Need to repeat and reassert that polygamy is only an option not a compulsion in Islam.
By Dr Kouser Fathima
First and foremost. Let it be made amply clear that polygamy is only an option, and not a compulsion in Islam. Any Muslim who does not follow polygamy does not become less of a Muslim. Nowhere in Islam is it mentioned that to be a good Muslim one has to be polygamous nor does it prescribe any punishment for not following it. Polygamy was allowed as an option after the battle of Uhud when many warriors were killed, to provide shelter and financial and moral support to the widows and orphans.
In India, polygamy is mostly associated with Muslims although statics show otherwise. Polygamy among Indian Muslims is not a major problem, but if seen, it is mostly followed in the lower strata. Because of lack of education, it becomes easy for polygamous men to fool and cheat their families & gullible females. Most underemployed men not able to support their families, fed up of the nagging and pressure, abandon their wives and children to fend for themselves. Some manage to trap other girls to marry without disclosing their previous marital status.
The pattern is repeated, some stop at two and few go on further, until caught. Most of these men have neither have any moral courage nor are they religious but are the first to use religion to cover their practices. When such men get into polygamy, it is not religion that they are following but only fulfilling their desires.
Religion is only misused to cover up their cowardly act of cheating and destroying lives. They fail to support their families financially, wives go back to working as helps or in factories struggling to meet ends, children grow up without the care of father, soon ending up as school dropouts. The cycle of illiteracy, unemployment and social degradation continues. This can happen in any society or faith but sadly with Muslims, when religion is used to justify it, it becomes difficult to correct or even question such acts.
The wronged women would dare not complain against their erring husbands for fear of going against their religion. They seldom know the conditions where and when polygamy is allowed and the responsibility of husband towards both wives. These women end up as silent victims with no help from any quarters.
People who use various reasons to justify encouraging polygamy fail to see the damage it does. Many cite rampant extramarital affairs but don’t understand that there is no end to the roving eyes of some men, no assurance that these men will stop having affairs even after they finish their quota of wives. Neither at present there is so much of the male-to-female ratio discrepancy, so as such there is no need for one man to marry more than one woman. Moreover, how many of such men actually marry widows or elderly women?? Most of the second wives are young girls from poor families, so it becomes more of an exploitation than a noble intention.
People using religion to encourage polygamy should realise that there are better ways of following the religious teachings. Our faith also encourages us to be kind to widows and orphans, one can help them in many other ways. Education and financial independence of females should be encouraged. Polygamy is followed by Muslims from other upper strata but the incidences are low and are handled in a better way as all the concerned are aware of all the laws and rights. It is usually in the lower strata that things get complicated.
Also to be noted is that polygamy is not Muslim exclusive problem, many people from other faiths also get into polygamous or usually bigamous relationships. But the law has rules to handle such complaints.
Allowing more than one wife for a Muslim by Indian state was done after much deliberation, many clauses were added later such as mentioning the presence of second wife while applying for government jobs and also action can be taken if the first wife complains.
Polygamy among Indian Muslims isn’t rampant but undue encouragement should be avoided. Muslims have more serious problems to be addressed those need to be handled on war footing. Need to repeat and reassert that polygamy is only an option not a compulsion in Islam.
(Dr Kouser Fathima is a Bengaluru based writer. She can be reached at [email protected])