? Is Polygamy specific to Islam or has it been practiced by ancient religions and civilizations
There’s no topic that’s been demonized and reviled in such terms on Islam like Polygamy has been, especially from the Western communities in Europe, the Americas and other areas. For hundreds of years, the defamations and slurs directed towards the great religion of Islam on this regard, as if Islam itself initiated Polygamy on its own, as if the Holy Bible didn’t open the door ever so wide on this practice without stopping at any limit.
Polygamy was wide open, you could marry 100 to 200 or 1,000 to 2,000! Therefore, King Solomon -although he’s a king in Christianity, he’s a Prophet to us Muslims- PBUH according to the Old Testament had 700 wives and 300 concubines. In the Holy Book, especially the Old Testament, there are 40 odd characters that were polygamists. The first one mentioned was Lamech, who’s the 6th generation descendant of Adam -PBUH- before the Great Flood. Gentile kings were polygamists and four were mentioned in the Old Testament, listed accordingly. The polygamist Israeli prophets and kings are numerous; The father and main figure of prophets, Abraham -PBUH- was one, and it’s well documented. It’s true his son Isaac married only one, yet Jacob married four, while his brother Esau had five wives, so was his son Eliphaz a polygamist too. Moses was a polygamist, that is widely known and documented as well, so was Ezra. And of course the two kings, David and his son Solomon, were polygamists all along. 40 characters were polygamists!
Then why keep silent about all this while defaming Islam as if it initiated the practice –which it didn’t, nor did it leave it uncontrolled– and not limit it to a certain number?
Compared to the widely opened and obvious intro from in the Old Testament, what we have is considered a strict and tight restriction to say the least; Only Four, and with many restrictive conditions. Why is that not considered a reformation in the monotheist religions and always portrayed as if it all ended into a horrible mess?
By the way, Christians the world over never agreed to terms on the banning of Polygamy, to this very day, this practice still exists among Christians, not only the Mormons, followers of 19th century founder Joseph Smith, who had 84 wives himself, even though he was almost 40 when he died. 84 Wives to his name! His followers are estimated around 7 million (in the US).
During the 1990’s, some protestants practiced Polygamy as a ‘cultural’ act, even stating “We are different than Mormons in a theological sense because we believe the Bible allowed this. Bringing Polygamy back is a sign of respect to the Bible“. It is well known that Protestants revere the Old Testament highly more so than Catholics, and they refer to it more often, where they stated that Polygamy exists in the Old Testament. Thus, founder Martin Luther was an ardent fighter to bring back the practice, unlike the Church.
The first Christian Church didn’t abandon Polygamy until after the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD), before that Polygamy was widely practiced and common. So, Nicaea abandoned Polygamy early in the 4th century, and kept being abandoned in several other councils. 16th century’s Council of Trent (1545 – 1563) continued to prohibit the practice in the harshest terms and in every way possible. After considering marriage one of the seven sacraments, Catholics went even further by claiming “Celibacy and virginity are eternal -especially on women- and are more cherished than marriage will ever be“. They continued “Whoever claims that marriage is as equally sacred as celibacy/virginity will be considered an apostate and will be excommunicated from the Church“, so weird! With this in hand, many virgin girls were convinced to become brides of the Christ, they were told not to marry in this earthly life so they could end up being Brides of the Christ -PBUH- and obviously that’s a strange behavior.
Martin Luther refused this notion, stating “This is all untrue. We have to open this topic on the basis of what the holy scriptures say. Old Testament prophets were all polygamists. Abraham was one! So why abandon it? Jesus did not come to denounce the Law.” Yes, there are mysteriously vague signs in the Gospel of Mark that could mean abandoning Polygamy, yet they are not explicit nor clear one bit and so Luther wasn’t convinced, yet he understood the social conscientious objection he may face on this regard, thus came up with solutions that are strikingly remarkable yet bizarre. “Instead of a man divorcing his wife if he was sexually incapable and end this holy matrimony..” in Quranic terms end the (Solemn Covenant) “..it would be better -if possible- to allow the man’s brother to be a second husband to the wife“. Wow! Two husbands for the same wife! We go back again to Polyandry. He elaborated “The child in this relationship will be called after the first husband’s name. If the man doesn’t have brothers, then a stranger may do the job, there’s no problem in that“. So a random stranger can have sexual intercourse with the wife beside her having a rightful husband! This was proposed by Martin Luther, and is very odd in many ways.
Luther’s successor followed in his footsteps; Philip Melanchthon. Melanchthon strived to knock the Polygamy door wide open once again. The advocates of re-christening or The Anabaptists –who were reformers as well– professed in Münster, Germany that the a Christian is a polygamist “That’s a true Christian. Whoever practices polygamy is a true follower of Jesus Christ“.
And so, we had no shortage in remarkable Christian intellects; missionaries, evangelists and preachers, like John Milton -author of Paradise Lost (1667)- who advocated polygamy while fighting against anti-Polygamy movements. Was he a Muslim? Or was he a heretic like Luther, Melanchthon and many others throughout history?
Judaism originally allows Polygamy. Deists limit it to four wives just like the Holy Quran –which is very interesting-, yet they didn’t get this from the Torah nor from the Old Testament, rather from the Talmud which limits Polygamy to four only. Deists rely on the Old Testament alongside the Talmud and Mishnah, while Qaraites don’t value anything more than the Torah. The Qaraites movement was established in Abbasside Baghdad with Anan Ben David* (c. 795). They still exist today in the occupied territories with synagogues and churches scattered around. “We don’t say as such cause we abide by the Torah and only the Torah” they claim.
Thus, with this rapid yet very limited stroll, I think it is clear to say that Islam did not initiate the practice of Polygamy, it rather introduced humane and social reformations of a high caliber. Thus, these must be considered as positives not negatives.. For not Against Islam.
Hadiths which state the likes of Guilan Al-Thaqaffi approaching the Prophet while he was married to ten wives at the time prove that Polygamy existed among Arabs as well, and it seems Banu Thaqif were Polygamists to a bigger extent, so was Qurayesh. Arabs were polygamists and never limited that to any number, yet Bani Thaqif were most famous for this practice, and so if we refer back to the book Al-Mohabbar (The Inked) by ibn Habib we would find a list of men who converted to Islam and had ten wives each, the Prophet told each one of them “Keep four and release the others“, just like Guilan Al-Thaqaffi, Nawfal ibn Muawiya, Al Harith ibn Qays, another man from Thaqif and a few more. Even though the Isnad* of these Hadiths isn’t as strong, it still connects with many dots elsewhere as the preserving narrators are quoted saying.
So the Prophet stated “Keep four and release the others“.
* Dr. Adnan mistakenly said “David ben Anan“
* Isnad is the science of knowing the narrators of any speech in general, though it has become famous to Hadith narrators, who were they and if they were trustworthy or not.