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Polygamy, Mistresses and Concubines

The Islamic religion is very lenient when it comes to the issue of marriage and divorce which causes serious emotional, psychological and economic disasters to women, in order to satisfy man’s desires. The Qur’an allows a man to be married to four women at the same time. If he wishes to marry other women, all he has to do is to divorce one of them and to replace her with another. Several verses emphasize this point. However, the reader might not be aware that the Qur’an allows a man to own as many women as he wants in addition to the four legal wives; that is, he is permitted to have concubines, mistresses and maid-slaves. In this respect, Ibn Hazm indicates (Vol. 6, part 9, pp. 441 and 467) that,

"No one is allowed to wed to more than four women, but he is permitted however, in addition to them. to buy (women), as many as he wants."

Thus, we are going to see that Muhammad, his successors and his relatives owned (in addition to their many wives) concubines and maid-servants who were taken as prisoners of war or purchased. They had sexual intercourse with them as they willed. This is, of course, in addition to the contractual marriages which Muhammad permitted when it was "necessary". A Muslim is not allowed lawfully to have more than four wives at the same time. Only Muhammad had the right to marry as many as he wanted because this was one of his distinctive privileges because he was a prophet and an apostle! There are various indisputable verses which the angel Gabriel supposedly revealed to Muhammad, allowing him to enjoy this status; however, we will confine our study to the general practice of polygamy and easy divorce.

The Qur’anic Verses And The Comments Of The Scholars

The Sura of the Parties: 50

The Qur’an stresses that it is lawful for a man to have several wives and to own concubines. The Qur’an says,

"We are aware that we enjoined on them (the believers) concerning their wives and those whom their right hands possess."

We read the same text in Sura of Women: 3 and Sura of the Believers: 5 which indicates:

"The captive from war that your right hand possessed" (Sura 4:3).

War bounties, whether they were women or children or money, used to be distributed among Muslim fighters after Muhammad received one-fifth. Therefore, most Muslims (led by Muhammad the prophet) had many captive women who were regarded as owned slaves and concubines. It happened that in one of the invasions (Awtas Hunayn) that some Muslim warriors among Muhammad’s companions captured some women whose husbands were still alive. Some Muslims refrained from having sex with them out of shame, but Muhammad told them that it was lawful for them to sleep with them because they were what "their right hand possessed". Then God sent a Qur’anic verse (chapter 4:24) making it lawful.

In regard to the concubines, the Baydawi, on page 102 says:

"A man is not forced to treat the concubines equally as he is obliged to do with the (legal) wives."

A little provision (food and clothes) were sufficient.

The Jalalan says on page 64:

"The maid-slaves do not have rights as the wives."

If we examine the volumes of Ibn Timiyya, we read in volume 32, p.7 I the following plain text:

"It is lawful for a Muslim to (have sex) with as many as he wishes of those whom his right hand possesses, but he is allowed to wed four women only. Yet, God has bestowed on the apostle of God (enough) strength to marry more than four women. Also God allowed him to marry without paying a dowry. Muslims are not prohibited from having more than four concubines provided that no two sisters are among them."

This is similar to the above mentioned quotation from Ibn Hazm. In the same volume (page 89), Ibn Timiyya says boastfully,

"Islam has made it lawful to its followers to have sex through marriage as well as with what the right hand possesses, while (for Jews and Christians) they may have sex through marriage only. They are not (allowed to have sex with) what their hand possesses. The beginning of slavery were the captives of war.

"The war bounty has not become lawful for any nation except the nation of Muhammad by the evidence of sound tradition. Muhammad said, ‘God has preferred me over the prophets by making the bounties of war lawful to me. This was not made lawful to anyone before me."’

In this respect, Sikhi tells us, through Bhai Gurdaas Jee,

"Having one woman as wife the Sikh is a celebate and considers any other's wife his daughter or a sister. To covet another man's property is forbidden (to a Sikh) as the swine is to the Muslim and the cow to a Hindu. The Sikh being householder abnegates tonsure, the sacred thread (Janeu), etc. and forsakes them like abominable feces."

The Harmful Consequences of Polygamy

The consequences of polygamy such as jealousy, envy, quarrels, and conflict among the wives are evident. A woman has to wait for several days for her turn to enjoy the love and the care of her husband; that is, if he has preserved some of his love for her and for the children. A man who has four wives and numerous concubines begets, of course, many children. So what can he do to please all of them?

Muhammad himself was the first to know the nature of the quarrels which take place among the various wives as the result of his personal experiences with his wives, who used to join forces against him (Bukhari part 3, p. 204). Later, we will discuss Muhammad’s wives’ conspiracies, especially those of A’isha. This particular problem made Muhammad express his displeasure to his son-in-law, Ali Ibn Abi Talib, who was married to Fatima, Muhammad’s daughter, when he wished to marry a second wife besides Fatima. This incident is recorded by all the chroniclers such as Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (part 5, p. 117); Ibn Hisham (part 4, p. 114); as well as al-Bukhari, who mentioned it twice (part 7, pp. 115 and 152). Let us read together what is recorded in the Bukhari:

"I heard Allah’s apostle who was in the pulpit saying ’Bano-hisham bin Al-Mughira have requested me to allow them to marry their daughter to Ali bin Abi Taleb, but I do not give them permission and will not give permission unless Ali divorces my daughter because Fatima is a part of my body, and I hate what she hates to see and what hurts her."

So Muhammad knew well that marrying more than one woman hurts the first wife. Then, why did he wed so many women causing so much harm to each one of them? Why did he permit Muslims to practice polygamy? Ali’s incident is rather strange, but it also reveals Muhammad’s consuming selfishness. According to the account of Ibn Hisham, the girl’s name whom Ali intended to marry was Juwayriyya. Muhammad used to encourage people to practice polygamy. Bukhari tells us (Vol. 7, p. 124) that Muhammad, while talking to a man, discovered that he had just married a divorced woman. He told him to find himself another virgin girl.

It is obvious that polygamy was the rule practiced by Muhammad’s successors and companions. For example, Umar Ibn al-Khattab married seven women in the course of his life (including those whom he divorced), in addition to two maid-slaves who were called Fakhiyya and Lahiyya. Uthman Ibn Affan was wed to eight women. After the death of Fatima, Ali Ibn Abi Talib (to whom Muhammad denied permission to marry a second wife beside Fatima) married ten women and housed nineteen concubines and maid-slaves for a total of 29 women. This is Ali, the cousin of Muhammad and the fourth Caliph who assumed power after the death of Uthman.

When we indicate the number of wives as seven, ten, etc., we do not mean that those men housed them at the same time because it was not admissible for any Moslem to have more than four wives at any given time, but these men would "taste" the beauty of a woman and then plan to enjoy the "taste" of another woman without any regard to the feelings of the first wife. If it was necessary, he would divorce her for no reason but to be able to get married to another woman without exceeding a total number of four wives.

This situation accurately applies to al-Hasan Ibn Ali, of whom Muhammad said that he is the master of the youth of paradise. This Hasan (Muhammad’s grandson) during the course of his life, married seventy women and begot thirty-one children. Sometimes he used to divorce two women in a day. Even his father urged the residents of Iraq not to marry their daughters to him because he was a man who constantly divorced his wives, but the Kufa’s people continued to marry their daughters to him hoping that their daughters would bear children who would be descendants of the prophet Muhammad.

All these episodes are recorded in the biographies, such as the Bidaya and the Nihaya, by Ibn Kathir, V. VII and VIII; also, the Chronicles of the Caliphs, by Suyuti, who indicated that the Hasan was accustomed to divorcing four women and marrying another four instead. He also mentioned that the number of maid-slaves during the era of Yazid Ibn Abd-ul-Malik was in the hundreds, and grew into the thousands during the time of the Abbasid Caliphs. Al-Mutawakki, one of the Abbasid Caliphs, housed about four thousand maid-slaves.

The reader can refer to the "Book of Al-Aghani" ("The Book of Songs") by al-Isfahani; the "Akhbar al-Msa" ("The Necklace of the Dove") by Ibn Hazm, and "al-Imta wa al-Mu’anasa" ("Entertainment and Friendly Sociability") by Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi to obtain more information. In Vol. VIII of his book, Ibn Kathir reports that al-Mughira Ibn Shu’ba (who was one of Muhammad’s greatest friends and the ruler over some Islamic districts) had been wed to three hundred women!

The Qur’an states clearly that a woman is like a piece of property which a husband can replace easily. The Qur’an says in Sura of Women (20):

"If you wish to exchange one wife for another and you have given unto one of them a sum of money take nothing from it."

What a glorious Qur’an and what a merciful God is Allah! This is the only condition for the replacement: If a man intends to replace a woman with another, he is not allowed to take from the first woman an object or money he has already given her at the time of the marriage. No other conditions are stated. A man is free to divorce his wife for a reason or for no reason, and at any time he wishes And he has the right (if he divorces his wife) to reinstate her without her permission during a certain period of time (several months) as long as there are no other conditions pronounced in the marriage contract. In volume 32, p. 238, Ibn Timiyya taught that men can divorce their wives, but that women are not allowed to divorce their husbands.

Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya emphasizes in his book, "Zad al-Ma ad" (part 5, page 278) that the knot of marriage is in the hand of the man and only he has the right to divorce.

The Easiness of Divorce

Divorce in Islam is made very easy. By uttering the phrase, "You are divorced," the divorce takes place. In part 7, page 145 of al-Bukhari we read, " A man can suddenly tell his wife, ‘I am not in need of you.’ Then the verdict is to be given according to his intention."

Most often, that wife would need his support and help, but that is no concern of Islamic law as long as the man does not need that wife. Thus, the Qur’an says: "It is no sin for you if you divorce women" (Sura 2:236).

Most probably the man felt bored with that wife or he lusted after another woman who was younger and more beautiful. Since he was not able to support two women at the same time, he divorced one to marry the other. If the great men of Islam, the famous companions of the prophet and the Caliphs did so, what remained for the public but to follow the example of those great men of their religion in dealing with the matters of marriage and divorce?

The Qur’an allows this easy divorce. It does not impose certain conditions or limits on this painful action which causes a great deal of suffering among women, treating her as if she were a piece of furniture. Let us listen to the al-Bukhari as he explains to us (Part VII, pages 145-146) how this easy divorce takes place:

"If a man says to his wife, ‘Go to your family,’ then his intention is to be taken into consideration. Or if someone says to his wife, ‘If you become pregnant, then you are divorced thrice’; then, if her pregnancy becomes apparent, she will be regarded as divorced irrevocably! If he wants her back she must marry another man first."

It is that easy for a man to divorce his wife if he wishes, even if she does not commit any wrongdoing. This often happens in Arab and Islamic countries without any regard to the woman’s dignity. The husband says: "If this thing does not happen, my wife is divorced by three". These things actually happen, as the Bukhari said, and the wife finds herself divorced for reasons entirely unknown to her, because every divorce is lawful (except the divorce made in drunkenness) according to the Muslim scholars. As long as the husband was not drunk when he made the divorce, even if it was in a moment of anger, that divorce becomes lawful (refer to Bukhari, part VII, p. 145).

The Azhar scholars, when they were asked about that, gave the same answer: Every divorce is admissible except the divorce made by a drunkard. What a joke! Or what a tragedy! Daily Arabic newspapers are filled with such tragic news and the courts are overloaded with thousands of divorce suits which causes the eviction of children and wives who are helpless and dependent mainly on their husbands. This tragic situation made an Egyptian Muslim lady, Dr. Nawal Sa’dawi (the great Egyptian writer and thinker), voice her objection loudly during a dialogue between her and the Azhar scholars by saying:

"I want to say that a [wife should] enjoys a secure married life compared to the Muslim woman because she is not afraid of a surprise divorce made by her husband in a day and a night" (Refer to al-Liwa al- Islami newspaper, issued on July 9,1987, page 6 ).

You are right Dr. Sadawi! You are acknowledging the truth as you describe the status of women in Islam. Your words have powerful effect because you are a Muslim and a woman also. But what could the Sheiks of Azhar tell you if this is the law of Islam and if Muhammad himself was allowed to divorce all his wives in one day and claimed that he received (through Gabriel) a verse inspired by God in which he threatened them. The verse:

"It may happen that His Lord—if he (the prophet) divorced you—will give him in your stead wives better than you" (Chapter 66:5).

What could the Azhar Sheikhs tell you if Muhammad himself had actually divorced one of his wives by telling her, "Go to your people?" She was the daughter of June, as the Bukhari remarked (page 131 of Vol. VII). He also divorced Hafasa, daughter of Umar Ibn al-Khattab, then brought her back, as well as his wife Sawda (daughter of Zam’a), then restored her to his household after she asked for his mercy, telling him: "I will give up my day (that is the day he allocated to Sawda) to A’isha," as we read in the "Book of Women of the Prophet "("Nisa’ al-Nabi") by Bint al-Shati (p. 125 and p.66 regarding Hafsa and Sawda).

This same author, who is a contemporary Muslim scholar and writer, said:

"When Muhammad intended to divorce Sawda or when he actually divorced her, she received the news with utmost bewilderment, and she almost fainted. She wept in the presence of Muhammad and said: ‘Keep me and I assign the right of my night and day to your young wife A’isha’ (p.66); he agreed. It is well known that this Sawda had served Muhammad very well and was very good to him and no one had accused her of any wrongdoing. But because of lack of beauty, he intended to divorce her."

Taken from http://answering-islam.org/BehindVeil/btv3.html#CH3 (Note: We do not necessarily endorse this site or its views.)