Polygamy: Marriage and Islamic Law

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Polygamy is defined as the condition or practice of having more than one spouse at a time. Though it has existed in many cultures throughout the world, polygamy is still very prevalent in most Islamic societies today. There are however several guidelines laid out in Islamic law governing the practice. Here we will examine the practice of polygamy in Islam and those laws which govern its legality.

Muhammad did not introduce this practice, as has so often been wrongly alleged. The Scriptures and the other sacred books bear abundant proof of the fact that is was recognized as lawful and, indeed, widely practised by patriarchal prophets, Zoroastrians, Hindus and Jews. In Arabia and all the surrounding countries a system of temporary marriages, marriages of convenience, and unrestricted concubinage was also prevalent: this, together with polygamy, had most disastrous effects on the entire moral and social structure, which Muhammad remedied. Muhammad married Khadija at the age of 25, and he took no other wife during the twenty-six years of their married life. He married Aisha . . . at the age of 54, three years after the death of Khadija. After this marriage, he took other wives, about whom non-Muslim writers have directed much unjust criticism against him. The facts are all these ladies were old maids or widows left destitute and without protection during the repeated wars of persecution, and as head of the State at Medina the only proper way, according to the Arab code, in which Muhammad could extend both protection and maintenance to them was by marriage. The only young person was Maria the Copt, who was presented to him as a captive of war, and whom he immediately liberated, but she refused to leave his kind protection and he therefore married her. Islamic law allows a man to marry as many as four wives, with a mild restriction. The text of the Qu'ran (which is the governing text of Islam) indicates that a man who has several wives should...
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