By: Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)
Translated by: Manal Samhat
Q: Islam gives the man the right to marry four women at the same time. Why four? And do not you see in polygamy a demeaning of the value of the woman as a human being, and a violation of her right to a stable and secure familial life with a partner that she does not share with anyone else?
A: Despite its negative aspects, polygamy, as a system, is a necessity imposed by the nature of the general interests of the human being, whether a man or a woman; the positive aspects are far greater than the negative ones, which makes legitimizing it a dire necessity. To prove this, it is sufficient to say that polygamy is the system that has always been adopted in the relationship between the two sexes in the past or in the present, whether implicitly or explicitly. In today's world, only 10% of men restrict their relations to one woman, whether under the title of marriage or not. History is full of stories that tell us about illegitimate relations that went side by side with the legitimate ones. All this proves that there is a need for polygamy, whose origin might have stemmed from the inside of the human being as a body and a soul or from outside it, such as infertility or a certain disease. This inherent need could make monogamy a cause of deviation, problems and complications that would be greater than those caused by polygamy.
Thus, legitimizing polygamy, in view of being in favor of both the man's or woman's interests, does not demean the value of the woman as a human being, or an act of aggression against her sense of security and her psychological stability, provided that proper Islamically ordained justice is secured. One should not deem marriage as a possession, If the woman does so, then it is possible in this case only that she would feel that there is a partner who shares her the possession of her husband.
Q: Did not the Prophet take more than four wives?
A: This is something that the Prophet was privileged with as the jurists say. It is not a general rule, since polygamy was restricted to a certain number of women.
Q: Islam has associated polygamy with fulfilling the condition of justice. At the same time, it maintained that it is a condition that is impossible to meet, as Allah says: "And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course." (03:03). "And you have it not in your power to do justice between wives, even though you may wish (it), but be not disinclined (from one) with total disinclination, so that you leave her as it were in suspense; and if you effect a reconciliation and guard (against evil), then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful".(03:129). How could this system persist in light of the Quran's assertion that justice can not be maintained?
A: Justice is of two kinds: Justice in providing and justice in emotions. Allah's saying: "But if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess" is talking about justice in providing for the woman and not an emotional leaning, which the second Ayah has affirmed its impossibility. As for God's saying: "And you have it not in your power to do justice between wives, even though you may wish (it), but be not disinclined (from one) with total disinclination, so that you leave her as it were in suspense; and if you effect a reconciliation and guard (against evil), then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful," it is clear that it is talking about the legitimacy of polygamy and not annulling it. The husband must surely be fair in his financial commitment and not in his emotions because his emotions are not voluntary. Moreover one should deal with others on the basis of his commitment and not his emotions.
Q: Since Islam has endorsed the principle of polygamy, why did it restrict it to the husband only?
A. Islam adopts the paternal family system and considers the father to be in charge of organizing its living affairs, and considers that the children are of the father's lineage. Thus, polygamy, which is justified for the husband, will pose a problem of lineage to the woman's children. Moreover, having a sexual relationship with more than one man is not an inherent psychological need for the woman. History has only recorded rare cases of women's polygamy, which are so rare that they did not turn into a general law that had to be codified. In addition, the imbalance between the number of women and that of men, which is one of the reasons that justifies polygamy, has and will be tilting towards the women who do not encounter the dangers of wars and work that usually endanger men. Moreover, an essential element in legitimizing polygamy for men only is that men have a stronger sexual instinct, since the male is quicker to be aroused than the female and his sexual desires are stronger. Thus, polygamy might be a need for the man and not for the woman. That is why we find that women are more faithful in their sexual relations than men.
Q: Islam regards the woman's jealousy as a sin. How could Allah punish the woman for jealousy, which is a natural feeling, while He legitimizes polygamy for men?
A: Allah does not hold the human being accountable for his inner feelings, but for what is reflected of these feelings in his conduct. The woman might be hurt by polygamy, but since it is something that the general interest of human beings demands, she has to feel the general positive aspect of the legislation, so that she could overcome the feeling of being hurt.