Saturday, July 20, 2013

Polygamy: One Golden Umbrella Please

Among the Malay society, it is said that when a wife allows her husband to marry another woman, her abode in Paradise would be guaranteed.  On top of that, she will be given a golden umbrella.

Strangely, not many Malay women are thrilled with the prospect of a guaranteed Paradise.  As one Malay woman (a religious teacher no less) puts it, “I have no problem with polygamy, as long as it is not my husband who practices it.”  

As for the prospect of having a golden umbrella, not many among them are thrilled with it either.  Perhaps the umbrella made of gold would be too heavy to carry.  A tightly woven nylon or polyester, the stuff a normal umbrella is made of, would have been more practical.  Or perhaps it is the thought of having a rival which leaves the idea with a bad taste.  In any case, they would rather choose other route to Paradise.

But the Malay men seem to cherish the idea.  We need not waste out time speculating why it is so.

I was told that these are the sayings of the Prophet, but my search for authentic traditions on these has been fruitless.  Perhaps I have not been thorough in this research.

During my younger days, those who wanted to practice polygamy only justified it on the ground of following the Sunna of the Prophet.  Muhammad the Prophet married multiple women; therefore it is Sunna to do likewise, so they said.  But of course their female counterparts would be quick to retort and question as to why their husbands are so eager to follow this particular Sunna, while at the same time appear to be sluggish on following other Sunnas.

I also heard that it is more meritorious to practice polygamy instead of monogamy; that men with more than one wives would receive more rewards than others who have only one.  Perhaps the headache that comes with having multiple wives, and this headache can often be stronger than an acute migraine, makes them more forbearing, hence more meritorious.

As confessed to me in private, all my close friends who practice polygamy, however, do not seem to think that marrying more than one woman is such a meritorious thing to do.  I was even told by a friend that one particular polygamist would have turned back the time to a period when he was a monogamist, if only he could. 

To put the matter into perspective, the merit of allowing polygamy is not difficult to fathom.  Polygamy can be a practical solution to a practical problem.  After the war, for instance, when many women are widowed and many children are orphaned, polygamy is not only a sensible thing to do, but would appear to be highly recommended.  Or even if there is no war, but when the number of women exceeds the men, it is also a sensible approach to take.  Or when it is feared that the men can fall into adultery for one reason or another, polygamy could provide the answer, because Islam strictly forbid sexual relation outside of marriage.

But when it is entered mostly for the pleasure of having another woman to share one’s bed with, then the cost it entails is generally not commensurate with whatever benefit it may accrue.

Being a practical religion, Islam discourages celibacy.  Even if one is poor, one should still get married.  The Prophet also admonished his overly pious companions who refused to get married, fearing that women, and later on children, would disrupt their devotion to God. 

Men and women are meant for each other, but in most cases, two is already one too many.  What more if three or four.
Leading scholars such as al Qaradawi and Ibnu Taymiyyah, as well as countless others, say that polygamy is not something recommended, but something permissible.  There are certain conditions to be fulfilled for those who want to practice it. 

If truly polygamy is more meritorious than monogamy, then the Prophet would not have stopped his son in law, Ali, to marry another wife, when the idea was strongly objected by Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter and Ali’s wife. 

Arguments are often made that the reason Fatimah objected to the idea was because her prospective rival was the daughter of the Prophet’s archenemy, Abu Jahal.  But the daughter of Abu Jahal, whose name was Khataba, was already a Muslim at that time, and the sin of the father is not inherited to his children in Islam.  The Prophet himself married Umm Habibah, the daughter of Abu Sufyan, another archenemy of the Prophet.  The reason the Prophet cautioned Ali against the idea, therefore, must have been elsewhere.  Regardless of the real reason, the Prophet would not have stopped Ali from taking another wife if truly it is a meritorious thing to do.

Furthermore, if truly polygamy is more meritorious than monogamy in all circumstances, then the prenuptial agreement allowing the prospective bride to stipulate her agreement to marriage proposal on the ground that her would be husband would not take another wife once they are married, would not be valid in Islam.  But such is not the case.  Woman is allowed to stipulate such a clause, although many do not seem to know about it.

Marriage is a Sunna.  There is no doubt about it.  But having multiple wives is only permissible in Islam; it is not a recommended thing, except in exceptional circumstances.  One who wants to enter into polygamy must fulfill the required conditions and must know what it takes.  A polygamist is not more meritorious than a monogamist on account of having more wives.  On the contrary, he is facing higher risk of condemnation both in this world and the next world. 

The idea that polygamy is more meritorious than monogamy seems to come from an incidence between Ibnu Abbas and a group of some overly pious men who did not like the idea of getting married, fearing that marriage would disrupt their devotion to God.  To these people, Ibnu Abbas retorted: “The best man of this nation is the one with the most wives.”

Based on this saying, some conclude that polygamy is better than monogamy.  If one looks at the incidence more carefully, however, one would know that Ibnu Abbas did not suggest that such was the case.  He was admonishing a group of young devotees who had mistakenly believed that celibacy would bring them closer to God.  Ibnu Abbas told them that the best of this Ummah was the Prophet, and he had the most wives, since the restriction of having not more than four wives was not applicable to him.  The Prophet died leaving nine widows who were still alive.  In effect, Ibnu Abbas merely told them to get married, not to practice polygamy.

This matter should be presented as it is, not as one fancies it to be.  Those who suggest that polygamy should be abolished on account that it brings more harms than benefits—such as the disharmony in the married life, etc.—are taking the matter too far.  God would not have allowed polygamy if there is no merit in it.  But when the Quran (4:3) says that if you fear injustice, then marry only one, then one who is honest with himself would know where the matter lies.  Saying that polygamy is “more Sunna” than monogamy is self-serving, especially when one is looking for a young and beautiful maiden rather than a single mother with children to care for.

In any case, a woman who allows her husband to take another wife is truly an honorable woman.  Such woman deserves Paradise, especially if she does it out of goodness of her heart.  But to trick the womenfolk by saying that Paradise and Golden Umbrella are guaranteed for them if they allow their husbands to take another wives is an act of dishonesty. 

Anyone cares for a golden umbrella?

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