Why is everyone suddenly talking about polygamy?
A man ‘cannot do that to a woman’: Why polygamy in Canadian Muslim community could be another #MeToo moment
A documentary was made about Muslim polygamous practices in Canada and now everyone has got polygamy fever, but not in the good way.
The expose from the CBC takes the usual route in portraying polygamy (or specifically polygyny, i.e., one man married to multiple women) as an evil way for predatory men to fulfill their lusts behind the backs of their innocent, naive wives.
Guess what? It is very easy to portray a social, cultural, or religious practice as evil if you exclusively focus on all the worst examples. Are there dirt bag husbands who take advantage of their wives and engage in practices that, while technically halal, are nonetheless damaging and insensitive? Of course! Are there deceptive husbands who act like insensitive brutes towards their loving wives, who clearly don’t deserve such poor treatment? Absolutely! No one denies any of that. No one has ever claimed that every instance of a polygynous relationship is heaven on earth for all parties involved.
But, just like marriage in general, there are good cases and bad cases. And every case has a context. Where is all the “nuance” and “context” we are constantly told about when it comes to this issue?
In a recent sermon at his centre, [Imam] Slimi told his congregation that polygamy “was permitted for a certain time and within a certain context in the past, hundreds of years ago, but here in Canada, it’s not allowed and 95 or 99 per cent of women don’t agree with this and I am talking about Muslim women.”
This is terrible reasoning. Yes, polygamy is illegal in Canada, but just because something is illegal doesn’t mean that it is morally wrong. Liberal activists are constantly making this point when it suits them. Abortion used to be illegal. Same-sex marriage used to be illegal. But liberal activists and their Muslim counterparts have been marching and agitating to change the law in order to further these practices. Why don’t they march for polygamy? Because it’s not morally acceptable according to Western liberal norms, whereas baby killing and male-on-male sodomy are. Western liberal normativity is the moral compass of these Muslim activists, not Islam.
Also, this imam is going a little overboard when he says polygamy was permitted for a certain time hundreds of years ago. Uh, actually, polygamy was not uncommon throughout the Muslim world just one or two generations ago. My own grandfather had two wives and no one called him a predator or an immoral lout.
Furthermore, when did popular sentiment become the standard of halal and haram? Let’s just assume the imam is right and somehow has accurate statistics on 95%-99% of women opposing polygamy. So what? This is not something new. Even many of the wives of the Prophet ﷺ probably would have preferred that he were only married to them and no one else. They loved him more than they loved themselves and they didn’t want to share him with others. They even fought among themselves to spend more time with the Prophet ﷺ. So women’s dislike for polygamy is not something new.
The perfection of the Sharia is that it recognizes that trade offs are a part of life.
This is the natural trade off that some women choose to make if they want to marry high status, high power men. We see it in every society. The most powerful, high wealth, high status men are the most attractive to women and some women voluntarily choose to be one of many just for a chance to be with such a man. In Western society, where marriage is not seen as morally necessary for sexual relationships, most of these relationships are in the form of mistresses, “side chicks,” etc.
Would women prefer not to make any trade off? Would women prefer all the benefits without any of the costs? Of course. But such personal preferences, again, are not determinants of halal or haram, moral and immoral. Men also have to make trade-offs in their marriage decisions. This is built into Islamic law because of things like the mahr, which is a religious requirement for a valid nikah. Marrying a more attractive wife will usually come with a higher mahr. That is expected. Marrying a more attractive wife from a good family will require more mahr and more financial maintenance day-to-day. That’s just how it works. The scholars of fiqh are very explicit about this as well, which is why they emphasize suitability (kafa’a) and how a wali should reject suitors who are not suitable financially, socially, etc.
But we don’t see any feminist activists demanding equality when it comes to mahr and financial maintenance (i.e., nafaqa). Why not? Why aren’t there feminist campaigns against the fact that some women get bigger mahr and get to live in bigger homes and drive fancier cars and go shopping at pricier stores? Isn’t it unjust that some men have to pay more and spend more just because their wives are more desirable? Where are the cries for equality here?
According to the feminist logic, desirable women deserve more and are entitled to all the lavish luxuries their husbands shower them with. And that’s an acceptable trade off because men are the ones who have to sacrifice. But when it comes to desirable men, they aren’t entitled to polygamy because that trade off requires women to sacrifice, and that’s unacceptable. These are the kinds of double standards and injustice that feminism constantly promotes.
The perfection of the Sharia is that it recognizes that trade offs are a part of life. Man-made ethics, however, do not account for human nature and the complexity of human preferences in this way, which is why marriage is increasingly a joke that Westerners prefer to avoid.
And of course there are many Muslim women for whom polygamy presents an attractive alternative to monogamous marriage. It allows them a sexual outlet without needing to worry about the other responsibilities and duties that come with being an exclusive wife. For other women, they would prefer to marry a rich, powerful man as a second wife than marry a poorer, lower-status man as an only wife. Obviously, not all women are like this, but many women are.
And Islam empowers such women (let’s use some of the feminist buzzwords now). These are strong, independent women who want to be second wives. That’s their choice. How DARE anyone tell these women what they can and can’t do with their bodies! /feminism
So, yes, many Muslim women seek out these types of marriage arrangements. Islam permits it. It is only the repressive Western legal system that restricts what can be, for many, a fulfilling, happy, productive polygynous marriage. And of course, not all Muslim men desire to have more than one wife or are even a position to have more than one wife.
An Attack on Marriage Itself
Look at how the CBC article attacks polygamy. Polygamy is wrong, they argue, because women can be taken advantage of. But that’s the case with all marriage. By undermining polygamy on the basis of potential abuse, these liberal feminists are undermining marriage to the same extent.
Marriage always has the potential to go wrong. And women are in a precarious situation in those cases. This is for the simple reason that women prefer to marry men who are higher status and higher power than them. This is what women find desirable in a mate, as plenty of research has shown. Even feminist women are more attracted to men who are higher status than they are. Women are attracted to power. No use in denying this. But the consequence of these female preferences is that women find themselves in relative positions of weakness vis-a-vis their husbands. This is unavoidable.
This fact is recognized by the Prophet ﷺ when he said: “I urge you to treat women well, for they are like prisoners with you.” [Tirmidhi] And Sayyidna Umar also remarked: “Marriage is like slavery, so be careful with regard to whom you give your daughter for enslavement.”
This is, of course, anathema to the feminist cause. How can an institution that is tantamount to imprisonment and slavery be allowed in civilized society? But this is the natural result of natural female desires. To avoid it, women would have to consciously decide to marry men who are weaker than them, i.e., men they find less desirable and less attractive. That’s all women need to do to solve this situation. All they have to do is forego their natural desires and settle for the loser, the penniless, the socially immobile. Then they can enjoy the power in their marriages. Isn’t that great?
Well, this is essentially what has happened in the modern West. Marriage rates are dropping, divorces rates are rising. Countless studies show that as women enter the workforce and earn more and more, they are less willing to marry, not because they don’t want to marry but because there are fewer eligible men they find desirable, i.e., fewer men who earn more than they do.
With fewer marriages, zina goes up, out-of-wedlock births go up, all of which correlates with countless social ills, and society as a whole goes down the drain. This is the social crisis happening in the West and women are not happy.
You know who is “happy” in polygamy-free Canada and elsewhere in the West? The 1% of wealthy, high status men who sleep with dozens, if not hundreds, of women without having to marry them or commit to them in any way. The gift of feminism that keeps on giving.
Necessary Disclaimer: This article does not promote breaking the law in Canada, the US, or elsewhere. It only argues against the morality of the law in order to raise awareness of the negative consequences of anti-polygyny laws. With raised awareness, the public will hopefully one day push to change the law. Things are already moving in that direction.