Polygamy: Is it really that bad?
The word “polygamy” is reacted to diversely between the two genders. Women mostly see it as an insult and as abuse to their naturally weaker physical status. Men see it as a God-given right that strengthens their – wrongly understood – stronger physical status. Polygamy is the practice or condition of having more than one spouse, usually a wife, at one time and, in this article, we will scratch the surface of this sensitive topic and leave the judgement of whether it is a good or a bad practice to you.
Many people think polygamy was introduced by Islam, but that is a misconception. Polygamy has been present for ages and many prophets had multiple wives simultaneously throughout their lifetimes. The controversy here is that Islam is the only religion that mentions polygamy in the Quran, putting rules to it and organizing it in a manner that human nature can abide by.
Some of the basic rules laid down by Islam for polygamy are:
- Treating the spouses equally in all aspects, such as finances, spending time, affection, etc.
- Notifying the spouses of the presence of another wife
- Giving the first wife the freedom to choose between accepting sharing her man or separation
- Publicly announcing the marriages and not keeping them in the dark
Without indulging into the reasons Islamic scholars believe are behind the presence of polygamy in Islam, let’s take a look at how some men and women justify male polygamy:
- It is the nature of men that they are more sexually active than women so, instead of committing adultery, they prefer polygamy
- The ratio of men to women is heavier on the men side so, in order to give more women a shot at marriage, men practice polygamy
- Having kids, whether the first wife is unable to or whether the man merely wants more kids and does not want to burden the first wife with their responsibilities
- Out of sympathy for women who cannot financially support themselves
* Women who cannot completely satisfy their husbands’ sexual appetites may accept sharing him with another woman
* After passing a certain age, which varies drastically between women based on their beliefs, a woman may accept sharing a spouse with another woman
* Once again, if a woman is unable to have children, she may allow her husband to remarry
Of course these are not the only reasons for polygamy, but merely the most common ones.
The problem with polygamy does not lie in its presence or legitimacy. The problem with polygamy is in the manipulation of this legitimacy to satisfy one’s own selfish desires. Humans are not created without flaws, on the contrary; it is our flaws that make us human. In this case, the selfish pursuit of more than one sexual partner, for instance, can motivate a man to misuse his right to have multiple wives. A woman can also find it more beneficial for her to share her husband with another woman, perhaps for some twisted reason in her mind.
As Muslim women, we cannot forbid marital polygamy as it is ‘halal’ in our religion. But what most of us are unaware of is that Islam gives a woman the right to accept or reject sharing her man, meaning that a man is obliged to tell his wife he wishes to remarry and must divorce her if this is her wish.
What baffles me though is the fact that men choose to twist this right to their benefit and practice it in the dark, leading a double life filled with secrets and lies. To those men, I ask this; would you hide the fact that you prayed? That you fasted in Ramadan? That you helped less fortunate people? Then why hide something that is perfectly within your rights as a Muslim man? And why force a woman to share your bed when she simply does not want to? Here lies the explanation to the phrase “the wrongly understood stronger physical status of men” in the first paragraph of this article.
According to statistics, only 14,000 men out of the entire Egyptian population practice polygamy, but does this figure include the men who did not legally register their second marriages? And, if not, how many of them are there?
Is it fair for men to manipulate their legitimate rights to satisfy their desires? Why not stand up to those desires and answer to them the way they are supposed to be answered to; without degrading women and insulting them by not giving them a say in their own personal lives? Why assume that your wife will not accept the situation? And even if you, as a husband, are positive she will refuse it, why force it upon her?
How would you, as a man, feel if it was the other way round?