The Issue with Polygamy
Polygamy can be defined as the practice or custom of having more than one wife or husband at the same time. In Islam, it is forbidden for a woman to have more than one husband however Men are allowed to have up to four wives. This is something which causes a lot of heated discussion in non-Islamic communities, but ironically Islam was the first religion and really only religion to set a clear restriction on how many wives a man may have. The reality of polygamy is that it is a marriage arrangement that can benefit some people and some communities in some situations. It is not a practice confined to Middle Eastern or Muslim countries, in fact it is found worldwide, and ranges across cultures and religions.
It’s often stated by non-Muslims that polygamy is something of disgust as Muslims do solely for sexual reasons however this disgusting statement is invalid as men have been told that they may not marry again purely for sexual reasons.
What is about polygamy that seems so daunting? Is it that polygamy takes into account the true nature of men and women? Alternatively, is it perhaps that the majority of those who practice polygamy lead moral upstanding lives? What is it about this modern society that allows and even sanctions bad behaviour? Men and women pass into and out of relationships with little thought of each other or the resulting children. The sanctity of marriage is passed over in favour of serial monogamy and de facto relationships. Men are encouraged to take mistresses and girlfriends but a man, who wants to take more than one legal wife, in order to assume responsibility for her and their children, is condemned.
There are contexts where the practice of polygamy becomes more of a social necessary than a personal need, especially when the number of women in a society exceeds that of men. Generally women outnumber men. During war times the proportion varies further, as men are more likely into account situations like this, when polygamy becomes socially indispensable, and permits it conditionally.
It is incorrect to presume that Christian and Jewish religions have always been opposed to polygamy. Polygamy was practiced, to varying degrees throughout the history of the three monotheistic religions- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Torah and the Bible do not condemn the practice of polygamy rather some of the most esteemed and respected Prophets and Kings practiced polygamy, including Abraham, David, Jacob, and Solomon. However while there is no condemnation, there are also no restrictions on the practice of polygamy. Many Hindu religious personalities, according to their scriptures, had multiple wives. King Dashrat, the father of Rama, had more than one wife. Krishna had several wives. In earlier times, Christian men were permitted as many wives as they wished, since the Bible puts no restriction on the number of wives. It was only a few centuries ago that the Church restricted the number of wives to one. According to Talmudic law, Abraham had three wives, and Solomon had hundreds of wives. The practice of polygamy continued till Rabbi Gershom ben Yehudah issued an edict against it. The Jewish Sephardic communities living in Muslim countries continued the practice till as late as 1950, until an Act of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel extended the ban on marrying more than one wife.
Practicability? Even if every man got married to one woman, there would still be more than thirty million females in U.S.A who would not be able to get husbands (considering that America has twenty five million gays). There would be more than four million females in Great Britain, 5 million females in Germany and nine million females in Russia alone who would not be able to find a husband.
Suppose my sister happens to be one of the unmarried women living in UK, or suppose your sister happens to be one of the unmarried women in USA. The only two options remaining for her are that she either marries a man who already has a wife or becomes public property. There is no other option. All those who are modest will opt for the first.
In Western society, it is common for a man to have mistresses and/or multiple extra-marital affairs, in which case, the woman leads a disgraceful, unprotected life. The same society, however, cannot accept a man having more than one wife, in which women retain their honorable, dignified position in society and lead a protected life. Islam prefers giving women the honorable position by permitting the first option and disallowing the second.