Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Polygamy in Islam Essay

Polygamy in Islam Essay

The world is paying more attention than ever before to Muslim countries, a lot of the world policies are made to improve the quality of life there, proclaim democracy, spread freedom, etc. However, the treatment of women in some of these countries is still the cause of utter shock. What must be said is that this treatment represents tribal rather than Islamic values, so fairly it cannot be said that Islam officially proclaims unfair treatment of women. Moreover, in the past the women in Islam were probably much more liberated than other women of that time. They had more rights than in any other world civilization — except for modern Western civilization. If compared to early Christian, Hindu, or Chinese civilization in the 7th century, women in Islam were much more emancipated and had more rights. They could divorce, inherit property, they led the armies and set an important part in the development of the Islamic literature and culture.

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It is also significant to remind that the first person to convert to Islam was Khadija, the Prophet’s Mohammad’s wife. She was a regular merchant who widowed soon after the wedding. The Islamic history states that Khadija herself proposed to Mohammad and was by his side when he started receiving the revelations. This one event proves that women have a major role in Islam, so they must be treated equally or even superior to men. However, women in Muslim countries are not treated equally and this is not an assumption, it is a solid fact.

So the questions that must be posted should be as follows: if women had played the major role in the foundation of Islam why did it happen that they are discriminated? And what was the cause of change in the way Muslim women were treated? The change came when the European colonization arrived in the Middle East and South Asia. It was then when the Muslim women were put into seclusion and locked behind the walls of their houses. They were put into shawls called burkhas that cover their body from top to toes, leaving only the eyes open. This occurred because men no longer felt safe and sound – they were not secure, they were vulnerable — and did not know how to save their culture, laws, and women in particular from the European influence. The response they came up with was locking up their women, and it is really easy to understand why they decided to do it. Women in the Muslim nation have always symbolized honor and dignity, and with the arrival of the European culture, the Muslim men started being afraid to lose this honor and dignity. The change in the way women were treated was a defensive response to the spread of European civilization. They were hidden from the eyes of the Europeans in order to be protected, however an attempt to protect did not have the wanted result.

The arrival of the European has also created some kind of ignorance in the Muslim society, and men started to deny the rights women used to have. Such as for example right to property, inheritance and education. At that point a kind of perversion of Islam took place. And we are seeing some of the aftermath of that today, being astounded and shocked by the laws towering above the Islamic culture. One Islamic law that seems to be the biggest controversy for the western world is the issue of polygamy. In my paper I would like to cover this divisive issue, trying to look at it from both sides: the western and Islamic, still focusing on the discrimination and unfairness women experience while being in a polygamous marriage.

Polygamy is a very ancient practice found in many human societies and various religions. The Bible did not censure polygamy, moreover the Old Testament and Rabbinic writings often prove the full legality of polygamy. “King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3) King David also is said to have many wives and concubines (2 Samuel 5:13).The only restriction on polygamy is a ban on taking a wife's sister as a rival wife (Lev. 18:18).” It must be mentioned that Jesus is not know to have spoken against polygamy. So this proves it was a common practice in not only Islam but Christianity and Judaism.

To begin with it should be clarified that Islam does not oblige polygamy as a universal practice and Mohammed himself was a monogamist and lived with Khadija until she died. According to the Muslim traditions, engaging in polygamy has been done for the purpose of “solving many social and domestic problems”, which a family faced (Muslim Matrimonial). There is a direct quote in Quran about the polygamy that is stated as follows: “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.” (Al-Quran 4:3)So it is clear that there are rules that must be kept if one wants to engage in polygamy, and that is not obligated but rather encouraged. It is very hard to be objective on the subject of polygamy, because we, as western Europeans, find this issue, to be simply downright astonishing. Still in Islamic culture it is considered that plural marriage helps to increase “the numbers of the ummah” that is the nation of the Muslim community. The increase of the amount of the representatives of the Arabic tribe can be reached only by the increasing the number of offspring gained through plural marriages. Of course, the amount of offspring gained from a marriage to one wife will be smaller indeed. (Ahmed)And that is one of the reasons polygamy got such popularity within Muslims.

As it was already mentioned, people of Islamic religion advocate that polygamy can be the solution for many problems. These arguments definitely make sense, though they seem rather odd for a modern person. The most obvious example of the necessity of polygamy occurs in times of war when there are inescapably large numbers of widows and girls whose fiancĂ©es and husbands did not come back from the battle field. In such a situation widows and young girls are left without any chance to marry or get remarried and have kids. The polygamy helps in this case by providing an opportunity for every woman to be somebody’s wife and mother. (Westermarck, 43)

Other circumstances where in an Islamic tradition the marriage to more than one wife may be preferable are as follows. For example, the first wife may be chronically sick and in this case a second, third or fourth marriage could be an adequate solution. Again there are women who are unable to have children, while the husband very much wants them. And he also can achieve the joy of fatherhood through marrying again, together with keeping the first or first two wives (Azim). It is also considered that men's sexual needs are much greater than those of women. And as all healthy women go through periods or give birth to children and it is not possible to have sexual intercourse with them during these periods thus men need more than one wife in order to be sexually satisfied at all times of his life (Ali Engineer).

It cannot be denied that the arguments for the polygamy in Islam seem to be obvious but let’s look at polygamy from the perspective of woman, and we will see how these arguments can be easily rebutted. To begin with, “it is not at all biologically proven that woman's sexual needs are any less than men”, yes women seem to be less sexually active, but it is their “social conditioning” that makes them that (Ali Engineer). It is also cannot be said that a man is created simply as a sexual beast and “he cannot control his sexual activity during menstrual period of his wife” or when she gives birth to his child. (Asghar Ali)Thousands of men all over the world are capable of this and they do not even consider it such a complicated thing to do. Without a shadow of doubt, people, men in particular are frequently guided by sexual instincts, however marriage is not all about sexual satisfaction it is much more than that. It is about being committed, sharing good and bad times and, developing the trust and reliance between the spouses, not only satisfying the sexual desires. Furthermore, polygamy puts a woman under pressure that cannot be left without notice. Women are much more sensitive and vulnerable than men, they need full love and devotion. Even though Quran states that one should take a second or more wives only if he is ready to treat them equally we all know that loving couple of women equally strong is impossible. When a husband marries another woman the first wife spends less time with him, because his spare time has to be shared between her and other wives. (Westermarck, 42-42) She is experiencing the feeling of jealously, since the woman likes to have full attention and full unshared adore from her partner. It also brings family chaos since the husband spends less time with the children. The woman receives less money from her husband because the money has to be shared equally between more people. All the stated above leads to the rise of life dissatisfaction and turns the life of a woman into vegetation.

That is true that the lives of women in Islamic countries are rather difficult. Nevertheless, let us not paint it “in black and white” (Abd al-Ati). We should not forget that there are some Muslim women who hold posts in politics nowadays. For example, there is a woman president in Indonesia, female prime ministers in Pakistan and Bangladesh, several female deputy prime ministers in Central Asia, and a female vise president of Iran.(Abd al-Ati) However as long as such an issue as polygamy persists, the discrimination of women in Arabic countries will also persist.

So, to my mind, what should be done is that the Islamic women should be brought from the position of “chattel” in marriage to that of equal partners. They should switch from a completely impotent bystander in the matter of divorce, to one who could start the divorce proceedings and claim her rights of dot and inheritance. They should become legal personalities and stop being the legal nonentities. And for sure, in couple of decades, or maybe years they will manage to achieve it by themselves and with the help of the world community.
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