Why does the West not legitimize polygamy?

by TERRE DES FEMMES - Human Rights for Women e.V.

Position paper on polygamy in Germany

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What role do social and family structures and religion play in polygamy?

Forced marriage, arranged marriage, polygamy, child marriage, depend on social structures. Islamic societies are shaped by traditions and patriarchal-dominated thinking. The family and Islam have a high place in the life of Muslim families. For many devout Muslims, the Sharia and the teaching of the imams have more weight than state laws. Equal rights for women in these societies are correspondingly difficult.

While common sense prevails in our society and is guaranteed by the basic rights that everyone can decide independently when, whom and, above all, whether he / she wants to marry, many Islamic families do not know this basic right. The structure of the Islamic family tradition does not allow women and men to have equal rights in society. In Islam, it is up to the family alone, i. H. to marry the father, mother or head of the family or guardian, son and daughter. This Islamic custom is legitimized by the Quran:

“Men are responsible for women because of what Allah has distinguished some of them with before others and because they spend of their possessions (on them). That is why righteous women (Allah) are humble and guard what is to be hidden, because Allah is guarding (it). And those whose opposition you fear - admonish them, avoid them in the marriage bed and beat them. But if they obey you, then do not seek any remedy against them. Allah is Exalted and Great. ”1

Legitimacy of polygamy through Sharia law

For many devout Muslims in patriarchal societies, polygamy is an important part of Islam. In a traditional Islamic society, sexuality is centered on the man and hierarchically determined. The man is entitled to act in the sense of the exercise of his sexuality, while the woman is obliged to sexual obedience in a marriage. The idea of ​​an equal partnership without the principle of obedience is alien to Islamic marriage law and traditional Islamic society. Marriage and family law is part of Sharia law. Therefore, the design of sexuality in marriage also includes legal aspects in Sharia. 2

Sura 4: 3 An-Nisa is the basis for Islamic polygamy, which allows a man to marry up to four women as long as he believes he is able to "treat them all fairly": "And if you fear that you are not doing justice to the orphans, marry what you think is good about women, two, three or four. But if you fear not acting righteously, then (only) one or what your right hand has. That is more likely that you are not unjust "3

This means that the financial and even emotional equal treatment of all women must be guaranteed according to the Qur'an. Anyone who cannot support a second wife and still marries is committing a sin. Also, if a man already has four wives, he can only marry another woman again after a divorce

Muslim theologians believe that polygamy makes social sense because:

First: You portray the Prophet Mohammed as a role model: because he had more than four wives at the same time. In the Qur'an (Surat An-Nisa "Women": 2, 3, 127, 129) polygamy is advocated in order to support war widows with children who have no possessions, since they are helpless and vulnerable without a husband. This was also Mohammed's primary motive in his marriages. Because without a man, women and their children would not be able to feed themselves and also become victims of sexual violence by men.

The well-known Egyptian theologian Ahmad Hasan Karzun defends polygamy in his book “Benefits of the muslim Family system " and writes “Islam offers wives good conditions. If the husband wants to marry a new wife, he can keep his first wife and marry a new wife. The first wife can stay at home under the care of her husband ”. He asks the critical question: “We wonder what is best for the first wife if a man wants to marry another woman. That she will stay with her husband or that she will be rejected by him? ”5

According to Sharia law, the husband alone has the power to get a divorce and therefore the wife should stay with her husband in order to raise the children and to lead a socially recognized life. He sees polygamy as an opportunity for women to be able to stay with their husbands and children

From this perspective, polygamy protects wives, so to speak, from the danger of divorce, which in Islamic countries represents social and financial ruin. 7th

Secondly: According to a traditional Islamic image of society, men have a stronger sex drive than women. This strong desire cannot be satisfied by one woman alone, which is why, according to his ideological understanding of the Qur'an, he has the right to marry several women. It goes without saying that the man lives his sexuality as the Koran allows him8. The rules of the Sharia, especially those of polygamy, are based on an image of male nature, according to which the man always thinks about satisfying his sexual needs and this constantly with new sexual partners. Because of this natural male desire, polygamy is supposed to be the only responsible answer9.

In addition to this misogynist representation, in which the wife only serves to satisfy the male instincts, the image of men represented in the Sharia is also very negative; the man is reduced to his sexual urges and he is denied his reason and the ability to control himself.

Another justification for polygamy is the woman's sexual unavailability during and after pregnancy and at “unclean times”, i.e. during her menstrual period. The Qur'an prohibits sexual intercourse with a wife during menstruation. For these reasons, it is said that a man's sexual needs cannot be met by his wife alone. 10

Third: Polygamy should be a solution for men who want more children. In the Islamic patriarchal society, many children mean security and prosperity "Alsanad". Also, the bigger a family is, the more powerful it is. This way, possessions can stay in the family and appear independent and strong to the outside world. Another biological reason is the woman's ability to reproduce. This begins at around 15 years of age and ends with her menopause, which takes place between the ages of 47 and 51. However, a man can still father children over 70 years of age11. Polygamy is also seen as a solution when the first wife turns out to be "sterile". In this way, the husband can father children with another woman without casting off his first wife

Fourth: The Islamic Sharia allows the man polygamy so that he does not live out his sexual needs in extramarital relationships and prostitution. This should bring clear social advantages; for example, it is argued that sexually transmitted diseases and viruses such as HIV and herpes spread faster in societies that allow extramarital intercourse and where prostitution is particularly prevalent. Polygamous marriages are supposed to eliminate prostitution and have a positive effect on morality within Islamic societies. 13

Causes of polygamy in the context of flight & war

In the lower social classes, women and girls are exploited because of their poverty. Rich men, on the other hand, often marry several women for reasons of prestige and power. A polygamous marriage is often entered into for economic reasons, especially during civil wars. The families are often in financial distress: Many families have lost their jobs, apartments or their belongings as a result of the war. In order to get out of this financial hardship, families try to hand over responsibility for their daughters to the husband and his family by marrying. 14

In addition, the parents hope to be able to protect their daughters from rape and kidnapping in this way. Often girls are also married, divorced and remarried if the husband turns out to be unable to support his family financially or if he is irresponsible towards the women and children. The very common saying in Islamic societies "Children are born and Allah will take care of them ", leads many men to refuse to take responsibility for their children.

Polygamy worldwide

In some countries in Africa and Asia, polygamous marriages are legally recognized or at least not classified as illegal. But even in countries that prohibit polygamy, such as Turkey, polygamous marriages can occur if the disregard of the law is not prosecuted. In predominantly Muslim countries, polygamy is still allowed today.

There are hardly any reliable figures. In 2009 polygamy was practiced for all or a specific section of the population in 74 countries in Africa and Asia.15

In Morocco, a regulation was introduced that gives the first wife the right to refuse a second wife. As a result, polygamy in Morocco was largely curbed. Tunisia even banned polygamy as early as 1956. Many countries that allow polygamy have regulations in place, such as checking the financial situation of the future spouse. This is to prevent arbitrary multiple marriages. Polygamy is not a purely Islamic phenomenon. Polygamy is also practiced in Christian Mormon sects, as is shown by the case of the Canadian Winston Blackmore, who had 146 children with 24 wives and was convicted for this (146 father convicted of polygamy, 2017). In Canada, as in many other western states, polygamy is banned. 16

Status: 04.03.2019



1 Quran Surat An-Nisa, 4:34, translation Islam.De. On the Internet under the link: http://islam.de/13827.php?sura=4 (last accessed on February 26, 2019)

2 Alhaj Mawas, Abir (2011): Violence against women in Syria and Germany. A qualitative comparative study. Dissertation TU Chemnitz https://d-nb.info/1012604748/34 (last accessed on February 26, 2019)

3 Quran Translation Islam.De. On the Internet under the link: http://islam.de/13827.php?sura=4 (last accessed on February 26, 2019)

4 Alhaj Mawas, Abir (2011): Violence against women in Syria and Germany. A qualitative comparative study. Dissertation TU Chemnitz https://d-nb.info/1012604748/34 (last accessed on February 26, 2019)

5 Karzun, Ahmad Hasan (1997): The advantages of the Muslim family system, p. 215 translation by Alhaj Mawas.

6 cf.ibid.

7 Faiz, Ahmad: (2014) "The Constitution of the Family in the Shadow of the Quran, pp. 182-183. On the Internet: https://ar.islamway.net/book/9989 (last accessed on February 26, 2019).

8 see Alhaj Mawas (2011): Violence against women in Syria and Germany. A qualitative comparative study.

9 see Schmitt D.P. (2008): "Universal sex differences in the desire for sexual variety: Tests from 52 nations, 6 continents, and 13 islands," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85-104. On the Internet under the link: https://www.islamreligion.com/de/articles/328/grunde-aus-denen-der-islam-polygamie-erlaubt/ (last accessed on February 26, 2019).

10 see Alhaj Mawas (2011): Violence against women in Syria and Germany. A qualitative comparative study.

11 see Bower, Bruce (1991): “Darwin’s Minds”, pp. 233-234, Science News Vol. 140 no. October 15, 12.

12 Alhaj Mawas (2011): Violence against women in Syria and Germany. A qualitative comparative study.

13 see Karzun, Ahmad Hasan (1997): The advantages of the Muslim family system, pp. 215-217, translation by Alhaj Mawas.

14 Alhaj Mawas, Abir (2018): Polygamy in the context of flight: “Refugee Syrian women fled the war and on the run, prostitution and forced early marriages were their fate”. On the Internet under the link: our-work / topics / equality-and-integration / news / 3263-polygamy-in-the-context-of-escape-refugees-syrian-women-fled-from-war-and-on-the-flight- goods-prostitution-and-forced-early-marriage-their-fate (last accessed on February 26, 2019).

15 United Nations (2011): Population Facts. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. P. 4, Population Division. No. 2011/1.

16 Tagesschau (2017): father of 146 convicted of polygamy. (July 25, 2017). On the Internet under the link: https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/mormonen-polygamie-ammlung-101.htmln (last accessed on June 26, 2018).