“Women should be allowed four husbands,” says an “honourable” judge
An “honourable” judge of Kerala High Court, Mr. Kamal Pasha, has said that “Muslim Personal Law” is “heavily loaded” against women and that if men are allowed four wives, “why should women not be allowed four spouses?" I will not speak specifically about “Muslim Personal Law” the way it is implemented in India, but I will surely speak about Islamic laws, which are neither tilted in favour of men nor in favour of women. But thanks to modernism, even the “privileges” of women are turned into “burdens". Men, for example, can complain why should the responsibility to maintain and provide all the necessary items of use for them and their children fall on men alone. Sex is enjoyed by both, and the children have half of the genes coming from both sides. Why should then men alone be responsible for bringing money for them. And when there are physical threats or burdens, why should men alone be charged with facing them? These champions of equality forget that equality does not mean uniformity. When men and women are not uniform in natural rights and duties, how can they be uniform in social rights and duties? While Islam creates a social system of rights and duties according to the natural rights and duties of men and women, the modern system does so in accordance with the needs of the economic system.
“Economic fundamentalism", the term which I have coined for the dominance of economics over every other aspect of human life, including health and social peace, envisaged that the institution of marriage had to be weekend, preferably altogether shattered, to enhance various markets, including the market of fashion, tourism, entertainment and sex. Family for them was what draught is for farmers. Unless draught is encountered, farming would not prosper. Market sponsored feminism became one of the biggest movements of the modern history. The market fundamentalists reckoned that a man in the safe arms of his charming wife would be harder to trap; and a woman in the benign custody of the loving husband or other members of family would not be easily available for her services in various markets. In order to derail the marriage system, a number of steps were taken. The minimum agelimit for marriage, for instance, was raised making it legally impossible for a man and woman to marry before the specified age. The rapid growth of population was presented for public consumption as the ground for this amendment in the law. Boys and girls, denied marriage, were however always welcome to have sex before the specified age, which did not attract any legal action. Polygamy was abolished, and an animated, outrageous, multi-pronged campaign was orchestrated against it, wherever it continued to exist. On a rapid exchange of legal positions, promiscuity got legal and polygamy illegal. The irony is that it was done in the name of the women’s rights. Women themselves, not properly realising the motive of their “benefactors", were jubilant in accepting a system wherein they could easily become wretched mistresses or casual partners (without, of course, any legal rights against their paramours) but not second wives (having full conjugal rights). Still another step was the complicatedness of divorce. As even after divorce was granted by the court women would receive maintenance from their estranged husbands, this would deter both from marrying. The extra-marital relationships and self-dependence in financial matters combined to result in an increasingly large number of marriages culminating in divorce. Anti-marriage campaigns did not stop here. To make the institution of marriage unpopular, it was incessantly degraded as an unnecessary burden. Marriage was steadily substituted by live-in companionship, which most of the young men and women gradually accepted. The ever-increasing rate of divorce further persuaded the people to think that, if the marriage was destined to come to a gruesome end followed by legal wrangling, why it should not be avoided altogether.
Polygamy versus Promiscuity
There has been criticism of Islam’s policy on polygamy, and this has been presented as one of the “proofs” of discrimination against women. It is argued that it is an unnecessary privilege to men; and is also responsible for the rapid growth of population. What an irony that polygamy is being attacked by those very people who have been promoting promiscuity all over the globe! In the modern world, one can have relations with as many women as possible without attracting any legal action, or can have as many girlfriends as one desires, but cannot have a second legal wife. The truth, however, is that unlike promiscuity polygamy protects the social and legal status of women and is also greatly safer in terms of implications on health.
Marriage is a system that protects men and women against burdens of various kinds. Biologically speaking, man has the potential of impregnating as many women as he can engage with in physical relationship. He can father children from innumerable women at almost the same time. Woman cannot have more than a child at one time for at least a period of one year; if she actively breastfeeds her child the gap tends to be much longer, as long as three years. But what man can do in biological terms, he cannot justify in social terms if he has any obligations towards the women he is having sex with. Furthermore, the demographic composition does not allow such vagrancies as the number of men and women are almost equal in society. Women outnumber men only by an extremely thin margin, and this margin is slightly higher in terms of marriage seekers. Islamic position, which makes promiscuity punishable under law but allows a certain degree of polygamy, is consistent with the demographic, social and medical realties. This kind of system successfully acts as an insurmountable barrier between sex-transmitted infections and human bodies.
Polygamy is normally not associated with the sexually transmitted diseases as is the case with promiscuity. The simple reason is that unlike in promiscuity where both men and women have several relationships, mostly casual, in polygamy, a man has long-term relations with a few women, which in most cases is limited to two, rarely reaching a maximum of four, none of whom has relations with any other man. It follows that whereas polygamy is self-limiting and minimally hazardous in medical terms, promiscuity is all-enveloping and enormously dangerous in terms of risks to health. Further, this is practically impossible for a significant minority to become polygamous, as the demography does not allow it, but it is a distinct possibility that the majority of the population becomes promiscuous. To be precise, polygamy is a self-limiting aberration; promiscuity is an all-enveloping monster. Only a few can practise polygamy because of the demographic unavailability of women if a sizeable percentage wants it; but promiscuity can go on entrapping almost everybody. This has, in fact, become the truth in a large number of societies that do not put any restrictions on free mixing of men and women. Wherever promiscuity is high, the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS is significantly high. The safe sex measures have only a limited role in protection against these diseases. While promiscuity provides a natural habitat for these infections, polygamy, even if it becomes widespread, would play minimal role in the spread. The demographic and social realities, however, would almost always restrict the prevalence of polygamous relationships except when due to some reason the balance markedly tilts in favour of women. In such instances, polygamy would provide the majority of women an opportunity to enjoy their social, sexual and reproductive rights.
There are several other reasons why strict monogamy is not preferable. Almost always, there has been a tendency in the human population to have more women than men. The number of marriage-seeking women is surely greater than that of the marriage-seeking men. This tendency accentuates in times of wars and other calamities. If strict monogamy is enforced there cannot remain any hope of a family life for the remainder of women. Polygamy also helps the cause of widows, aged virgins and divorcees. A controlled polygamy would provide the answer and this “privilege” of man would then become a boon for deprived women as well. In brief, the incidence of polygamy depends on the ratio of marriage-seeking females and marriage-seeking males in society. The more it increases the more the incidence.
Moreover, it often happens that a man has genuine reasons for a second wife. His first wife may be incapacitated due to an illness, or may not be in a position to bear a child. In the case of strict monogamy, the husband has no option but either to continue with her suppressing his genuine human desires and needs, or divorce her. If he divorces her she will have been left with hardly any future.
Even when there is no genuine reason for the second marriage, it protects the man from indulging in unhealthy sexual practices, and protects the woman from becoming his victim. Ironically, the issue of polygamy is always seen from the perspective of the first wife and not the second one. Those who argue that polygamy helps in the growth of population are misinformed as well. The rate of the growth of population depends only on the number of fertile women in that population. Polygamy does not change this number and has therefore little to do with the growth of population.
There is yet another question that people often put: Why only polygamy, why not polyandry? The answer is simple. Polygamy does not adversely affect the social fabric; it also does not increase the dangers from sex-related diseases. Polyandry will destroy the family system and social fabric. Children will be the greatest sufferers. As previously explained, while a man can father the children of several women simultaneously, a woman cannot simply do this due to her biological limitations. Further, it is the duty of men and not women to provide sustenance to their children.
Islam allows polygamy but prefers monogamy. This ensures the survival and health of family system. The world of economic fundamentalism has opposed it because it is bent upon observing the last rites of family as soon as possible. It wants to discuss rights only in the context of its own interests, and has hardly any genuine concern for women.
The author is Delhi-based thinker and writer with over a dozen books including his latest, “Qur’anic Paradigms of Sciences & Society” (First Vol: Health).
He may be contacted at email@example.com