DR JAVED JAMIL, a reputed medical practitioner and social scientist, answers the million dollar question what is preferable: limited and regulated polygamy or promiscuity.
There has been criticism of Islam’s policy on polygamy, and this has been presented as one of the “proofs” of discrimination against women. It is argued that it is an unnecessary privilege to men; and is also responsible for the rapid growth of population. What an irony that polygamy is being attacked by those very people who have been promoting promiscuity all over the globe! In the modern world, one can have relations with as many women as possible without attracting any legal action, or can have as many mistresses as one desires, but cannot have a second legal wife. Unlike promiscuity, polygamy protects the social and legal status of women.
Polygamy is also not associated with the sexually transmitted diseases as is the case with promiscuity; for unlike in promiscuity where both men and women have several relationships, mostly casual, in polygamy, man has long-term relations with women none of whom has relations with any other man. It follows that whereas polygamy is self-limiting and medically minimally hazardous, promiscuity is all-enveloping and medically enormously dangerous. This is practically impossible for a significant minority to become polygamous, as the demography does not allow it, but it is a distinct possibility that the majority of the population becomes promiscuous.
There are several other reasons why strict monogamy is not preferable. Almost always, there has been a tendency in the human population to have more women than men. The number of marriage-seeking women is surely greater than that of the marriage-seeking men. This tendency accentuates in times of wars and other calamities.
If strict monogamy is enforced there cannot remain any hope of a family life for the remainder of women. Polygamy often helps the cause of widows, aged virgins and divorcees. Obviously, the incidence of polygamy depends on the ratio of marriage-seeking females and marriage-seeking males in society. The more it increases the more the incidence.
Moreover, it often happens that a man has genuine reasons for a second wife. His first wife may be incapacitated due to an illness, or may not be in a position to bear a child. In the case of strict monogamy, the husband has no option but either to continue with her suppressing his genuine human desires, or divorce her. If he divorces her she will have been left with hardly any future.
Even when the reasons for the second marriage are not so genuine, it saves the man from indulging in unhealthy sexual practices and the woman from becoming his victim. Those who argue that polygamy helps in the growth of population are misinformed. The rate of the growth of population depends only on the number of fertile women in that population. Polygamy does not change this number and has therefore nothing to do with the growth of population.
There is yet another question that people often put: Why only polygamy, why not polyandry? The answer is simple. Polygamy does not adversely affect the social fabric; it also does not increase the dangers from sex-related diseases. Polyandry will destroy the family system and social fabric. Children will be the greatest sufferers.
Islam allows polygamy but prefers monogamy. This ensures the survival and health of family system. The world of economic fundamentalism has opposed it because it is bent upon observing the last rites of family as soon as possible. Otherwise, who can understand the notion of legalising and promoting promiscuity and banning polygamy? It wants to discuss rights only in the context of its own interests, and has hardly any genuine concern for women.
The incidence of Polygamy is generally low, except in some countries. Wherever polygamy is there, this is nowhere compared to very high promiscuity rates in Western countries. The differences between promiscuity, permitted by modern systems and prohibited by Islam, and polygamy, permitted by Islam and interdicted by modern laws, are huge. Polygamy is self-limiting; promiscuity is all enveloping. While only a few can practise polygamy in a society, depending upon the ratio of marriage-seeking women and marriage-seeking men, almost all can indulge in promiscuity.
In polygamy, a man has relationships with a few women, none of whom has relationship with other men. The question of the establishment of parentage does not therefore arise. It is much less likely as well to help in spreading the sex-transmitted diseases. In contrast, men and women both can have promiscuous relationships. Not only the establishment of parentage becomes a problem it also provides natural habitat for HIV and other sex-transmitted infections. With hardly a small number of marriages breaking, the number of single parents is remarkably low in Muslim countries, and there are only very few unfortunate children living in single parent families.