Monday, July 13, 2009

Rambling Think on Polygamy

You ever know one of those people who can confuse the hell out of you sometimes? Just...swing around and say crazy stuff seemingly out of the blue?

Anyway, one such person brought up polygamy the other day. It's an interesting thing, polygamy.

Something that's existed since, well, as far as we can tell, nearly the beginning of humanity. On the surface of it, it seems like it would be great for the man, but, in my opinion, if done 'right', it benefits the women more than the men.

But what's the 'right' way? Well, so far as I can find, Islam places the most restrictions on the practice. Which isn't to say that everyone *listens* to the restrictions, but they're there. I've by no means made an in depth study of it, so, of course, I may be mistaken.

This is my base understanding of the status of polygamy in Islam:

1. It is permitted - not obligatory, not encouraged, just allowed.

2. It's not to be done just because hubby wants to get his groove on. Ideally, it should be (apparently) practiced to benefit widows and orphans. Obviously this is not the only time that men would take more than one wife, but that seems to be when it was encouraged, so that they didn't become homeless and beggars.

3. Even then, men weren't allowed to marry as many women as they liked. The cap was set at four, *at the most*.

4. The man must be able to deal equally (and justly) with all his wives. Equally, not just in the material sense, but in all aspects for which the husband is responsible, including his feelings for them, his kind treatment of them. If he can't do that, then he should only marry the one. All the wives are equal, so the whole, First Wife, Second Wife, etc. in terms of 'power' in the relationship is counter to the ideal. Yes, there will always be the wife who got married first, second, yadda. And, as in all group things, different people will have different 'jobs', different strengths, and someone will have to be the 'leader' because otherwise some things wouldn't get done. But the 'first' wife shouldn't be considered better than the other wives.

5. It's a free choice of all involved parties. Hubby running off and marrying a second woman and then bringing her home and going, 'There ya go. Married again. Live with it.' is out, despite the fact that this does, apparently, happen. The first wife has the right, whether or not she can exercise it in 'Muslim' countries, which it is my understanding that she can't, to divorce her husband under such circumstances.

So, there. That's what's formed by basic ideas of what the 'right' way to do polygamy is.

Based on that, why is it (in my mind), a better deal for the women than the men? Assuming that all the above requirements are being met.

The man has to support two (or more) families. Just exactly the same. He can't buy a house for one and then make the second family live in a third floor walk up in the bad part of town. He must spread everything, including his love and affection, equally. When something goes wrong, trust me, he's going to be at fault. From two sides. A lot (all) of the burden is on him. And sex? Heh. Sure, it sounds good, in theory. Two (or more) wives, no waiting! But really...uh...ever hear the line, 'the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak'? There's only so much to go around, and with two (or more) women wanting their marital rights...yeah. Think about it boys. Solomon may have had seven hundred wives, but he didn't *have* them all that often, if you get my drift.

Of course, it's hard for the wives, too, don't get me wrong. Natural jealousy, sniping, if they live in the same house, cycles get synced, and wow, is that fun. The women, assuming again, that everyone is there willingly, and knew what they were getting in to, have a lot of work to do to make it all work as well. Children, schedules, on and on. It's a lot. On the other hand, you have another woman around, and if you can be friends, then yay! And assistance with kids, doctors appointments, housework, if you're feeling ill, second wife can deal with things, and vice versa.

This was an interesting little article, Polygamy in Islamic Law. There's tons of sites and articles and back and forth about whether or not Christian and Jewish polygamy should still be practiced. Some argue that the rise of monogamy is a cultural change, not a theological one. Also, I want this book, just as an aside: The History and Philosophy of Marriage
And, just one more thing, which feel is related, and it's my post, so you must live with that! :)
Mohammed, in my opinion, did a *lot* to elevate women of that time. This isn't just from reading Islamic-ly 'slanted' histories. I am not an expert, but I try to read from many different perspectives, with the belief that the truth is somewhere in the middle of all those opinions.
History, to a certain extent, is interpretive. None of us were there, and we have, in many instances, only the accounts of the ancient people to tell us what happened. And all of them slant the story to damn their enemies and elevate themselves. Understanding of the way women were regarded in so many ancient cultures will lead you to see the changes, for the better, that Mohammed brought. You read a *lot* of anti-Islamic polemic that accuses Mohammed of a *ton* of bad things. Mysogynist, pedophile, murderer, rapist, on and on. I've read as much as I've been able to, up to this point, which is by no means everything that's ever been written.
However, what I have read, and my own general knowledge cultures of the time, leads me to reject all the nasty, nasty things that get said. In my opinion, Mohammed was a great man of his time - no worse than anyone else, and a look at history, unbiased, will tell you that. Whatever else people may believe he was, denying that he was an excellent and revolutionary leader is akin to sticking your fingers in your ears, stomping your feet, and declaring that you just don't like it, so it's not true!
No, I don't believe that Mohammed was a Prophet - if I did, I'd be Muslim, wouldn't I? But I'm not going deny the man what I see as his just due, either.


  1. I agree with you about polygamy. It is so hard for the man to fulfill the requirements of polygamy! Of course, as you said, it's hard for the women too... So it's hard on both, and that's why I believe it should only be done to help widows and their children. I don't think it's necessary much here in Canada with the help they can get from the government and all that. But I accept it as part of Islam and have no problem accepting it.

  2. Interesting. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this topic.

  3. Candice,

    I think, if men were to look at themselves honestly, 99% would have to say: I couldn't do it! It's hard enough to get along one to another, let alone having a small committee.

    Which is why, in my opinion, the Qur'an flat out says, (though I can't recall the exact quote) it's basically impossible, and that it's better to just marry one. But, as in many things, people over look that parts that would stop them from doing what they want to do. :)

    Yeah, nowadays, in most developed countries, there's no need to take in widows and orphans that way, but back in the day? Definitely.

  4. Susanne,

    It's an interesting topic. I'm poking around the net, and sheesh. I never realized how many people (religious and non) have decided that polygamy is the best choice for them. It's apparently more widespread than I ever thought.

  5. Amber;
    You might be interested in reading "The Life and Religion of Mohammed" by Fr. J. L. Menezes. It is available from Roman Catholic Books; it can be a bit heavy in places, but it is not a hatchet job and points out well the problems his own culture had with him, notwithstanding Christians.
    By the way, I always enjoy visiting your blog!
    The Ann. Lurker

  6. The Ann. Lurker,

    Hee. It's like a title. I like it.

    Thanks! I bought it and am patiently (not so much, really) waiting for it to arrive. From the reviews it sounds very good.

    I'm glad you enjoy my ramblings. :)


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