Polygamy in Muslim communities of UK is on the rise according to some British media which seems to know very little about Islam, exactly as some Muslims in UK are ignorant about their own faith.
British Muslim men claim they love ‘their wives’ equally according to a BBC radio show. And some British press such as a report by Sue Reid, published on the Daily Mail on 24th September 2011, even fabricated a lie that a Muslim man is married to 5 wives, even though she could not prove that in her report. She even made a horrible claim that Muslim men marry more than one woman to exploit the benefits system, and that “Two experienced Lancashire social workers told her” in their estimation there are 20,000 bigamous or polygamous unions in the UK” but she failed to mention the identity of those claimed “experienced” social workers and in what field they are experienced, or where they got their estimation from.
I am not going to discuss her double standards report that obviously reflects bias and uses alarming vague expressions such as “a huge rise of bigamy in Muslim communities” or the fact that she missed out to mention the high percentage of unlawful and multiple relationships outside wedlock in other communities, who are in my humble opinion are as bad and as unfair exploitation of women as polygamy. Yet the remote possibility that there is a rising trend of marrying more than one woman among British Muslims is extremely worrying and has to be addressed for both sides’ interests. The sides I am talking about here are those who are in favour of polygamy and those who are against such practice.
A good percentage of Muslim men misinterpreted a verse of Quran that talks about the maximum number of four wives a man can marry at a one time. Some of them not only believe they are allowed to get married up to four wives, but some even think they should do so.
Those few men believe that Islam is addressing them and requesting of them to marry more than one wife. And by marrying more women they are saving Muslim women from becoming spinsters, by protecting their chastity and increasing the number of Muslims by having more children, outnumbering other nations, regardless of their financial circumstances or living conditions, and by doing so, they are doing a great service for humanity. Marrying more women from their point of view is their ‘Jihad’. This misinterpretation of Quran calls for a closer look at the Islamic texts to better understand this controversial issue.
It is extremely important to understand the Middle Eastern society 1400 years ago, when the verse of Quran that talked about polygamy and having four wives was received. Polygamy before that moment was the norm in most societies and faiths, and for many years before Islam.
Polygamy before Islam was allowed with no limitations on the number of wives a man can marry or any conditions. Women used to be passed on to the males of the family in some tribes as part of inherited properties, exactly like one inherits a piece of furniture as Sheikh Essa Yahiya Almoafa Alsharif has mentioned in one of his articles.
According to religious texts, the prophet David had 1000 wives, Jacob had more than one wife too and even the Church acknowledged polygamy until the seventeenth century. There is no clear text in any of the four bibles that bans polygamy, while in the Old Testament or the Torah there are explicit texts that legalize polygamy in the religions of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and Solomon.
In this kind of society where all faiths allowed polygamy with no limitations, Islam was born and had the challenge to fix the ills of society gradually.
The polygamy problem had to be dealt with on stages exactly as Islam dealt with alcoholism that used to be an important part of the social life but at the same time it was the main cause of wars and fights between tribes usually ignited by two drunken people.
Islam had to face some other challenges like ending slavery and eradicate discrimination and offer women the right of education, inheritance and marriage. But those ills were difficult to deal with all at once. This is why the change had to happen on steps; otherwise such sudden reform would have been difficult to achieve. Especially when Islam acknowledged the fact that it is difficult to wean an alcohol dependant society suddenly, that’s why consuming alcohol came on stages. The same happened to put limits on polygamy.
When Islam came, men used to come to the prophet to declare their embrace of Islamic faith while they were married as many as 10 wives or even more. The prophet then used to request of men to keep only four as a maximum number and divorce the rest because men will not be able to cope with providing and caring emotionally and financially to all women and their children equally which is supposed to be a condition of marriage .
The fact that polygamy was misunderstood has to be clarified. The “Four” wives some Muslim men consider an open invitation to polygamy, was legislation to gradually ban polygamy exactly as the gradual legislation of banning alcohol and slavery. The proof is in the Quran itself where the Almighty says in the Quran in Sura 4:3: “And if you be apprehensive that you will not be able to do justice to the orphans, you may marry two or three or four women whom you choose. But if you apprehend that you might not be able to do justice to them, then marry only one wife”.
But why the verse mentioned the orphaned when discussing polygamy?
In pre-Islamic Arabia, guardian men used to marry the orphan girls under their care to take care of them since there was no established welfare system. In pre-Islamic days men could marry as many women as they wanted. So the Quran limits the number to four, and preconditions that this may be allowed only if the man could keep care of them all and treat them all equally.
But because men of faith are males not women, they kept what suits their own desires. They usually talk about the permission to marry up to four wives but they stop there, not completing the verse that preconditions total equality between the wives, and most of all, that God said, it is impossible for a man to offer total justice between women and for that reason a man should keep only one wife. ”But if you apprehend that you might not be able to do justice to them, then marry only one wife”.
None of the polygamous marriages in Muslim communities in UK offer women total justice. In many marriages one wife lives in a room at her in laws residence, while the other lives independently in a place of her own. In some cases one wife works and contributes to the household running costs while the other does not. Some men spend the day with one wife and the night with the other. All such examples violate God’s condition of total equality. On those grounds and in such conditions polygamy should not be permitted from Islam’s point of view.