This past semester in my Arabic Communication class, our professor divided us into groups and asked us to present our opinion on polygamy. I didn’t want to be a part of that discussion. What was I going to say? Almost everyone else in the class (including the guys) were dismissive of the idea, while I was still forming words in my mind. The topic was complicated enough to discuss in English, let alone in Arabic!
During my years at the University of Houston, I was one of the most outspoken supporters of polygamy. A few married sisters in the MSA tried to talk “sense” into me, but their efforts were futile; I was known to be a person of my own mind. I clearly remember the day my husband proposed to me, he informed me that he planned to take another wife later and asked if I would be okay with it. I answered, “How can I stop you from something that is allowed in Islam?” I wasn’t yet married, so how was I supposed to know what it felt like to be jealous. It was only after I became a wife that I struggled with the idea of sharing the love of my life with another woman.
My first encounter with polygamy was when my best friend went through a polygamous relationship. I felt torn. I questioned one of the shayookh about it, and his answer to my skepticism still echoes in my mind; instead of defending or addressing the topic of polygamy, he surprisingly asked me, “Do you believe Allah is Just?” Of course I did (inshaAllah), but why would he question my belief in Allah rather than simply explaining the rationale behind polygamy?
He then supplied me with a battery of “logical” reasons: explanations of wars, genealogy, men’s struggle during wives’ periods/post-partum bleeding, and many more. After years of researching works of scholars, both Eastern and Western, reading various works and publications including the ones written by women supporting polygamy, and examining statistics -Islamic and non-Islamic, I have run out logical reasons that defend polygamy. One-by-one, each has been ruled out as a result of being cornered either by Muslims or non-Muslims. I can no longer “logically” defend polygamy.
Let’s discuss a few rational explanations:
War Zone: We are no longer in a time where men die more in war than women. The norm of warfare today is the culture of carpet-bombing, where there is no discrimination among men, women, children, elderly; all in proximity are annihilated.
Genealogy: Yes, it’s a subject that is not totally debatable. Even with the contemporary DNA testing, there is room for error and hence the genealogy of a child can be lost. It makes sense that this is the reason why polyandry is not allowed (perhaps) but the original question ‘why polygamy is allowed?’ remains unanswered.
Periods/Post-Partum Bleeding: Seriously?! So if a wife is menstruating, there is nothing else she can do to satisfy her husband temporarily for 5-7 days? Even if we accept this as a “valid” factor to justify polygamy, it still doesn’t take into account what happens if a man gets married to a woman whose cycle coincides with that of his first wife? Or what if the wives give birth to children around the same time?
Men have Stronger Sexual Appetite: I assumed this to be factual for some time and perhaps I might still agree with the fact that, in general, men have a stronger physical desire for women. However, this can vary case-by-case as well. New statistics demonstrate that men and women are not far apart in their sexual appetite. In fact, ovulating women have been found to have increased sexual desire. Other studies suggest women in their 30s also experience an increased sex drive. Since this quality can vary from person-to-person, sexual appetite cannot be used to rationalize polygamy either.
While we may run out of rational justifications for polygamy, the stereotyping against it continues to increase:
One Man for One Woman: I grew up believing there is one man for one woman and vice-versa. Remember, we’re products of our society and culture, and that is not blameworthy. We cannot ostracize “Western” culture for this ideology because it is just as much a product of “Eastern” culture too, if not more. Typically, in Eastern cultures, parents continue to advise their daughters to be patient with their husband and work on the marriage, but as soon as the husband takes another wife, the entire family forces her to return back to her parents’ house and take a stand.