islam peace be upon him was recorded by Sunan ibn Majah saying:

When the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) was asked if he would permit his son-in-law Ali to marry another woman, he said that he would not, “…unless and until Ali ibn Talib divorces my daughter, for surely she is part of me and what troubles and agitates her, troubles and agitates met too; and what harm befalls her befalls me too.”

So from this we can conclude that in all three traditions God does not forbid polygamy. Polygamy is neither forbidden in the Holy Books nor is it condemned in the traditions of God’s Messengers. However, what is clear particularly in the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad is that: marriage to multiple wives is not recommended for every household, it is recommended however, when the marriages are fair, acceptable and benefit a larger community.

My conclusion is that marrying one woman is preferable, as the ideal marriage, like that of the Prophet Adaam (a.s.) or the Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w.s.) monogamous marriage to Khadija for more than 25 years (until she died). Conversely, when the result of marriage to more than one wife is of a benefit to the greater community it may reasonably surmount the inherent problems of such marriages and be welcomed as suggested in the lives of noble Prophets. Yet if a polygamist marriage does not significantly benefit the greater part of the group than it is not advisable, as illustrated in the hadith related by Sunan ibn Majah (above).

To be continued…

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§ 6 Responses to Polygamy (Part I): What Does God Say?

  • the bloke says:

    If you read the Exodus in context, it is about a man who purchases a young girl as a slave. The instruction here has to do with if this slave girl was purchased as a wife for the man’s son, then the slave girl must be treated as a daughter. However, if the son decides to marry another woman instead, then this slave girl who was intended to be the wife of the son must be treated with dignity and freed. It is not about polygamy.

    However, even though the Old Testament does have instances or examples of polygamy, there isn’t any clear commands, recommendations or suggestions to encourage it.

    Is it a sin? Again, no direct prohibitions in (the Christian) scriptures, except for those you refered to for elders and deacons (who, incidentally are not necessarily clergy), and other indirect descriptions about the marriage relationship (man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, etc.).

    Is it for today? It is doubtful given contemporary history of men, women and families.

    I am not sure about the writings of Islam and Judaism, though.

  • Abu Sahajj says:

    “If you read the Exodus in context, it is about a man who purchases a young girl as a slave.”

    Have you taken a good look at this entire blog! Do you really think that I have not read the entire passage of text to which I cited a portion?

    Incidentally, I have… but what is being done here addresses what has been said in the Prophetic text about marriage to more than one woman, all though the entire context is important only part (as long as it is consistent with the entire meaning) is significant.

    However, thank you for your comments and support.

    Wasalaam.

  • the bloke says:

    Interesting move. No, I haven’t read your blog in its entirety, but I have read the Old Testament passage. I did not accuse you not to have read the entire passage, but merely applying a basic principle of interpretation of any piece of literature, which is to locate its meaning in situ, and pointing out that the context of the particular passage doesn’t support any argument for polygamy.

  • Abu Sahajj says:

    I did not accuse you not to have read the entire passage, but merely applying a basic principle of interpretation of any piece of literature, which is to locate its meaning in situ, and pointing out that the context of the particular passage doesn’t support any argument for polygamy.

    Nor does it condemn it! So it seems that if the Holy Book does not condemn it, and the Prophets themselves practiced it, polygamy is neither sin nor perverse and is acceptable except according to whatever trend is fashionable today in Rome… I assure you sir, it is not out of context.

    I would rather follow a Prophet and the Holy Scriptures than a newfangled sophist criss-crossing all moral limits to satisfy masses of ignobles.

    If you wish to push the issue further then a challenge may prove the context is correct: Provide text from any of three Holy Books (Torah, Bible, Quran) that forbid or condemn polygamy as sinful or a distasteful thing to be avoided (other than what I have already presented). If you cannot provide this I suggest you gracefully withdraw.

  • […] Some of you whom have read my first article may wonder what has caused this interest in polygamy. Some may have concluded this is just some Muslim’s way of spreading his culture in America. Others of you may have thought of your own reasons for supporting polygamy. But my reason’s for researching and writing these essays about polygamy may not be what you think. […]

  • Ida tasha says:

    “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; ”

    dude, u missed out the “ye shall not be able to deal justly with orphans”…

    you can only practise polygamy if u fear that u can act equitably to the orphans, and that u want to treat them justly.

    salaam.

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