Page 126 - Islam In Focus

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of comparative Ethics. London: Chapman and Hall, 1951; E.A. Westermark, A Short
History of Marriage. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1926)
Turning to the case of Islam we find many people in the Western world who think that
a Muslim is a man who is possessed by physical passions and himself in possession of
a number of wives and concubines, limited or unlimited. Many more among these
people show a feeling of surprise when they see a Muslim with one wife or a Muslim
who is unmarried. They believe that the Muslim is at full liberty to shift from one
wife or a number of wives to another, and that this is as easy as shifting from one
apartment to another, or even as changing one’ s suit. This attitude is aggravated partly
by sensational motion pictures and cheap paperback stories, and partly by the
irresponsible behavior of some Muslim individuals. The inevitable result of this
situation is that stationary barriers have cut off millions of people from seeing the
brilliant lights of Islam and its social philosophy. And it is for such people that an
attempt will be made to discuss the question from the Muslim point of view, after
which anybody is free to draw his own conclusions
Polygamy as such has been practiced throughout human history. It was practiced by
prophets like Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, etc.; by kings and governors; by
common people of the East and the West in ancient and modern times alike. Even
today, it is practiced among Muslims and non-Muslims of the East and the West in
various forms, some of which are legal and some illegal and hypocritical; some in
secret and some in public. It does not require much search to find out where and how
a great number of married people maintain private mistresses, or stock spare
sweethearts, or frequent their beloved ones, or simply go around with other women,
protected by common law. Whether moralists like it or not, the point remains that
polygamy is in practice and it can be seen everywhere and found in all ages of history
During the time of Biblical revelations, polygamy was commonly accepted and
practiced. It was accepted religiously socially, and morally; and there was no
objection to it. Perhaps this is why the Bible itself did not deal with the subject
because it was then a matter of fact, a matter of course. The Bible does not forbid it or
regulate it or even restrict it. Some people have interpreted the ten-virgin story of the
Bible as a sanction for maintaining ten wives at a time. The stories of biblical
prophets, kings, and patriarchs in this regard are incredible
When Islam was re-presented by Muhammad the practice of polygamy was common
and deeply-rooted in the social life. The Qur’ an did not ignore the practice or discard
it, nor did it let it continue unchecked or unrestricted. The Qur’ an could not be
indifferent to the question or tolerant of the chaos and irresponsibility associated with
polygamy. As it did with other prevailing social customs and practices, the Qur’ an
stepped in to organize the institution and polish it in such a way as to eradicate its
traditional evils and insure its benefits. The Qur’ an interfered because it had to be
realistic and could not condone any chaos in the family structure which is the very
foundation of society. The benevolent intervention of the Qur’ an introduced these
1. Polygamy is permissible with certain conditions and under certain circumstances. It
is a conditional permission and not an article of Faith or a matter of necessity