“Logical” Reasons for Polygamy in Islam by Dr. Zakir Naik – Polygyny
Dr. Zakir Naik, is well known TV personality and public speaker who can often be seen giving discourses on or debating Islam with different religious and non-religious scholars around the world mainly from the perspective of comparative religion. He is a medical doctor by profession and founder and president of the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) —a non-profit organization that owns and broadcasts the free-to-air TV channel network Peace TV from Mumbai, India.
During my visits to India, I used to watch his debates and discourses on TV and watched how the packed crowds applauded his every statement and nodded heads in agreement with his every argument. The sound of applause grew a few decibels louder every time he changed gears and launched verse after verse, from various religious texts, on the expectant audience like raindrops falling on parched ground. He was well behaved, respectful and polite which added to his charm and he always seemed to have an answer for every question posed to him – no matter how tough or aggressive. He had a mass appeal and people of various religions watched his discourses with intent. I was initially very impressed by his discourses and his ability to quote verses of various religious texts from memory. He seemed well read and I felt he himself had pondered philosophically on these questions in private. He seemed a true scholar.
However that was before I started paying attention to his arguments and his logical (?) explanations to Islamic teachings and dogma. As I probed further and studied his arguments carefully, I slowly became disillusioned about his scholarship. I realized that Dr. Naik was a mere Muslim evangelist peddling his own prejudiced and ignorant world view. He was nothing more than a blind propagandist masquerading as a scholar who believed stubbornly in the teachings of the Quran, upheld inane antiquated dogmas with his skewed logic and forwarded arguments which were no better than childish drivel. Since, I was one of the people who couldn’t see through his scholarly facade at first, it wasn’t surprising to me that other people didn’t see through it too. If regurgitating books and verses are any measure of scholarship, I am sure every toddler who can recite nursery rhymes should not be rejected from being conferred such a distinction..
The article below on Polygamy which appears on www.irf.net(Google gives a “this site may be harmful for your computer” warning when you try to access the site) as part of the Answers to Non-Muslims’ Common Questions on Islam is an example of how “scholarly” his arguments can be. In fact he even asserts that these questions can be answered with “reason and logic” and majority of non-Muslims can be convinced by these answers. If by “majority” of non-Muslims he means any of the brain-dead multitudes who use their “heart” and “faith” to make decisions about the world around them, especially in matters of the “Supreme” and believe in junk like astrology, numerology and communicating with the dead. Yes , Sir I absolutely agree. You will have no problems in convincing them of your position with your illogical and unreasonable answers. But anyone with a modicum of intelligence and a small amount of logical faculty won’t have any difficulty in seeing through the idiocy you pass off in the name of “logical arguments”. So Good Luck Sir with your “logic and reason”. I just hope people can see through them for what they are.
This is the first part of my reply discussing his views on Polygyny. In the next part, I will discuss his arguments on Polyandry. Dr. Naik’s arguments are in blue and my replies are in black.
Why is a man allowed to have more than one wife in Islam? i.e. why is
polygamy allowed in Islam?
1. Definition of Polygamy
Polygamy means a system of marriage whereby one person has more than one spouse. Polygamy can be of two types. One is polygyny where a man marries more than one woman, and the other is polyandry, where a woman marries more than one man. In Islam, limited polygyny is permitted; whereas polyandry is completely prohibited. Now coming to the original question, why is a man allowed to have more than
I don’t understand why definition of polygamy is given as argument or point number 1. Some people just need to prove their intelligence to themselves and show that they have substantial things to say while debating a point. But, Hey whatever makes one happy !!
2. The Qur’an is the only religious scripture in the world that says, “marry only one”.
The Qur’an is the only religious book, on the face of this earth, that contains the phrase ‘marry only one’. There is no other religious book that instructs men to have only one wife. In none of the other religious scriptures, whether it be the Vedas, the Ramayan, the Mahabharat, the Geeta, the Talmud or the Bible does one find a restriction on the number of wives. According to these scriptures one can marry as many as one wishes. It was only later, that the Hindu priests and the Christian Church restricted the number of wives to one. Many Hindu religious personalities, according to their scriptures, had multiple wives. King Dashrat, the father of Rama, had more than one wife. Krishna had several wives. In earlier times, Christian men were permitted as many wives as they wished, since the Bible puts no restriction on the number of wives. It was only a few centuries ago that the Church restricted the number of wives to one.
Polygyny is permitted in Judaism. According to Talmudic law, Abraham had three wives, and Solomon had hundreds of wives. The practice of polygyny continued till Rabbi Gershom ben Yehudah (960 C.E to 1030 C.E) issued an edict against it. The Jewish Sephardic communities living in Muslim countries continued the practice till as late as 1950, until an Act of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel extended the ban on marrying more than one wife.
(*Interesting Note:- As per the 1975 census of India Hindus are more polygynous than Muslims. The report of the ‘Committee of The Status of Woman in Islam’, published in 1975 mentions on page numbers 66 and 67 that the percentage of polygamous marriages between the years 1951 and 1961 was 5.06% among the Hindus and only 4.31% among the Muslims. According to Indian law only Muslim men are permitted to have more than one wife. It is illegal for any non-Muslim in India to have more than one wife. Despite it being illegal, Hindus have more multiple wives as compared to Muslims. Earlier, there was no restriction even on Hindu men with respect to the number of wives allowed. It was only in 1954, when the Hindu Marriage Act was passed that it became illegal for a Hindu to have more than one wife. At present it is the Indian Law that restricts a Hindu man from having more than one wife and not the Hindu scriptures.)
I will discuss the “marry only one” statement in the next argument but for now, lets look at some of the claims or points Dr. Naik makes. If you have read and watched enough debates by Muslim scholars or apologists, you may observe a pattern here. Muslims in general and Muslim scholars in particular, while discussing aspects of their religion, instead of trying to analyse the shortcomings of Islam, are always too ready to point out problems or shortcomings of other religions. That is a type of logical fallacy called “Tu Quoque” which is explained here
Tu Quoque is a very common fallacy in which one attempts to defend oneself or another from criticism by turning the critique back against the accuser. This is a classic Red Herringsince whether the accuser is guilty of the same, or a similar, wrong is irrelevant to the truth of the original charge. However, as a diversionary tactic, Tu Quoque can be very effective, since the accuser is put on the defensive, and frequently feels compelled to defend against the accusation.
As you can see from Dr. Naik’s argument above, he resorts to tu quoque argument and points out to polygyny in other religions almost instantly. He points out to polygynous characters and personalities in every religion, from ancient history, to justify his claims of limited polygyny allowed in Islam in modern times. He also points out to a decades old report (a link to that would have helped but well !!) to show that Hindus in India were more polygamous than Muslims. So how does all these justify polygyny in Islam in modern times? Only Dr. Naik knows. But doesn’t Dr. Naik’s argument sound like, ” Oh you did it, so will we.” ?
Although, it’s true that a lot of these religions did not discourage polygyny when they started out, most of these religions have evolved since then and made concerted effort to root it out of their system of practices. As a result, it difficult to find legally acceptable polygamous relationships in most of the large organized religions today. However, Islam, in-keeping with its rigidity and stubbornness, is the only major religion where no wide-spread attempts had been made to root out polygyny from their set of practices and we can find polygynous relationships in a lot of Muslim communities. Dr. Naik conveniently ignores this fact and forgets to point it out. Monogamy till this date is a personal choice left to Muslims and polygyny not legally discouraged by government in most Muslim countries (except for Bosnia, Tunisia and Turkey) or condemned by Muslim religious leaders.
Let us now analyse why Islam allows a man to have more than one wife.
3. Qur’an permits limited polygyny
As I mentioned earlier, Qur’an is the only religious book on the face of the earth that says ‘marry only one’. The context of this phrase is the following verse from Surah Nisa of the Glorious Qur’an:
“Marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one.”
Before the Qur’an was revealed, there was no upper limit for polygyny and many men had scores of wives, some even hundreds. Islam put an upper limit of four wives. Islam gives a man permission to marry two, three or four women, only on the condition that he deals justly with them. In the same chapter i.e. Surah Nisa verse 129 says:
“Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women….”
Therefore polygyny is not a rule but an exception. Many people are under the misconception that it is compulsory for a Muslim man to have more than one wife. Broadly, Islam has five categories of Do’s and Don’ts:
(i) ‘Fard’ i.e. compulsory or obligatory
(ii) ‘Mustahab’ i.e. recommended or encouraged
(iii) ‘Mubah’ i.e. permissible or allowed
(iv) ‘Makruh’ i.e. not recommended or discouraged
(v) ‘Haraam’ i.e. prohibited or forbidden
Polygyny falls in the middle category of things that are permissible. It cannot be said that a Muslim who has two, three or four wives is a better Muslim as compared to a Muslim who has only one wife.
Here are the verses [4:3] and [4:129]according to well-known and widely read Quran translators. As the reader will notice, the verses are sort of contradictory. While one asserts that a man can never be fair to more than one woman the other instructs that one should indulge in polygyny only if he can be fair to more than one woman. Its like saying ” One can never walk on ones head, but if one can, he should be allowed to run a marathon”. Wow. What brilliant logic. What intellectual prowess.
It should also be noted, that the Koran does not mandate the marrying of one woman. It says “if” someone can do so-and-so, he should be allowed to do such-and-such. And, that is a very big IF. On the same lines, can we say that Mr. X is an honest man since he only professes and practices the philosophy that “you can steal from others only IF you are hungry or poor”? Can that be used as a justification for stealing? Will that be acceptable in a court of Law? And more importantly, can we claim that based on what Mr.X professes, he is really an honest man?
Also Dr. Naik argues that Quran permits limited polygyny. Now, how is limited polygyny better than no-holds-barred, rampant polygyny ? Does it matter whether I have 4 wives or 10 or 50? It is still polygyny. Does it matter whether I steal 10 dollars or 1000 dollars. Am I not still a thief ? Does it matter whether I murder one person or 10. Doesn’t it still make me a murderer ? It’s interesting to investigate why Prophet Mohammad set 4 wives as a limit for polygamous Muslim men when he himself had almost 3 times that number of wives. In any case, most ordinary people would be hard pressed to sustain or provide for that many number of wives.
4. Average life span of females is more than that of males
By nature males and females are born in approximately the same ratio. A female child has more immunity than a male child. A female child can fight the germs and diseases better than the male child. For this reason, during the pediatric age itself there are more deaths among males as compared to the females. During wars, there are more men killed as compared to women. More men die due to accidents and diseases than women. The average life span of females is more than that of males, and at any given time one finds more widows in the world than widowers.
What does life-span of women have to do with polygyny? Is Dr. Naik implying that all widows should remarry only polygynous males with multiple wives? In fact, I can argue, that since women have a longer life span than men, it is more reason that polygamy should be banned or at least discouraged. Because, when a monogamous man dies, he leaves one mourning woman behind. But when a polygamous man dies early, he leaves multiple mourning women behind (assuming all of them outlive him). This may lead to problems in society or personal insecurity and emotional instability for more women. Moreover polygyny may lead to exponential population growth since a polygynous man can impregnate multiple wives at the same time and have multiple children at the same time.
Polygamy may have been socially acceptable in ancient times when a man’s life span, health, diseases, natural circumstances or even political and financial conditions dictated such decisions. But, in light of present day societal circumstances, can we say with certainty that those acceptable social practices are still applicable today? Can the circumstances which prevailed thousands of years ago still be used to make such decisions? Don’t we need to introspect and revise the reasoning behind such practices and modify those rules based on present times and conditions?
5. India has more male population than female due to female foeticide and infanticide
India is one of the few countries, along with the other neighbouring countries, in which the female population is less than the male population. The reason lies in the high rate of female infanticide in India, and the fact that more than one million female foetuses are aborted every year in this country, after they are identified as females. If this evil practice is stopped, then India too will have more females as compared to males.
I did not understand what Dr. Naik was trying to imply or prove by these statements. What has polygyny to do with female infanticide? It seems he is grasping at straws here or trying to use baseless logic to prove his point or increase the number of arguments for his claim, no matter how dubious and specious may they be. Since he claims in his next point that the ” world female population is more than male” (which btw is incorrect) it seems he is trying to forestall and pre-empt any attacks from critics who might ask – why isn’t polyandry allowed or polygyny for Muslim men prohibited in India, given that there are more males than females there?
India has male/female ratio of 1.06 compared to the world’s 1.01 male/female ratio. But contrary to Dr. Naik’s claim, India is NOT “one of the few countries” with high male/female population. According to 2008 estimates, there are almost 70-75 countries in the world with a higher than 1 male/female ratio. Does that mean all these countries practice female foeticide and infanticide? Also Dr. Naik forgot to mention that 7 of the top 10 countries (according to CIA World factbook) with higher male/female ratio are Muslim majority countries in the middle east with Qatar and UAE having more than 2 males/female. So given Dr. Naik’s argument below, shouldn’t polyandry be allowed in these countries or at least polygyny be outlawed ?
Nah ! We can be sure that will never be accepted in these countries. In keeping with the baseless political and social dogmas of Islam and the extent of brainwashing people in these countries indulge in, polyandry won’t be permitted and polygyny won’t be legally prohibited even if they had a much higher male/female ratio. That would be going against Islam and the teachings of Koran and against the teachings of the Prophet who himself set a perfect example by marrying multiple women.
6. World female population is more than male population
In the USA, women outnumber men by 7.8 million. New York alone has one million more females as compared to the number of males, and of the male population of New York one-third are gays i.e sodomites. The U.S.A as a whole has more than twenty-five million gays. This means that these people do not wish to marry women. Great Britain has four million more females as compared to males. Germany has five million more females as compared to males. Russia has nine million more females than males. God alone knows how many million more females there are in the whole world as compared to males.
This is an outright misrepresentation of facts and idiotic logic. It’s ridiculous that most muslims consider this man a great debater, given that he either clearly misrepresents facts or lies outright. The world male/female ratio according to the CIA factbookis estimated to be greater than one – i.e more males for every female. So Dr. Naik’s claim that there are more females than males is incorrect.
Now the Koran says that a man can have at most 4 wives. In order to justify the Koran’s teachings, Dr. Naik points to a few examples of countries with higher female population than males and tries to argue that given this fact, the Koran is correct in allowing multiple wives (let us assume for the sake of argument that the number of single heterosexual males to females are in the same ratio as the total male/female ratio of that country). Data available from CIA fact book shows that of the total number of countries for which male/female ratio is available, about 95 countries have more females than males but there are also more than 75 countries which has more males than female. So if decision to have multiple spouses are based on number of persons of the opposite sex in that country, then why isn’t polyandry allowed in the countries with higher number of males?
Here, we have to remember that the Koran is considered the direct word of Allah and hence it’s teachings are timeless and not bound by geography. So this begs the questions why does Mr. Naik point to only a few countries where the male-female ratio is greater than 1 and why use data from only the latest census of these countries? The male female ratio of the US has been less than 1 only in the last 50 years but before that there were more males than females according to this report. So, would Mr. Naik profess polyandry for such times? Doesn’t Mr. Naik’s example and logic fall flat on the face, in light of population data from earlier decades?
Also we have to understand that numbers can be misleading. They don’t tell the whole story and most often are meaningless without proper context. Since Muslim apologists have a fetish for “context” and are always ready to point out to critics that verses in the Koran have been taken out of context. Let us look closely at these numbers. Now if Dr. Naik’s assertion is valid, just having more women than men is not enough. Since the Koran allows 4 wives, if every man suddenly decides to marry 4 women, we would need a female to male ratio of 4. But if one looks at the data above one will realize that there is no country with such a high a ratio of females to males. In fact, such a phenomenon if practised today, would lead to a widespread breakdown of family values and surely but steadily cast human society into an apocalyptic chaos. So doesn’t the Koran’s assertion seem too far fetched and not well thought out? Also Dr. Naik’s assertion that one-third of New York’s males are gays and US has 25 million gays are blatant lies as can be seen here. I don’t know where Dr. Naik gets his facts but it’s very clear that he either does not research well enough for his speeches or he is a charlatan who deliberately distorts the truth or lies blatantly to prove a point.
7. Restricting each and every man to have only one wife is not practical
Even if every man got married to one woman, there would still be more than thirty million females in U.S.A who would not be able to get husbands (considering that America has twenty five million gays). There would be more than four million females in Great Britain, 5 million females in Germany and nine million females in Russia alone who would not be able to find a husband. Suppose my sister happens to be one of the unmarried women living in USA, or suppose your sister happens to be one of the unmarried women in USA. The only two options remaining for her are that she either marries a man who already has a wife or becomes ‘public property’. There is no other option. All those who are modest will opt for the first. Most women would not like to share their husband with other women. But in Islam when the situation deems it really neccessary Muslim women in due faith could bear a small personal loss to prevent a greater loss of letting other Muslim sisters becoming ‘public properties’.
Now ! Now ! Didn’t Dr. Naik just say in point No. 3 that monogamy is a rule and polygyny the exception? So this begs the question – how is the rule not practical? Here Dr. Naik makes quite a few factual errors and then presents inane logic based on these lies to convince us of polygyny. Firstly, since there are only 2 million gay men in the US and not 25 million, the number of unmarried women in the US would be close to 10 million if Dr. Naik’s other statistic is to be assumed correct. Also what about lesbian women? Don’t we need to subtract that number to arrive at the number of heterosexual single women. Secondly, Dr. Naik presents only 2 alternatives for women who don’t find eligible men to marry, and makes it seem as if these are the ONLY two options. It is based on quite a few assumptions
1. That single women cannot lead a life of respect in society and that marriage is somehow the only logical alternative for most “modest”, single women.
2. That women are tender, helpless creatures who somehow need to be protected and guarded from an evil society which in this case happens to be US society (and protect from whom? men of course, the implicit assumption being that most men are vile and lecherous creatures).
3. that society or the law of the land would not protect or is incapable of protecting single women from evil men (which may be true in many poor third world countries which have rampant corruption and small law enforcement agencies but is definitely not the case in most first world countries)
Here instead of championing better laws and more social equality for women so that even single woman can lead a life of respect and safety, Dr. Naik slides into the typical sexist, parochial and prejudiced mentality of Muslim conservatives. These are very narrow-minded assumptions which is a representation of the narrow mindedness of the so-called Islamic scholars and Islamic society in general. Dr. Naik also boldly claims that “there is no other option”. So how is it that christian or Buddhist nuns who live a life of celibacy are respected so much in society and do not become ‘public property’ in the sense Dr. Naik insinuates? Isn’t becoming a nun an option? Unfortunately, thanks to the sexist, narrow-mindedness of Islam, Muslim women are debarred from becoming nuns or religious figure-heads. How will the men sleep around with multiple wives if some women choose to dedicate their lives to God. Wouldn’t that reduce their chances of getting laid?
Even if we ignore the case of nuns, we can find that in most civilized countries hundreds of single women live a respectful life in society without feeling the need to get married. I personally know quite a few women who are independent, smart and most importantly lead well-respected single lives. They have been single all their lives and have no plans to marry. I didn’t see them become “public property” or marry men with 3 more wives. Here are some facts from the US census about single and/or unmarried people in the US which I think would show us the stupidity of Dr Naik’s claims.
8. Marring a married man preferable to becoming ‘public property’
In Western society, it is common for a man to have mistresses and/or multiple extra-marital affairs, in which case, the woman leads a disgraceful, unprotected life. The same society, however, cannot accept a man having more than one wife, in which women retain their honourable, dignified position in society and lead a protected life. Thus the only two options before a woman who cannot find a husband is to marry a married man or to become ‘public property’. Islam prefers giving women the honourable position by permitting the first option and disallowing the second. There are several other reasons, why Islam has permitted limited polygyny, but it is mainly to protect the modesty of women.
Ah! Finally ! The concluding accusation about the biggest enemy of virtuous Islamic society – Western Civilization. How utterly immoral. How shamelessly debauched. How foolishly monogamous. (For majority of Muslim scholars it’s always the West, the Jews, The US or The Islamophobes who are to be blamed – never Islam !! )
Can we ask Dr. Naik, what sort of an honorable, dignified alternative is he offering? What makes him so sure that marrying a person with several wives is an honorable and dignified alternative to staying single. I am absolutely certain that majority of women would staunchly disagree with his position. And what makes him so sure that a husband can protect his wives against lecherous elements of society ? Isn’t he implicitly assuming the existence of a law-abiding, safe society ? And if it is truly a law-abiding, safe and compassionate society where is the need to protect single women ? Instead of supporting polygyny, shouldn’t we be working towards a safer and more compassionate society where single women don’t have to lead a life of fear?
Now, even though western society just like any other society is by no means perfect, sweeping accusation painted with a broad and general brush and without enough proof doesn’t reflect too positively on the accuser. Dr. Naik is like an astronomer who claims to have found water on Mars without ever visiting it. So how does he know, that in western society it is common for man to have mistresses. Can he point to any scientific/non-scientific surveys/reports to prove his claim? Also, even though it’s true that in western society we are more likely to come across persons involved in extramarital affairs, there is no proof or indication that polygamy by itself would be able to solve that problem. Moreover, contrary to Dr. Naik’s claim, such activities are not the exclusive domain of men and the proportion of women in western society engaged in extra-marital affairs is significant.
And, why would men in Islamic societies engage in extramarital affairs when they can marry 4 women and fulfill their libidos. Women, unfortunately don’t have that luxury, as polyandry is prohibited and female adulterers are stoned to death by crowds. If that’s not a deterrent, then I don’t know what is. The reason why extra-marital affairs is low or controlled in Islamic countries is because of such unfair, repressive and restrictive laws for women who would rather stay in a futile, abusive relationship than risk her life with another man.
Given, all the arguments above I am not sure if Dr. Naik is acting to please his Muslim donors and sponsors (I won’t be surprised if it is someone in Saudi Arabia, given the version of Islam they practice) or if he truly believes in polygyny and is blindly trying to support such positions by creating “logical” arguments which are untenable. Anyone with a fair mind can realize that polygamy as a social practice is impractical and unfair towards women and as such should be prohibited. I just hope that majority of Muslim men and women come to their senses and reject it for what it is – a social relic from ancient times and a misfit in modern society.