One major defects in the Euro-American knowledge model, is the low tolerance it possesses to behavioral modules that conflicts with it. Polygamy being one of these social forms having low tolerance in the western world, while in Africa and many areas of Asia, it was practiced with its two forms (Polygyny as male coupling to several females and polyandry when the opposite applies) for ages before Islam gets to Africa or the Far East. Studying sociology will clarify to us that these forms of polygamy usually existed as needed, and in accordance with environment as well as socio-economic factors. Therefore, hereunder we are not justifying polygamy in Islam, but we are framing it to its normal frame of knowledge and social factors, starting with what was common before Islam in Arabia
Did Islam Introduce Polygamy to Arabia?
To have a clear insight about Islam management to marital lives, we should first get a comprehensive idea about the societal model preceding it. During the 5th and 6th centuries in Arab Peninsula, seven types of marriage existed,
- Normal Marriage: which was the one continued after Islam and until today
- Dower-Free Marriage: Wherein two men exchange their kinship, women for marriage (like sister for sister …etc) without dower.
- Inheritance Marriage: where eldest son usually inherits his dead father’s wives if he wished or he can marry them to any other and get their dower, as we discussed in earlier part of this chapter.
- Exchange Marriage: when to men exchange their wives, also without a dower
- Outsourcing Marriage: when a man likes to have a prominent son, he asks his wife to sleep with a leading figure in the clan until she gets pregnant. Then she gets back to her husband with the promising embryo of the other man!
- Group Marriage: wherein a group less than ten, have sex with one woman (polyandry) and when she gets pregnant, whoever is closer in looks to the infant he get him as a son. To this type “Nabegha” model we mentioned earlier belongs.
This is all plus female slavery and a form of sacred prostitution that was practiced in Mecca and major cities. Now, what shall we expect Islam to do when approaching this form of sexual chaos?
“Moses” starting point was in Egypt, wherein monogamy was the dominant style, so it was easy to set-up the model of monogamy with divorce option in Judaism. Yet, polygamy existed in Judaism until as late as 11th century, when “Rabbenu Gershom” outlawed it. Christianity starting point was the Judaic society which was -despite polygamy ability- a near-monogamic society, as multiple spouses were quite uncommon by time of 1st century for economic reasons, and where misuse of divorce to manipulate women was the only major defect, accordingly Christianity came-up with the model of monogamy with tight limitations on divorce. In addition, when approached Europe, with a relatively dominant monogamy based on the Roman law as well as Anglo Germanic traditions, it was a match for Christianity to hammer on monogamy as a model. On the other hand, Islam started in a society wherein men were spoiled with a vast of sexual coupling options, unlimited number of wives, different marriage types some of it was dower-free or at “reduced rates”, all in addition to female slaves and prostitution. Shall we expect the monogamist Catholic model to work in such a society?
I will use the wording of Bishop “Joseph Osei-Bonsu” of Konongo-Mampong (Ghana) in his report “The situation of evangelization in Africa” , where he faced a closer problem in Sub-Saharan Africa (in Senegal polygamy counts for 44% of marriages). In his report, he stated: “Another pastoral problem in Africa is polygamy in the form of polygyny, the marriage by one man of two or more wives. In most African countries, polygyny is permitted. Though most African men are not polygamists, a good number of them have more than one wife. Various reasons have been given to explain the existence of polygamy in Africa, but we cannot go into them here. What does a priest do when a polygamist wants to receive baptism and be admitted to the other sacraments? The Church's position is that such people cannot be admitted to the sacraments. Monogamy is the norm for Christians and thus anyone who wants to be a Christian or is a Christian must abide by it. As a result of this there are thousands of African Catholic men and women who cannot be admitted to the sacraments because they find themselves in polygamous relationships.”
When we consider also, the forms of non-marital polygamy practices throughout humankind history, from slavery, to concubinage, from extra-marital affairs to prostitution, these are all terms that indicate the occurrence of polygamy in all societies and under all religious constrains.