Marriage & Family
Phrases like “Qubool hai” and “Till death do us part” may seal the wedding vows for a couple but when seen in their real context, these words depict the larger picture of life that the couple agrees to become a part of. Marriage is an institution that comprises rewards as well as responsibilities, both of which are dependent on each other in order to ensure the smooth working of a marital bond.
MARRIAGE AS AN INSTITUTION
Marriage has widely been accepted as an important pillar of family and social structure in all parts of the world ever since mankind learned the basic rules of civilization. In recent decades, however, the importance of this institution has declined in some societies where premarital relationships have come to be accepted as a norm.
With the evolution of different social and cultural contexts, marriage is divided into two categories in terms of the number of spouses a person can have at one point in time:
- Monogamy – A marital bond in which an individual can have only one spouse at a time.
- Polygamy – The type of marriage in which an individual, usually the man, is allowed to have several spouses at a time.
The debate between monogamy and polygamy has been ongoing and has become even stronger in recent times with most societies being proponents of monogamy. The purpose of this article is not to defend or criticize any one form of marriage. Its sole aim is to analyze them from a holistic point of view and present a comparison. For this reason, we need to study the advantages each of these marriage systems entail.
ADVANTAGES OF MONOGAMY
- A simplistic approach towards marriage
Monogamy is comparatively a more straightforward and uncomplicated approach towards marital life. While a monogamous marriage may not necessarily be tranquil or successful, it allows the couple to give their undivided attention to building the bond they share with each other.
- Stability in parental roles
In a monogamous marriage, there is a greater likelihood of the couple playing a more involved and decisive role in child-rearing. Since the man and woman in this type of bond do not have other spouses and families to deal with, they can show more focus and devotion towards raising a single family.
- Greater room for fair treatment
Monogamous relationships present the solution to what many consider to be the downside of polygamy – the probability that a man will not be able to provide fair treatment to his spouses. With monogamy requiring a man to promise spending his life with one woman only and fulfilling the demands of the bond he shares with her, it is vehemently seen as the more productive and just marital system in most societies around the globe.
ADVANTAGES OF POLYGAMY
- A way to help women living with different social stigmas
Widowhood and divorce are considered to be social stigmas in some societies like ours. In fact, our social setup is very unforgiving towards women who show an inclination towards remarrying. Conventionally, there is very little possibility that an unmarried man will show interest in marrying a woman who had already been married before. Consider it a virtually impossible situation if there are children involved in the equation as well.
Under such circumstances, polygamy serves as a solution, creating room for already-married, financially capable men to provide shelter, protection and honor to these women.
- Helpful in striking a balance in the men-women ratio
It is a globally accepted fact that women outnumber men and that this trend is likely to increase in the years to come. This means that there is a growing disparity between the number of women of marriageable ages and the number of eligible men. Eventually, there will be a greater number of unmarried women left, which leaves a polygamous relationship as the only practical way to counter the problem.
POLYGAMY IN ISLAM
Islam has prescribed a complete marriage system, which takes into account all human variables, providing men and women with viable options. Under Sharia law, men may have up to four wives while women may have only one husband.
Before the advent of Islam, there was no limit on the number of wives a man could have and it was common for polygamous men to treat their wives inequitably. When Islam made its ruling on polygamy, it compelled Muslim men to adhere to three criteria:
1. It is not for every man.
2. The limit is four wives at one time.
3. All wives must be treated equally.
This goes on to show that Islam has established the rules of behavior for polygamous marriages. For instance, the husband’s time must be equally distributed among the wives. This means that should spend his nights and days equally between them. If he gets a gift for one wife, then he must present the other wives with gifts of equivalent values.
In Quran, Allah gives fair warning to polygamous husbands who do not display equality and fairness between their wives:
“If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then (marry) only one…” (Qur’an 4:3)
Although polygamy may be painful for some women, it is also beneficial for other women and society as a whole. Since Muslims must accept Allah’s message wholeheartedly, denying the validity of polygamy is tantamount to denying the comprehensiveness of the Islamic marriage system and the wisdom of the divine decree.
Polygamy was practiced by most major companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as well as many notable Muslim scholars. It was also followed among a portion of the general masses in most Muslim countries before and after the advent of European colonization.
HOW POLYGAMY IS VIEWED GLOBALLY
Polygamous marriages are recognized as a civil entity in nearly fifty countries, most of which have Islam as their state religion. They are also accepted in some countries of Africa. In the Middle Eastern region, however, Israel, Turkey and Tunisia are notable exceptions. Many countries, which do not permit polygamous civil marriages, recognize them under customary law.
Polygamy is criticized vehemently and shunned with abhorrence in many societies. In our culture, the concepts of both monogamous and polygamous marriages exist and are being followed side by side.
POLYGAMY AS A SYSTEM OF MARRIAGE – THE END WORD
Polygamy is not an obligated rule but a permissible act. Contemporary scholars do not recommended or encourage polygamy, but it still can be utilized as an option if the circumstances are such.
Financial challenges may weigh down any advantages that polygamy may have and the man involved should be prepared for this scenario before choosing to have multiple marital partners. However, if the wives are financially independent, polygamous marriages can become larger support systems.
A polygamous marriage is thought to have adverse effects on the upbringing of children. On the other hand, however, it gives them the exposure to deal with diverse personalities especially if all families live under the same roof.
With their intrinsic female nature, wives may feel competitive against each other, which goes on to show that polygamy is a long way from being easily acceptable. On the contrary, if the man is not prepared to settle down with one woman, it is better for him to indulge into a legitimate relationship. Indeed, there are men who have chosen polygamous relationships and lead happy lives.
Whatever form of marriage individuals choose for themselves, they must enter in it with utmost faithfulness, sincerity, tolerance, compromise, unconditional love, respect and trust.