Strictly speaking, polygamy means the plurality of mates. More specifically, if a man has more than one wife at the same time, this is called polygyny. But since the average common reader makes no distinction between the two terms, they will be used here interchangeably. When we say polygamy in this context, it actually means polygyny in the proper sense of the term. On the other hand, if a woman has more than one mate, it is called polyandry. If it is a mixture of men and women, it is a group or communal marriage.
These three basics types of plural marriage have been more or less practiced by different societies in different ages under different circumstances. The most common pattern is polygyny; yet it is still necessarily limited to a very small minority of any given population for various reasons. This is the only pattern permitted by Islam. The other two, plurality of husbands (polyandry) and group marriages are absolutely forbidden in Islam.
However, it is not correct that Judaism and Christianity have always been monogamous or categorically opposed to polygyny, not even today. We are informed by some prominent Jewish scholars, e.g. Goitein (pp. 184-185), that polygynous Jewish immigrants cause the Israeli housing authorities a great deal of both difficulty and embarrassment. The position of the Christian Mormons is well known. So is the view of Afro-Asian bishops who prefer polygyny to infidelity, fornication, and mate swapping. In the
It will be revealing to examine the high correlation between strict formal monogamy and the frequency of prostitution, homosexuality, illegitimacy, infidelity, and general sexual laxity. The historical record of the Greek-Roman and the Jewish-Christian civilizations is even more revealing in this respect as any standard sociological history of the family will show. (S.D Goitein, Jews and Arabs: Their Contracts Through the Ages.
Turning to the case of Islam we find many people in the Western world who think that a Muslim is a man who is possessed by physical passions and himself in possession of a number of wives and concubines, limited or unlimited. Many more among these people show a feeling of surprise when they see a Muslim with one wife or a Muslim who is unmarried. They believe that the Muslim is at full liberty to shift from one wife or a number of wives to another, and that this is as easy as shifting from one apartment to another, or even as changing one’s suit. This attitude is aggravated partly by sensational motion pictures and cheap paperback stories, and partly by the irresponsible behavior of some Muslim individuals. The inevitable result of this situation is that stationary barriers have cut off millions of people from seeing the brilliant lights of Islam and its social philosophy. And it is for such people that an attempt will be made to discuss the question from the Muslim point of view, after which anybody is free to draw his own conclusions.
Polygamy as such has been practiced throughout human history. It was practiced by prophets like Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, etc.; by kings and governors; by common people of the East and the West in ancient and modern times alike. Even today, it is practiced among Muslims and non-Muslims of the East and the West in various forms, some of which are legal and some illegal and hypocritical; some in secret and some in public. It does not require much search to find out where and how a great number of married people maintain private mistresses, or stock spare sweethearts, or frequent their beloved ones, or simply go around with other women, protected by common law. Whether moralists like it or not, the point remains that polygamy is in practice and it can be seen everywhere and found in all ages of history.
During the time of Biblical revelations, polygamy was commonly accepted and practiced. It was accepted religiously socially, and morally; and there was no objection to it. Perhaps this is why the Bible itself did not deal with the subject because it was then a matter of fact, a matter of course. The Bible does not forbid it or regulate it or even restrict it. Some people have interpreted the ten-virgin story of the Bible as a sanction for maintaining ten wives at a time. The stories of biblical prophets, kings, and patriarchs in this regard are incredible.
When Islam was re-presented by Muhammad the practice of polygamy was common and deeply-rooted in the social life. The Qur’an did not ignore the practice or discard it, nor did it let it continue unchecked or unrestricted. The Qur’an could not be indifferent to the question or tolerant of the chaos and irresponsibility associated with polygamy. As it did with other prevailing social customs and practices, the Qur’an stepped in to organize the institution and polish it in such a way as to eradicate its traditional evils and insure its benefits. The Qur’an interfered because it had to be realistic and could not condone any chaos in the family structure which is the very foundation of society. The benevolent intervention of the Qur’an introduced these regulations:
1.Polygamy is permissible with certain conditions and under certain circumstances. It is a conditional permission and not an article of Faith or a matter of necessity.
2.This permission is valid with a maximum of four wives. Before Islam there were no limits or assurances of any kinds.
3.The second or third wife, if ever taken, enjoys the same rights and privileges as the first one. She is fully entitled to whatever is due to the first one. Equality between the wives in treatment, provisions and kindness is a prerequisite of polygamy and a condition that must be fulfilled by anyone who maintains more than one wife. This equality depends largely on the inner conscience of the individual involved.
4.This permission is an exception to the ordinary course. It is the last resort, the final attempt to solve some social and moral problems, and to deal with inevitable difficulties. In short, it is an emergency measure, and it should be confined to that sense.
The Qur’anic passage relevant to the subject reads as follows:
If the fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans (whom you marry or whose mothers you take as wives for you), 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 only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess. That will be more suitable to prevent you from doing injustice (4:3).
The passage was revealed after the Battle of Uhud in which many Muslims were killed, leaving widows and orphans for whom due care was incumbent upon the Muslim survivors. Marriage was one way of protecting those widows and orphans. The Qur’an made this warning and gave that choice to protect the rights of the orphans and prevent the guardians from doing injustice to their dependents.
With this background it is apparent that Islam did not invent polygamy, and that by introducing the said regulations it does not encourage it as a rule. It did not abolish it because if it were abolished, that would have been in theory only, and people would have continued the practice as is observed today among other people whose constitutions and social standards do not approve polygamy, Islam came to be enforced, to be lived, to be practised, and not to stay in suspense or be considered a mere theory. It is realistic and its outlook on life is most practicable. And that is why it permits conditional and restricted polygamy; because had it been in the best interest of humanity as a whole to do without this institution, God would have certainly ordered its termination. But who knows better than He?
There is a variety of reasons for which Islam permits polygamy. One does not have to imagine such reasons or make hypotheses. They are real and can be seen every day everywhere. Let us examine some of these reasons.
1.In some societies women outnumber men: This is especially true of industrial and commercial regions, and also of countries that get involved in wars. Now if a Muslim society is in this category, and if Islam were to forbid polygamy and restrict legal marriage to one wife only, what would the unmarried ones do? Where and how would they find the naturally desirable companionship? Where and how would they find sympathy, understanding, support and protection? The implications of the problem are not simply physical; they are also moral, sentimental, social, emotional and natural. Every normal woman – whether she is in business or in foreign service or in the intelligence department – longs for a home, a family of her own. She needs some one to care for and some one to care for her. She desires to belong socially and familially. Even if we look at it from a strictly physical point of view, the implications are still very serious, and we cannot just ignore them; otherwise, psychological complexes, nervous breaks, social disgust and mental instability would develop as legitimate results of leaving the problem unsolved. Clinical evidence of this is overwhelming.
These natural desires and sentimental aspirations have to be realized. These needs to belong, and to care, and to be cared for, have to be satisfied somehow or other. Women in such a situation do not usually transform their nature or lead an angelic course of life. They feel that they have every right to enjoy life and obtain their share. If they cannot have it in a legal and decent way, they never fail to find other channels, although risky and temporary. Very few women can do without the permanent and assured companionship of men. The overwhelming majority of unmarried women in such a society find their way to meet men. They put up lavish parties, organize social cocktails, attend business conventions, pursue outgoing roads, and so on. The results of this desperate hunting is not always moral or decent. A certain married man may appeal to some woman, and she would try to win him legally or otherwise. Also, some woman may attract a certain man, who might be demoralized or depressed for some reason or other. Such a man will try to have some intimate relationship with her in the open or in secret, in a decent manner or otherwise, in a legal form or just by common law. This would certainly have serious effects on the family life of the married man involved, and would ruin from within the morale and social morality of society. Wives would be deserted or neglected; children would be forsaken; homes would be broken, and so on.
The woman who meets a male companion under such circumstances has no security or dignity or rights of any kind. Her male companion or professional lover could be with her, maintain her and frequent her residence with gifts and readiness to shower on her all expressions of passionate romance. But what assurance has she got? How can she stop him from walking out on her or letting her down in times when he is most needed and his companionship is most desired? What will prevent him from calling off this secret romance? Morality? Conscience? The Law? Nothing will help; morality was given a death blow when they started this kind of intimacy; conscience was paralyzed when he indulged in this relationship against all regulations of God and man; the Law of society does not recognize any intimacy except with one’s only wife. So, the male can enjoy this easy companionship as long as he wishes, and once his feelings cool off he can go to meet another woman and repeat the same tragedy without regulated responsibilities or obligations on his part.
The woman who has had this experience may still be attractive and appealing, or desirous. She may even look for another man and give it a second trial. But will this give her any security or assurance or dignity or right? She will be running in the same vicious circle all the time hunting or hoping to be hunted. Her burden will grow heavier and heavier, especially if there are children involved. Yet in the end she will be forgotten. That does not befit human dignity or feminine delicacy. Any woman in this situation is bound to become either a nervous wreck or a rebellious revenger and destroyer of morality.
On the other hand, no one can pretend that all married men are happy, successful and satisfied with their marriages. Whether it is his own or his wife’s fault, the unhappy husband will look for some other kind of companionship and consolation from somebody else. This is made easy for him when women outnumber men. If he cannot get it through honest channels, he will get it by other means with the result of immoral and indecent intimacies, which may involve illegitimacy, abortion and other endless troubles. These may be ugly and bitter facts, but they are real and acute problems. They have to be solved in a way that will secure the individual, male or female, and protect society.
The solution which Islam offers in this respect is a permission to the unhappy and dissatisfied husband to marry a second wife and live with her openly in a responsible way with equal fulfillment of all obligations to the first wife and to the second. Similarly, it helps unmarried women satisfy their needs, realize their longings and fulfill their ligitimate aspirations and natural desires. It gives them a permission to associate with men by marriage and enjoy all the rights and privileges of legal wives. In this way Islam does not try to evade the question or ignore the problem. It is realistic and frank, straightforward and practical. The solution which Islam offers is legal, decent and benevolent. Islam suggests this solution because it can never tolerate hypocrisy in human relations. It cannot accept as legal and moral the attitude of a man who is by law married to one wife and in reality has unlimited scope of intimacies and secret relationships. On the other hand, it is deadly opposed to adultery and cannot condone it. The penalty of adulterers and adulteresses can be as severe as capital punishment, and that of fornicators can be as painful as flogging each of them with a hundred stripes. With hypocrisy, infidelity and adultery forbidden, there is no other alternative except to allow legal polygamy. And this is what Islam has done with the above –mentioned regulations and conditions.
If some people think it unacceptable, they have to resort to the other alternatives which Islam does not accept or particularly favor. And if some other people can control themselves and exercise self- discipline in every aspect, they do not need polygamy. The main concern of Islam is to maintain the dignity and security of the individual, and to protect the integrity and morale of society.
Now anybody can ask himself as to what is better for a society of this kind. Is it commendable to let chaos and irresponsible behavior ruin the very foundations of society, or to resort to and implement the Islamic resolution? Is it in the interest of society to ignore its acute problems, to tolerate hypocrisy and indecency, to condone adultery and secret intimacy? Is it healthy to suppress the legitimate desires and natural longings of man and woman for companionship, the suppression which cannot be effective in reality and which would only drive them to illegal and indecent outlets? Whether the question is considered from a social or moral or humanitarian or spiritual or any other point of view, it will be realized that it is far better for the society to permit its individuals to associate on a legal basis and in a responsible manner, with the protection of the Law and under the supervision of the authorities concerned.
Even if we look at the matter from a feminine point of view, it will be clear that by this very resolution, Islam assures the woman of due respect, secures her rights and integrity, recognizes her legitimate desire for decent companionship, gives her room in society where she can belong, and provides her with opportunities to care for someone dear and to be cared for. This may sound unpleasant to a woman who already has a husband and resents seeing any other woman having access to his companionship and protection, or sharing with her his support and kindness. But what is the feeling of the other women who have no husbands or reliable companions? Should we just ignore their existence and believe that they have no right to any kind of security and satisfaction? And if we ignore them, will that solve their problem or give them any satisfaction? How would this very wife feel and react if she were in a position similar to that of the companionless women? Would she not desire to belong and to be respected and acknowledged? Would she not accept a half cup or a half husband, as it were, if she cannot have it full? Would she not be happier with some protection and security, instead of being deprived of it altogether? What will happen to her and her children, if the dear husband becomes attracted to or by one of those “surplus” women over a social cocktail or a dancing party? What will become of her if he deserts his family or neglects his responsibilities to make time and provision for the new attraction? How would she feel if she comes to know that the only man in her life is having some affairs with other women and maintaining another person in secret or frequenting another spare sweetheart? Such a man is not only a loss but also a menace. He is mean and wicked. Granted! But is this curse going to help anyone involved ? Such a man is no longer, in reality, a husband of one wife. He is a mean hypocrite, but the harm is done, and the soul is injured. It is the woman - the legal wife as well as the illegal companion – who suffers from a state of affairs of this kind. Is it not better for both women involved to equally share the man’s care and support, and have equal access to his companionship and be both equally protected by the law?. It is to protect all parties concerned, to combat unchastity, to prevent such harm and save souls from injuries that Islam benevolently interferes and allows the married man to remarry if there is good reason or justification.
2.In some instances of marriage the wife may not be capable of having any children for some reason or other. To have a family life in the full sense of the word and contribute to the preservation of the human kind, the presence of children is fundamental. Besides, it is one of the major purposes of marriage, and man desires by nature to have children to preserve his name and strengthen the family bonds. In a situation like this a man has one of three ordinary alternatives:
(i) to forget it and suppress his natural desires for children; (ii) to divorce his childless wife through a course of separation, adultery or otherwise; and (iii) to adopt children and give them his name.
None of these alternatives fits the general outlook of Islam on life and nature. Islam does not encourage or approve suppression of anyone’s legitimate desires and natural aspirations. It helps to realize those aspirations and desires in a decent and legal way because suppression in such a case is not part of its system. Divorce under these circumstances is not justifiable, because it is not the wife’s fault that she cannot have children. Besides, divorce is the most detestible thing in the sight of God and is permissible only when there is no other alternative. On the other hand, the wife may be in need of the support and companionship of her husband. It will be cruel to let her go when she is in need and desperate, and when she has nobody particularly interested in her, knowing that she is unable to give birth.
Adoption is also out of the question, because Islam ordains that every child must be called by his real father’s name, and if the name is unknown, he must be called a brother in faith (Qur’an, 33:4-5). This, of course, does not mean that a child who has no known father or supporter should suffer deprivation or lack of care. Far from it. It means that adoption as practiced today is not the way to give that child secure and prosperous life. No one can really and fully substitute for the actual father and mother. The daily course of events, the complicated procedures and cases in courts, and the disputes between families attest that adoption never solves a problem. How many cases are there in courts today where the real parents are demanding the return of their children who have been adopted by strange families and introduced to different environments? How long can a normal mother or father see his child in a strange home? How far can they trust artificial parents to bring up their child in the proper way and give him due care? How will the child himself feel when he grows up to find that his real parents gave him away and that he has had artificial parenthood? How will he react when he discovers that his real parents are unknown, or that his mother gave him up because of fear or poverty or shame or insecurity? How much is the adopted child liked by other members of the adopting family? Do they like a strange child to take their name and inherit the properties to which they are potential heirs? How will the breeders feel when the real parents demand the return of their child, or when the child himself wishes to join his original parents? Many complications are involved. The institution is no doubt unhealthy and may cause much harm to the child, to the parents, artificial and real, to other relations of the adopting family, and to society at large. Adoption is one of the major reasons that encourage many people to indulge in irresponsible activities and intimacies. It is being commercialized nowadays. There are some people who put up their children for “sale” or trade as the news media show. That is not in the African or Asian jungles; it is right here in
With these three alternatives, discarded for the reasons mentioned, Islam offers its own solution. It permits a man in such a situation to remarry, to satisfy his natural needs and at the same time maintain his childless wife, who probably needs him now more than at any other time. This is, again, a permission, a course that a desperate man may take, instead of adoption or divorce or unnatural suppression of his aspirations. It is another instance where remarriage is the best feasible choice, another way out of a difficult situation to help people to live a normal and secure life in every aspect.
3.There are cases and times where the wife is incapable of fulfilling her marital obligations. She may fail to be as pleasant a companion as she should be or even as she would like to be. She may be in a state where she cannot give the husband all the affection, satisfaction and attention he deserves and desires. All this can and does actually happen. It is not always the wife’s fault; it may be nature itself. It may be a long illness, or a period of confinement, or some of the regular periods. Here, again, not all men can endure or exercise self-control or adopt an angelic manner of behavior. Some men do fall into the pit of immorality, deception, hypocrisy and infidelity. There are actual cases where some husbands fall in passionate love with their sisters-in-law or their babysitters or housekeepers who come to look after the family during the illness of the wife or the period of confinement. It has happened many times that while the wives were undergoing the difficult operations of delivery or surgery, their husbands were experiencing fresh romance with other women. The sister or friend of the sick lady is the most frequent character in such a play. With all noble intentions, perhaps, she comes to help her sick sister or dear friend and look after the children or just after the house temporarily, and from there on things develop and get complicated. When there is a sick wife at home or in the hospital, the husband feels lonesome and depressed. The other woman around the house – whether the wife’s sister or friend or anybody else, takes it as part of her help to show the husband some sympathy and a bit of understanding, which may be sincere and honest or may be otherwise. Some men and women exploit this simple start of sympathy and use it to the end. The result is a broken heart here or there, and probably a broken home too.
Problems of this kind are not imaginary or even rare. They are common among people. Newspapers deal from time to time with such problems. Court files also bear witness to this fact. The act of man in this respect may be called mean, immoral, indecent, vicious, etc. Granted! But does this help? Does it change the fact or alter human nature? The act is done, an offense is committed repeatedly, and an acute problem is calling for a practicable and decent solution. Should the lawmakers satisfy themselves with an outright condemnation of such a man and his acts? Should they let him ruin his own integrity and destroy the moral foundations of society? Should they allow hypocrisy and immorality to replace honesty and faithfulness? Outright prohibition and condemnation have not stopped some men from committing the offense or quickened their conscience. On the contrary, they have made room for hypocrisy, secret infidelity and irresponsibility in the face of which the law and lawmakers are helpless.
Now Islam cannot be helpless. It cannot compromise on moral standards or tolerate hypocrisy and infidelity. It cannot deceive itself or man by false and pretended satisfactions. Nor can Islam deny the existence of the problem or simply resort to outright condemnation and prohibition, because that does not even minimize the harm. To save a man of this kind from his own self, to protect the woman involved – whether she is the wife or the secret friend – against unnecessary complications, to maintain the moral integrity of society, and to minimize evil, Islam has allowed recourse to polygamy with the reservations and conditions mentioned above. This is to be applied as an emergency measure and is certainly much healthier than nominal monogamy and irresponsible relations between man and woman. Men and women, who find themselves in a desperate state or in a difficult entanglement, may resort to this solution. But if there is any fear of injustice and harm to any party, then monogamy is the rule.
4.Nature itself requires certain things and actions of man in particular. It is man who, as a rule, travels a lot on business trips and stays away from home for various periods of time, on long and short journeys, in his own country and abroad. No one can take the responsibility of ascertaining that all men under such circumstances remain faithful and pure. Experience shows that most men do fall and commit immoral offenses with strange women during the period of absence from home, which may be months or years. Some people are weak and cannot resist even the easily resistible temptations. As a result, they fall into sin, and that might cause a break in the family. This is another case where restricted polygamy may apply. It is much better for a man of this type to have a second home with a second legal wife than to be free in committing immoral and irresponsible offenses. This is even much better for the wife herself; when she knows that her man is bound by legal regulations and moral principles in his intimacy with another woman, she is most likely to be less irritable than when he enjoys the same intimacy otherwise. Naturally she does not like her man to be shared by anybody else. But when she is confronted with a situation wherein the man has the choice to be either legallly responsible and morally bound, or illegally and immorally associated with someone else, she would certainly choose the first alternative and accept the situation. However, if she is harmed or her rights are violated, she can always refer to the law or obtain a divorce if it be in her best interest.
By applying Islamic polygamy to this case, the man’s integrity, the second woman’s dignity and the moral values of society would be more safeguarded. These cases need no elaboration. They are factual elements in daily life. They may be rare, but rarer is the practice of polygamy among Muslims. Those Muslims who resort to polygamy are much rarer than the infidel husbands and wives who live in monogamous societies.
Although it is risky and contingent on many prerequisites, as explained earlier, polygamy is far better than negligence and infidelity, hypocrisy and insecurity, immorality and indecency. It helps men and women to solve their difficult problems on a realistic and responsible basis. It brings down to a minimum many psychological, natural and emotional complications of human life. It is a precautionary measure to be applied in the best interest of all parties concerned. Yet it is no article of Faith in Islam nor is it an injunction; it is merely a permission from God, a solution of some of the most difficult problems in human relations. The Muslims maintain that legal and conditional polygamy is preferable to the other courses that many people take nowadays, people who pride themselves on nominal marriage and superficial monogamy.
To complete the discussion one has to examine the marriages of Prophet Muhammad. These marriages are no problem for a Muslim who understands the ideal character of the Prophet and the circumstances under which his marriages were contracted. But quite often they stand as a stumbling block for non-Muslims to understand the personality of the Prophet, and cause irresponsible and premature conclusions, which are not to the credit of Islam or the Prophet. Here we shall not give any conclusions of our own or denounce the conclusions of others. We shall present certain facts and let the readers see for themselves.
1.The institution of marriage as such enjoys a very high status in Islam. It is highly commendable and essential for the sound survival of society.
2.Muhammad never said that he was immortal or divine. Time and again, he emphasized the fact that he was mortal chosen by God to deliver God’s message to mankind. Although unique and distinguished in his life, he lived like a man and died as a man. Marriage, therefore, was natural for him, and not a heresy or anathema.
3.He lived in an extremely hot climate where the physical desires press hard on man, where people develop physical maturity at an early age, and where easy satisfaction was a common thing among people of all classes. Nevertheless, Muhammad had never touched women until he was twenty-five years of age, when he married for the first time. In the whole
4.His first marriage at this unusually late stage in that area was to Lady Khadeejah, an old twice-widowed lady who was fifteen years senior to him. She herself initiated the contract, and he accepted the proposal in spite of her older age and in spite of her being twice- widowed. At the time he could have quite easily found many prettier girls and much younger wives, if he were passionate or after things physical.
5.With this lady alone, he lived until he was over fifty years of age, and by her he had all his children with the exception of Ibraheem. She lived with him until she passed the age of sixty-five, and in her life he never had any other marriage or any other intimacy with anybody besides his only wife.
6.Now he proclaimed the message of God, and was well over fifty and she over sixty-five years of age. Persecutions and perils were continually inflicted on him and his followers. In the middle of these troubles, his wife died. After her death, he stayed without any wife for some time. Then there was Sawdah, who had emigrated with her husband to Abyssinia in the early years of persecutions. On the way back her husband died and she sought a shelter. The natural course for her was to turn to the Prophet himself for whose mission her husband had died. The Prophet extended his shelter and married her. She was not particularly young or pretty and pleasant. She was an ordinary widow with a quick and loose temper. Later in the same year, the Prophet proposed to a minor girl of seven years,
7.From his fifty-sixth year up to the sixtieth year of his life, the Prophet contracted nine marriages in quick succession. In the last three years of his life he contracted no marriages at all. Most of his marriages were contracted in a period of about five years, when he was passing the most difficult and trying stage in his mission. It was at that time that Muslims were engaged in decisive battles and entangled in an endless circle of trouble from within as well as from without. It was at that time that the Islamic legislation was in the making, and the foundations of an Islamic society were being laid down. The fact that Muhammad was the most dominant figure in these events and the center around which they revolved, and that most of his marriages took place during this particular period is an extremely interesting phenomenon. It invites the serious attention of historians, sociologists, legislators, psychologists, etc. It cannot be interpreted simply in terms of physical attractions and lustful passions.
8.Muhammad lived a most simple, austere, and modest life. During the day he was the busiest man of his era as he was Head of State, Chief Justice, Commander-in-Chief, Instructor, etc., all at once. At night he was the most devoted man. He used to stay one to two-thirds of every night vigilant in prayers and meditation (Qur’an, 73:20). His furniture consisted of mats, jugs, blankets and such simple things, although he was the king and sovereign of Arabia. His life was so severe and austere that his wives once pressed him for wordly comforts but they never had any (cf. Qur’an, 33:48). Obviously, that was not the life of a lustful and passionate man.
9.The wives he took were all widows or divorced with the exception of one minor girl,
This is the general background of the Prophet’s marriages, and it can never give any impressions that these marriages were in response to physical needs of biological pressures. It is inconceivable to think that he maintained so large a number of wives because of personal designs or physical wants. Anyone, a friend or a foe, who doubts the moral integrity or the spiritual excellence of Muhammad on account of his marriages has to find satisfactory explanations of questions like these: Why did he start his first marriage at the age of 25 after having had no association with any female? Why did he choose a twice-widowed older lady who was 15 years senior to him? Why did he remain with her only until her death when he was over fifty? Why did he accept all those helpless widows and divorcees who possessed no particular appealing qualities? Why did he lead such an austere and hard life, when he could have had an easy and comfortable course? Why did he contract most of his marriages in the busiest five years in his life, when his mission and career were at stake? How could he manage to be what he was, if the harem life or passions overtook him? There are many other points that can be raised. The matter is not so simple as to be interpreted in terms of manly love and desire for women. It calls for a serious and honest consideration.
Reviewing the marriages of Muhammad individually one does not fail to find the actual reasons behind these marriages. They may be classified as follows:
1.The Prophet came to the world as an ideal model for mankind, and so he was in all aspects of his life. Marriage in particular is a striking illustration. He was the kindest husband, the most loving and cherishable partner. He had to undertake all stages of human experience and moral test. He lived with one wife and with more than one, with the old and the young, with the widow and the divorcee, with the pleasant and the temperamental, with the renowned and the humble; but in all cases he was the pattern of kindness and consolation. He was designated to experience all these variant aspects of human behavior. For him this could not have been a physical pleasure; it was a moral trial as well as a human task, and a hard one, too.
2.The Prophet came to establish morality and assure every Muslim of security, protection, moral integrity and a decent life. His mission was put to the test in his life and did not stay in the stationary form of theory. As usual, he took the hardest part and did his share in the most inconvenient manner. Wars and persecutions burdened the Muslims with many widows, orphans and divorcees. They had to be protected and maintained by the surviving Muslim men. It was his practice to help these women get resettled by marriage to his companions. Some women were rejected by the companions and some others sought his personal patronage and protection. Realizing fully their conditions and sacrifices for the cause of Islam, he had to do something to relieve them. One course of relief was to take them as his own wives and accept the challenge of heavy liabilities. So he did and maintained more than one wife at a time which was no fun or easy course. He had to take part in the rehabilitation of these widows, orphans and divorcees because he could not ask his companions to do things which he himself was not prepared to do or participate in. these women were trusts of the Muslims and had to or participate in. These women were trusts of the Muslims and had to kept jointly. What he did, then, was his share of responsibility, and as always his share was the largest and heaviest. That is why he had more than one wife, and had more wives than any of his companions.
3.There were many war prisoners captured by the Muslims and entitled to security and protection. They were not killed or denied any right, human or physical. On the contrary, they were helped to settle down through legal marriages to Muslims instead of being taken as concubines and common mistresses. That also was another moral burden on the Muslims and had to be shouldered jointly as a common responsibility. Here, again, Muhammad carried his share and took some responsibilities by marrying two of those captives.
4.The Prophet contracted some of his marriages for sociopolitical reasons. His principal concern was the future of Islam. He was most interested in strengthening the Muslims by all bonds. That is why he married the minor daughter of Abu Bakr, his First Successor, and the daughter of Umar, his Second Successor. It was by his marriage to Juwairiah that he gained the support for Islam of the whole clan of Bani al-Mustaliq and their allied tribes. It was through marriage to Safiyah that he neutralized a great section of the hostile Jews of Arabia. By accepting Mary the Copt from Egypt as his wife, he formed a political alliance with a king of great magnitude. It was also a gesture of friendship with a neighboring king that Muhammad married Zaynab who was presented to him by the Negus of Abyssinia in whose territory the early Muslims found safe refuge.
5.By contracting most of these marriages, the Prophet meant to eliminate the caste system, the racial and national vanities, and the religious prejudices. He married some of the humblest and poorest women. He married a Coptic girl from Egypt, a Jewess of a different religion and race, a negro girl from Abyssinia. He was not satisfied by merely teaching brotherhood and equality but he meant what he taught and put it into practice.
6.Some of the Prophet's marriages were for legislative reasons and to abolish certain corrupt traditions. Such was his marriage to Zaynab, divorcee of the freed slave Zaid. Before Islam, the Arabs did not allow divorcees to remarry. Zaid was adopted by Muhammad and called his son as was the custom among the Arabs before Islam. But Islam abrogated this custom and disapproved its practice. Muhammad was the first man to express this disapproval in a practical way. So he married the divorcee of his "adopted" son to show that adoption does not really make the adopted child a real son of the adopting father and also to show that marriage is lawful for divorcees. Incidentally, this very Zaynab was Muhammad's cousin, and had been offered to him for marriage before she was taken by Zaid. He refused her then, but after she was divorced he accepted her for the two legislative purposes: the lawful marriage of divorcees and the real status of adopted children. The story of this Zaynab has been associated in some minds with ridiculous fabrications as regards the moral integrity of Muhammad. These vicious fabrications are not even worth considering here (see Qur'an, 33:36,37,40)
These are the circumstances accompanying the Prophet's marriages. For the Muslims there is no doubt whatsoever that Muhammad had the highest standards of morality and was the perfect model for man under all circumstances. To non-Muslims we appeal for a serious discussion of the matter. They, then may be able to reach sound conclusons.