Nowadays, the rate at which Muslim men abuse the practice of polygamy (polygyny) is likely unprecedented in history. In Northern Nigeria, polygamy has become more of customary practice than a socio-religious responsibility. Many Muslims in Yorubaland who subscribe to plural marriages are equally abusing this right. And sadly enough, this trend of abuse does not exclude several followers of Sunnah. But what went wrong and where lies the way out?
To start with, Islamic Scholars have laid down a golden principle which states: “It is forbidden for anyone to engage in any activity until he or she knows about its ruling.” Thus, before a Muslim performs Salat, Sawm, Umrah, Hajj, etc., he or she must learn the rulings pertaining to these acts of worship. This helps to avoid destructive errors which may render the worship fruitless. Similarly, all mundane affairs including business transactions and social relationships are also regulated by Islamic standards. Any attempt to contravene such standards automatically results in abuse and sins.
In Islam, marriage is a legal contract that is established based on certain requirements and conditions. If a requirement is missing or a condition is violated, the goal of the marital relationship (i.e love, enjoyment, and mercy) may become compromised, thereby leading to more evils than benefits.
Conditions of Polygamy
Basically, the conditions which apply to marrying one wife equally apply to marrying multiple wives, except that additional wife(s) necessitates additional requirements. As they say: _”more honor comes with more responsibility.”_ For instance, a monogamous man who struggles to satisfy his single wife sexually is prohibited from marrying more. Likewise, a man who can hardly maintain one wife (in terms of feeding, clothing, and accommodation) is not qualified to add extras due to economic challenges. Therefore, sexual and economic capabilities are the two minimum requirements for any man who seeks to marry one or more wife(s).
In a popular Hadith, the Prophet addressed the youths, saying:
“O young men, whoever among you can afford it, let him get married, for it is more effective in lowering the gaze and guarding one’s chastity. And whoever cannot afford it should fast, for it will be a shield for him.” (al-Bukhaari, 5066)
From the Hadith cited above, the scholars of Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) have derived the ruling of marriage to be Mustahaab (highly encouraged Sunnah), particularly when a man is able to support the means. On the other hand, marriage is considered Makrooh (detestable) for anyone who is incapable of supporting the financial means except in certain instances.
In addition, marriage becomes compulsory if a man is close to committing Zina while being able to support a marriage. To emphasize the fact that financial capability cannot be overlooked with respect to marriage, Allah says in Surah An-Nur (24) verse 33; “And let those who find not the financial means for marriage keep themselves chaste until Allah enriches them of His Bounty.”
A man who doesn’t possess the Nisab for Zakat is not entitled to give Zakat, the same way a man who lacks reasonable financial means is certainly not qualified to take a wife or add extras (as the case may be). Today, many people have taken this factor for granted, giving it little or no concern.
Other important requirements include wisdom and piety.
These two criteria assist in maintaining fairness and equity among co-wives.
It was narrated from Abu Hurayrah (RadiyaLlahu anhu) that the Prophet (SallaLlahu alayhi was-Sallam) said: “Whoever has two wives and favors one of them over the other, will come on the Day of Resurrection with one of his sides leaning.” Narrated by at-Tirmidhi (1141).
Based on this Hadith, Ibn Hazm (RahimahuLlahu) said: “Treating co-wives equally is obligatory, most of all – sharing one’s nights between them.” (al-Muhalla, 9/175)
Thus, Allah advises: “If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then (marry) only one.” [Surah An-Nisa (4): 3]
Many married men often fall into “accidental polygamy” as a result of careless interactions with single ladies. They keep eying the food they can’t buy. What a pity! In the end, such men are tempted to choose between adultery and accidental polygamy.
Worse still, there are men who merge co-wives in a single room or an apartment demarcated with curtains and plywood. I also know a man who used to share domestic expenses with his wife, obliging her to cater for sanitary pads, baby diapers, children’s wear, medical bills, etc. While in this condition, he went ahead to add another wife. What happened eventually was; the two wives disappeared after two years. Please, what can we call this; madness or stupidity or both?
Why must a man overburden himself in seeking miserable enjoyment when “Allah has not burdened any soul beyond his capacity”. [Surah Al-Baqarah (2): 286] I also witnessed an amazing scenario at Karu Local Govt. in Nasarawa State, where I saw an Almajiri (beggar) living with two wives and children in a ‘mobile home’. He moves his family from one uncompleted building to another whenever the owners are ready to pack-in. From that day, I believed Nigeria’s problem is far beyond imagination.
Allowing men to marry up to four wives is both rational and natural. In fact, polygamy remains the best solution to certain needs and challenges. It is indeed a great favor to men and women alike.
Nevertheless, the incessant abuse of polygamy has culminated into a geometric increase of broken homes, owing to implicit and explicit divorce cases. Perhaps we need to realize that monogamy is never a curse and polygamy shouldn’t be ‘do or die’ affair. Therefore, we say: “What is worth doing at all is worth doing well.”