Asmaa Al Hameli | July 29, 2013
I was recently asked to photograph a Ramadan Etiquette session. The lecturer encouraged questions about Islam and one of the women asked about polygamy in Islam which reminded me of the conversation I had a with one of my fellow Christian friends.
Anna was intrigued to know about my family and lifestyle. Somewhere in middle of those chats, I told her that my father has two wives and my mother is the second one. The shock on her face was indescribable.
She paused for few moments and asked me: ‘Does your mother have any rights?’
I laughed at her reaction because she thought we were deprived of our rights and lived under subjugation, the way media often portray women and Islam.
I explained that some men have multiple affairs, behind closed doors, outside of wedlock. But it is these same individuals who cannot accept a man having more than one wife. What have been the consequences of such illicit affairs? Too often these dalliances result in illegitimate children and the women are little more than sex objects. What happens to these children when they grow up? I know my lineage and I am not ashamed to say I have two mothers because the whole family and society know about my father’s marriage. I would be extremely ashamed of my parents if I came to this world as the result of a hidden relationship.
My friend was curious about how my father managed to share his time with both wives. I explained that he provided both his wives with a house and tries his best to fulfill all their needs, which is the primary condition of polygamy. It is a huge responsibility. She continued to bombard me with questions on the subject, but finally, posed the most thoughtful question: Who does he favour? I was stuck here because I do know how my father feels toward both of them.
This is why Allah says in the Quran Verse 129: “You will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire”. The verse is talking about emotional side of polygamy because we have no control over our hearts. My father might feel more comfortable around my mother or vice versa. A parallel can be drawn elsewhere in our lives. I have a lot of friends and appreciate them, but I have that one, special friend, with whom I share all of my secrets and sorrows. I give this friend the title “Best Friend” although I cherish all of my companions.
Islam did not invent polygamy but only regulated it in favor of women.
In the past weeks, several media outlets have been reporting about how Syrian girls have become a business commodity as they are married off to men in the Gulf countries as well as in Britain and France.
The Quran chapter Women, Verse 3 addresses this: “And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry women of your choice, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then marry only one”. The verse was revealed after the battle of Uhud in which the Muslims not only lost against the pagans, but also faced a decrease in the number of men. Similarly, we have lost more than 90,000 people in the Syrian civil war that has left so many women widows, and orphans.
Who will take care of these widows and orphans? God has given the permission to take more than one wife, but only on the condition that the man can be just with them socially and economically. If not, he must remain with one bride. In the case of orphans, they are always an easy target so the verse is telling the men to marry orphans when they are of age, and only if they can properly care for them. If not, they must stay away from innocent orphans. Some Muslim men take another wife in the name of polygamy and exploit a woman’s honor and dignity, which is apparent in the case of some Syrian refugees, but this is the exception and outside the teachings of the Quran.
Islam puts a limit to number of wives a Muslim man can have and it is not obligatory, only permissible if the man can fulfill the criteria. The purpose of allowing this practice is not to support a man’s personal ego, but to solve a major social problem.
Polygamy is not exclusive to Islam, but unfortunately, Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) is often singled out as a polygamist, which is rather surprising. The Bible and Torah speak of Polygamy. Prophet Ibraham and Jacob (Peace be upon them both) had more than one wife. And let’s not forget Prophet Solomon (Peace be upon him) who had more that 700 hundred wives.