By Adedara Oduguwa
Many parts of Africa, Asia and some parts of Europe and America believe marrying more than one wife is heavenly supported as their forebears by hereditary married more than one woman. Generally speaking, the practice of marriage is majorly classified into two – monogamy and polygamy.
Monogamy is a marriage between a man and a woman; while polygamy is a marriage between a man and a few women at any one time. This assertion is unequivocally faulted by Christians but grossly supported by Islam which purported that you can marry more than a woman once you are able to carter for them equally. Moreover, Islamic law stipulates that a man may marry more than one woman but not more than four.
Ironically, many who claim to believe in the assertion may not have full knowledge of what it is to be wife, husband or child of a polygamous oriented yard. While many monogamists believed the weaknesses of their house is control and fear of the unknown by the woman. In polygamy, it may ranges from disunity to jealousy, hatred and lack of adequate parental care for the children.
This paper sets to establish whether polygamy is a sin? And whether this sin is against God or man? Consideration would also be given to direct comparison between a simple nuclear family and a polygamous family using SWOT analysis as an analytical scale. At the end, conclusions would be made on whether a nuclear family is better than a polygamous family.
According to Longman dictionary (2015) polygamy is the custom of having more than one spouse at the same time or a system of multiple mates. It is further sub-divided into polygyny- the act of having multiple wives simultaneously and polyandry – the process of having multiple husbands at the same time.
Historically, in Islam, polygyny is conditionally legalised which is the basis for which most men marry more than one wife. In Surah an-Nisa’, verse 3, this claim is well established:
“And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphan girls (when you marry them), then marry (other) women of your choice, two or three, or four; but, if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (among your wives), then (marry with) only one, or just the slaves that your right hands possess. That is nearer to preventing you from doing injustice.”
Conversely, even though Islam pointed it that polygamy is not abominable or prohibited, It is not a principle in the Islamic law which must (wajib) be done that one will be considered sinful if it is not practised (Al-Bahi, 1988). Polygamy is only neutral and it is a rukhsah (relief) in an emergency situation. According to him, although the language used in the surah above has the elements of an ‘order’, it does not translate to ‘obligatory’. If carefully observed, polygamy may become an haram (prohibition) for the polygamous husband if he is incapable of being fair and causes a potential abuse to the wife he married.
Islam also identified the conditions under which polygamy (polygyny) is appropriate;
A man must be:
Capable to Provide Nafkah for the Wives i.e physical and sexual, be it for one wife or more. Physical nafkah being referred to here is from the aspects of providing food, clothing, accommodation and medical.
Fair to All Wives i.e fairness refers to being equal towards all wives without having any preference towards any one wife.
Fair in Providing Accommodation i.e a husband must provide a home for the wife to stay be it in a monogamous or polygamous environment. If polygamous, the homes of the wives are best to be separated as initiative to avoid family feud and jealousy from spreading among the wives.
Fair In Taking Turns for Night Stay i.e A husband must (wajib) decide on a fair night stay turns among his wives without being biased towards any of the wives.
Fair In Travelling i.e a husband must (wajib) cast a vote amongst his wives if he wishes one of his wives to accompany him while travelling.
However, going by the Islamic laws above on polygamy, one can simply judge that to keep the laws un-faulted is in itself some huddle. How can a man marries two wives and treats them equally? This is not only impossible but purely unthinkable. By indication, while most supporters of polygamy had argued that the practice was pioneered by Islam as certain Muslim and non-Muslim societies have claimed, the interpretation of the Islamic laws proved to be on the contrary. This gives more room to further research in the other religious camp, Christianity to be precise.
Polygamy in Christianity
There are several instances in the Bible when we have a man married to more than one woman and the fact that there are several instances when a man has both wives and mistresses is a very strong indication that polygamy was not a taboo for Believers of the old.
According to the Bible which is the guidance of all Christians on earth, polygamy was well accepted and practice by the first settlers in the world. Scripturally and not philosophically, the book of Gen. 4:23 was the first instance where a man married more than one wife. By introduction, Lamech was a descendant of Cain, married Adah and Zillah.
Similarly, Abraham married Sarah but her maid Hangar became his mistress (Gen.16:2) and Abraham fathered a child called Ishmael (Genesis 16:11-12) by her at Sarah’s advice. The aftermath was a great deal of unwarranted stress within the household as things became very difficult for Hagar since she was sent away with her child Ishmael from the house to the Paran wilderness (Gen.21).
The angel of the Lord met Hagar in the wilderness, commanding her to return to Abraham and Sarah. The angel relayed a promise from God: “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude” (Genesis 16:10). Ishmael, the son of a bondservant, became the father of 12 sons who were called princes.
What about Jacob? Who worked for 7 years for his uncle Laban in order to take his daughter, Rachel in marriage. But Laban had Jacob marry the older sister, Leah instead. Obviously, Jacob was deceived, not knowing she was with Leah until the next day. After marrying and sex with Leah (Laban gave his female servant Zilpha to his daughter Leah to be her servant.-Gen. 29:24), even though he did not realised it, Jacob was stuck with Leah, the older sister of his choice of woman. He had to work for another 7years for Rachel to emerge as wife (Laban also gave his female servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel to be her servant.-Gen.29:29). He later married Bilhah and Zilpha on the recommendation of his two wives so as to enable him have more children.
Jacob’s wives gave him twelve sons (namely- Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali) and a daughter (Dinah) his sons later became the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel. Even though Jacob was a polygamist, God’s grace was upon him and his name shares features with God as his name is frequently associated with God in the Bible: ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis: 25-37, 42, 45-49).’
What about the all holy Moses? He was a former Egyptian prince that later turned to a prophet, lawgiver and religious giver (Wikipedia, 2015). He is also an important prophet to Christianity, Islam and many other faiths. He married Zipporah, daughter of Jethro and Tharbis, a Cushite princess of Kingdom of Kush (Doubleday, 1999).
The story of David is well known to all of us. King David married some eight wives or so. Ruled Israel for over 40years (2 Samuel, 5:4). King David gave birth to some 20 children or so (1 Chronicle 3:1). Nonetheless, with the act of marrying many wives, some forcefully, God still gave this recommendation about him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do” (Acts 13:22).
The case of Solomon, a record breaker and maker is yet to be forgotten in history. Solomon, son of David married over 1000 wives. (700 wives, 300 concubines), Wow! He must be a working machine. Yet, God blessed him with more riches, wisdom and happiness. Although there is no record of whether Solomon was able to satisfy his numerous bed mates sexually. Nevertheless, it is on record that God was with him (1King). He controlled the entire region west of the Euphrates and had peace on his borders. 1King states that he owned 12,000 horses with horsemen and 1,400 chariots.
This last illustration is about the most famous example of polygyny. What is more, it is a fact to conclude that God is not against polygyny but the act is difficult to practice without committing a sin(s). Additionally, this singular reason proved that God may not necessarily be against polygamy (Oduguwa, 2015). More so, according to Olootu Seyi Idris (2015) ‘the act of not believing in polygamy may not be scripturally based, but might be the making of women, because quite a number of places in the old testaments God was not against marrying more than one.’ Or do we now say the Old Testament should be expunged of the bible in order to ascertain this believes that polygamy is an abominable act scripturally?
Scripturally, there is no place in the bible that God was against polygamy (or let me say that I have not seen). But God spoke in many places in the New Testament on one man, one woman. Therefore, to summarize, just because men in the past have had multiple wives does not mean that God approves of polygamy or that polygamy is as valid a life choice as monogamy. And the facts that God did not talk about polygamy does not mean He censures it.
Polygamy as an act would become a sin when a man cannot keep balance among his numerous parasites (wives). The question then is how can a man keep such balance? This is almost if not entirely impossible! This impossibility is in agreement with the Holy Quran and the bible. Now, we may begin to see why many Preachers often preach against Polygyny.
Present realities, globally, polygamy is widely accepted. For instance, according to the Ethnographic Atlas, of 1,231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous; 453 had occasional polygyny; 588 had more frequent polygyny; and 4 had polyandry (Wikipedia, 2015). Most often the acceptance of polygamy varies and uneven in most societies. In Senegal (Africa) about 47% marriages are polygamous (Nafi, 2004).
In most countries, polygamy is illegal by law but can be practice. In Africa, most countries legalized polygamy as a form of marriage recognized by law. In some few parts of the world (majorly Western nations) the practice is fully criminalized, outlawed and abolished.
In Nigeria, the northern states of Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara recognize polygamous marriages as equivalent to monogamous marriages, as all twelve are governed by Sharia Law (BBC,2014). Although the remaining 24 states and the FCT may not be under Sharia guidance, the practice is not criminalized and the act is common among the aristocrats. This may be owing to the fact that polygamy is allowed or permitted in the Nigerian Customary Law or traditional institutions.
Culturally, polygyny cripples into Africa as a means of supports for African forebears. Africans in the primitive age were farmers that worked manually without any exposure to modern science and technology that could aid Agricultural production. This made them to seek for more women who will help them in their Agricultural business their means of livelihood. Now civilization as come and most farmers are now into mechanized farming, yet the practice is on the rise-why?
In Nigeria, a lot of factors contribute to the practice of polygamy: cultural, legal, family background, religious, social, political and personal reasons.
Of course, we should know that a man will first be a monogamist before becoming a polygamist. And so, if the man came from a polygamous background, there is tendency that he either marries more wives or hates the act with passion. This is because of his experience as a son from such marriage background. This may not have anything to do with his religious demagogue. But the influence of personal conviction and family background, which can either, be positive or negative.
We have read in previous sections on how some governments in Nigeria and other parts of the world have legalized polygamy. This encourages men of power and affluence in the society to go into the practice than to embrace the doctrine of one man one woman.
The Old Testaments, the Holy Quran and the African Traditional Worshippers also supported the practice. Thus, making many of their followers to so much believe and preach the practice.
Politically, many public officers or politicians in Africa take on second wife immediately they ascend position of leadership. Some may do this as their first wife may be too old to be called their first lady, others believe in taking up a more eloquent lady as wife for proper representation. While some marries daughter of powerful political figures in order to enjoy political supports. This is also in agreement with marrying for social reasons.
Comparatively, children raise in polygamy have proved to be more successful than the ones raised in nuclear homes. This may be due to the high rate of competition among steps. Similarly, men that married more than one wives are often wealthier than many into monogamy. It is also a fact to know that a monogamous wife most commonly takes their husbands for granted while a polygyny woman respects and care more for her husband. Infidelity is common among husbands and wives in polygamy than in monogamy. The rate at which a woman kills her husband out of jealousy is common in monogamy than in polygamy.
Generally speaking, life is more difficult for children raised in polygamous homes than those raised in monogamy. There is greater tendency that children raised in polygamy will grow up to be corrupt leaders (such that loots billions, kill without remorse and do everything to get or remain in political power) compared to the children raised under monogamous watch, who might become great stewards but not necessarily leader. Additionally, children raised under monogamy most often grow up to be very caring, emotionally stable and with the fear of God. However, this doesn’t mean that all products of polygamy are bad while all products of monogamy are good-far from it. But on the average, that is a standard.
Average product of a polygamy oriented families are goal-getters and self-determined while it is the other way round in monogamy as they are often slow, sluggish and contented. In Africa, you will be amazed that many of its billionaires are from polygamous oriented families and are also her treasure looters.
Conclusively, polygamy as a practice is pleasurable but the act of practicing it is absolutely corrupt. While most Preachers had kicked against the practice, on the contrary, I am against the act. In addition, I am also against the claim that the practice is scripturally wrong (based on the Bible and Quran standard it is not) as claimed by many. Don’t be deceived, God is not against polygamy but he is against sin! Hence, Polygamy is not sin but a practice that is too expensive to adopt without delving into sin.
Do you called me a polygamist? Far from it! I will take for myself only one woman as wife and not two, three or more. Remember, there are many ladies around but very few are mothers. I have experienced polygamy; I need a chance to experience monogamy!
God bless Africa.