Polygamy should be outlawed in the Islamic world


Farzana Hassan

Polygamy, or the practice of taking multiple wives still exists in some parts of the Muslim world. In the Middle East, where the incidence is perhaps the greatest, men try to observe the strict Islamic condition of treating wives fairly and kindly, ensuring they all receive equal treatment in every aspect of their lives.

Muslims therefore, accept polygamy as a social institution worthy of being preserved for posterity, as holistically speaking, for them, its advantages far outweigh its disadvantages.
Proponents of polygamy argue that the institution in fact favours women, freeing them from the clutches of moral and social degradation. The chain of argument is as follows: Muslim women are better off sharing a husband rather than adopting a life of spinsterhood where they may even have to peddle themselves just to survive.
But again, this must boil down to who makes the decisions. It is a question of choices and the right to make those choices. A mindset that justifies polygamy often ignores the right of women to carve their own destinies. Though Muslim society does not stipulate polygamous unions, social pressures in many patriarchal societies often force women to sometimes marry men who are already married. Women who opt for a more independent lifestyle on the other hand, often face opprobrium both from their relatives as well as from society at large.
Conversely, one hears the argument that women sometimes opt for polygamous relationships. While women certainly have the choice to enter any kind of matrimonial arrangement, provided their choice is indeed genuine, first wives are often excluded from such decision-making. Polygamy is regarded as a man’s prerogative to be exercised howsoever he chooses, often without regard to his first wife’s feelings.
This necessitates a discussion on the merits of polygamy as a fair institution. If one looks a little closer, the Quranic condition of fairness imposed on men itself seems a bit superfluous. An institution which is inherently unjust cannot accommodate fairness due to its very nature. An arrangement where one man is shared by several women is intrinsically unjust, no matter how much care he exercises in maintaining parity among them. It is as absurd as telling someone to commit murder with kindness.
Polygamy also causes extreme emotional distress not only to women, but also to children who must often endure great disruptions to their lives.
The Muslim world must strive to deliver social and legal equality to women. Outlawing polygamy would constitute an important first step towards achieving that end. It is a highly exploitative institution that in no way favours women. Simply a cover for adultery, it unfairly privileges men, while ignoring the sentiments of women. It is about time the institution was shunned by Muslims across the world.

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