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Friday Sermon: Heroes of Faith: Noah

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By Babatunde Jose

The story of the Deluge, the Great Flood, is part of human lore and communal memory virtually in all parts of the world. Its main elements are the same everywhere, no matter the version or the epithet-names by which the tale’s principals are called: An  angry deity decide to wipe Mankind off the face of the Earth by means of a global flood, but one couple is spared and saves the human line.

Except for an account of the Deluge written in Greek by the Chaldean priest Berossus in the third century B.C., the only record of that momentous event was in the Hebrew Bible and later in the Quran. But in 1872 the British Society of Biblical Archaeology was told in a lecture by George Smith that among the tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh discovered by Henry Layard in the royal library of Nineveh, the ancient Assyrian capital, some contained a Deluge tale like that in the Bible.

By 1910 parts of other recensions (as scholars call versions in other ancient Near Eastern languages) have been found. They helped reconstruct another major Mesopotamian text, the Epic of Atrahasis, that told the story of Mankind from its creation until its near annihilation by the Deluge.

The Bible introduces Noah, the hero of the Deluge tale, who was singled out to be saved with his family, as a righteous man, of perfect genealogy. The Mesopotamian texts paint a more comprehensive picture of the man, suggesting that he was the off- spring of a demigod and possibly (as Lamech his father had suspected) a demigod himself. It fills out the details of what walking with the God; had really entailed. Among the many details that the Mesopotamian texts provide, the role played by dreams as an important form of Divine Encounter becomes evident.

In the biblical version it is the same deity who resolves to wipe Mankind off the face of the Earth and, contradictorily, acts to prevent the demise of Mankind by devising a way to save the hero of the tale and his family. In the Sumerian original text and its subsequent Mesopotamian recensions, more than one deity is involved; and as in other instances, which is beyond the scope of this narrative.

The embarkation of pairs of animals has been a favorite subject in the narration. It has also been one of the eyebrow raisers of the tale, deemed a virtual impossibility and thus more of an allegorical way to explain how animal life continued even after the Deluge. It is therefore noteworthy that the Deluge recension in the Epic of Gilgamesh offers a totally different detail regarding the preservation of animal life: It was not the living animals that were taken aboard—it was their seed (DNA) that was preserved!

Taking on board the seed of living beings rather than the animals themselves not only reduced the space but also implies the application of sophisticated biotechnology to preserve varied species—a technique being developed nowadays by learning the genetic secrets of DNA. This should not surprise us, for if the ancients can build the pyramids, which still astounds us, we should not doubt them to clone and toy with DNA.

How global was the Deluge? Was every place upon our globe inundated? The human recollection is almost global and suggests an almost-global event. What is certain is that the Ice Age that had held Earth in its grip for the previous 62,000 years abruptly ended.

It happened about 13,000 years ago. One result of the catastrophe was that Antarctica, for the first time in so many thousands of years, was freed of its ice cover and this raised the seas to astronomical level. The true continental features of Antarctica became visible. Amazingly (but not to our surprise again), the existence of maps showing an ice-free Antarctica became available. In modern times the very existence of a continent at the south pole was not known until A.D. 1820, when British and Russian sailors discovered it. It was then, as it is now, covered by a massive layer of ice; we know the continent’s true shape (under the ice cap) by means of radar and other sophisticated instruments used by many teams during the 1958 International Geophysical Year (IGY).

Yet Antarctica appears on World Maps from the fifteenth and even fourteenth centuries A.D.—hundreds of years before the discovery of Antarctica—and the continent, to add puzzle to puzzle, is shown ice-free!

Of several such maps, ably described and discussed in ‘Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings /Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age by Charles H. Hapgood, the one that illustrates the enigma very clearly is the 1531 Map of the World by Orontius Finaeus, whose depiction of Antarctica is compared to the ice-free continent as determined by the 1958 IGY. An even earlier map, from 1513, by the Turkish admiral Piri Re’is, shows the continent connected by an archipelago to the tip of South America.

But as many who have studied these maps had concluded, no mortal seamen, even given some advanced instruments, could have mapped these continents and their inner features in those early days, and certainly not of an ice-free Antarctica. Someone viewing and mapping it from the air could have done it. Yet, another puzzle for us to ponder over. Do we also know that seashells are found on mountain tops (even on Everest), Sahara Desert and such impossible places? Evidence of sea inundations or deluge.

Did the flood occur? Was Noah a historical figure? These are the questions. Fortunately, recent scientific evidence of the occurrence of the flood are now available. In a book named “Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event that Changed History,” Walter Pitman and William Ryan, describe a flood that took place 7000 years ago, before the  Biblical story was written by the ancient Hebrews .

There is also archaeological evidence of the Great Flood. One such significant piece of evidence was provided by the world-famous underwater archaeologist Robert Ballard. Only after 7000 BC when the ocean levels finally began stabilizing, did human life once more began to return to normal. Is it a mere coincidence that our “recorded” history happens to start around this time? After all, it seems that as soon as the adverse climatic conditions receded, it did not take long for humans to thrive once again. Genesis 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”  It has come to pass and we are today 7 billion plus on Earth.

Our takeaway from the foregoing is that Noah was a historical figure who walked with God. He was a messenger sent to his people who refused to listen to him. This is contained in the Bible and the Quran. ‘We sent Nuh to his people and he said, ‘My people, worship Allah! You have no other god than Him. I fear for you the punishment of a dreadful Day.’ (Quran 7:59) And Noah told his people: ‘I am a clear warner to you. Worship none but Allah. I fear for you the punishment of a painful day.’ (Quran 11:25-26) See also 71:1; 71:10; 23:23; 29:14; 26:105-110.

On the attitude of unbelievers towards the Prophet Nuh (as) see, 26:111-115; 23:24-25.  ‘Nuh, if you do not desist you will be stoned.’ (Quran 26: 116). But he replied to them in these verses 71:2-20; 11:27-31; 7:60-63; 11:32-34; 10:71: 11:36-39.

Allah opened the gates of heaven with torrential water and made the earth burst forth with gushing springs…… a reward for him who had been rejected. (Quran 54:11-14)

So, We rescued him and those with him in the loaded ship. (Quran 26:119); 29:15. We left the later people to say of him: ‘Peace be upon Nuh among all beings!’ (Quran 37:75-79).

And say: “O my Lord! Enable me to disembark with Thy blessing: For Thou art the Best to enable (us) to disembark.” Verily in this there are Signs (for men to understand); (thus) do We try (men). Then We raised after them another generation. (Quran 23:29-31)

Noah’s contemporaries had all sorts of chances and warnings. But they refused to believe and perished. But Allah’s Truth survived, and it went to the next and succeeding generations. Will not mankind understand? We need to deeply reflect and contemplate. May Allah guide us and not let our ways lead us to perdition.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend.

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Friday Sermon: Hijab 2: By Choice or by Force?

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By Babatunde Jose

 “Even though the hijab is related to religion, its acceptance is up to the individual. There is no compulsionBut if a girl wants to wear it, she should be given the chance to do so.” Syed Hasnain Akhtar, professor of Arabic at Delhi University.  Unfortunately, this has not always been the case in many countries.

The perception of the hijab dates back to Hadith when the “verse of the hijab” descended upon the fledgling Muslim community in 627 CE. Now documented in Sura 33:53, the verse states, “And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts”.

The wearing of the veil has since become a contentious issue as a result of controversial interpretations that has led to its being forced on women in many places and in others, being banned. There is no end to the Hijab War.

In the 1960s and 1970s Western clothing largely dominated in Muslim countries. For example, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, women went out in public without the hijab. This changed following the Soviet Afghan War, military dictatorship in Pakistan, and the Iranian revolution of 1979, when traditional conservative attire including the abaya, jilbab and niqab made a comeback.

After the Iran Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Hijab Law was decreed. It led to protests and demonstrations by women.

However, in Turkey there has been a decline in women wearing the hijab in recent years, although under Erdoğan Turkey is becoming more conservative and Islamic.

Egypt did not pronounce any ban on the hijab, but a movement to rededicate themselves to Islamic values led some college aged Muslims to adopt the jilbab as a dress code. Soon this movement expanded outside of the youth realm and became a more widespread Muslim practice. Women viewed this way of dress as a way to both publicly announce their religious identity as well as a way to simultaneously reject western influences of dress and culture that were prevalent at the time. A case of choice.

Many people, both men and women from backgrounds of both Islamic and non-Islamic faith questioned the hijab and what it stood for in terms of women and their rights. There was questioning of whether in practice the hijab was truly by choice or by force of social coercion.

Today the hijab means many things for different people. For Islamic women who choose to wear the hijab it allows them to retain their modesty, morals, and freedom of choice.

There are a few topics that take a lot of heat when discussed. One such topic is the hijab. Is it a choice? Or a forceful compulsion on Muslim women?

Ms. Neha Saleem, who observed the hijab said: “There is no compulsion in religion. One should not force someone to wear the hijab no matter how old they are, though one can suggest it and tell them how it’s a good thing. Ultimately, though, it is a matter for the people and their own personal choices. I wear a hijab because I like covering myself and I feel protected.”

But society cages women in various lengths of cloth in the name of chastity and dignity. In a few Muslim states, hijab is not mandatory by law, but it is the society that conditions the modesty of the women in the name of the hijab. The cultural concept of hijab or modesty controls the society and freedom of women – this is so badly inculcated in the psyche that there is nothing that can be done to alter it. This cultural concept defines the modesty of women and brings the entire focus to their bodies in exactly the same way as using a woman’s naked body to sell products.

The hijab is currently required by law to be worn by women in Iran, Afghanistan, and the Indonesian province of Aceh. But it is no longer required by law in Saudi Arabia since 2018, although Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has stated that women must still wear “decent and respectful attire”.

In Gaza, Palestinian jihadists belonging to the Unified Leadership (UNLU) have rejected a hijab policy for women.

Other countries, both in Europe and in the Muslim world, have passed laws banning some or all types of hijab in public or in certain types of locales. Women in different parts of the world have also experienced unofficial pressure to wear or not wear a hijab.

The Muslim Reform Movement holds that Quran 53:33; 33:59; 24:30-31 simply meant “barrier” and that it was used in the context of both men and women; the jilbab and the khimar were pre-Islamic clothes and the Quran simply recommended how to wear these, rather than imposing a new clothing requirement.

Turkey had a ban on headscarves at universities until recently. In December 2010, however, the Turkish government ended the headscarf ban in universities, government buildings and schools.

In Tunisia, women were banned from wearing hijab in state offices in 1981 and in the 1990s, more restrictions were put in place.

In 2017, Tajikistan banned hijabs. Under existing laws, women wearing hijabs are banned from entering the country’s government offices.

On 15 March 2004, France passed a law banning “symbols or clothes through which students conspicuously display their religious affiliation” in public primary schools, middle schools, and secondary schools.

On 13 July 2010, France’s lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill banning wearing the Islamic full veil in public. It became the first European country to ban the full-face veil in public places, followed by Belgium, Latvia, Bulgaria, Austria, Denmark and some cantons of Switzerland in the following years.

In 2016, Bosnia-Herzegovina’s supervising judicial authority upheld a ban on wearing Islamic headscarves in courts and legal institutions, despite protests from the Muslim community that constitutes 40% of the country.

The blatant sexualization of the body in both cases causes women to be perceived as nothing more than a source of temptation, pleasure, and sin. Owing to such notions, when a girl is little, she has to be dressed in a ‘modest’ way, during her adolescence she is forced to wear a dupatta and finally as a grown woman, she knows her position lies behind the hijab.

Considering the verse in Qur’an 24:31, which states that they should cover their “adornments” and not show them to strangers outside the family, it can be thought that the Qur’an introduces a new scale of chastity in the public sphere. This has become a veritable weapon in the hands of Talibanic Islamists who now interpret it as Allah’s enforcement of the hijab on women: A practice which Afghanistan and Iran have today carried to a notorious level, abridging the fundamental rights of women. A sad irony to a supposed religion of peace, equality, and freedom.

In India, Muslim women are allowed to wear the hijab and/or burqa anytime, anywhere. However, in January 2022, a number of colleges in the South Indian state of Karnataka stopped female students wearing hijab from entering the campus following the state government circular banning ‘religious clothes’ in educational institutions where uniforms are prescribed. This led to the celebrated Karnataka High Court case of 15 March 2022. The Court, in a verdict, upheld the hijab ban in educational institutions where uniforms are prescribed, arguing that “the practice is non-essential in Islam.”

Among the issues raised are: What is the ambit and scope of essential religious practices? Is the wearing of a headscarf an essential religious practice? An essential part of a religion means the core beliefs upon which a religion is founded. It is upon the cornerstone of essential parts or practices that the superstructure of a religion is built, without which a religion will be no religion. If taking away that part or practice results in a fundamental change in the character of that religion or in its belief, then such part could be treated as an essential or integral part of the religion. We may then ask: Is the wearing of the Hijab an essential part of the religion of Islam? This is the litmus test.

Wearing a hijab may be a practice, it may be an ideal or a permissible practice, but to raise it to the level of an essential religious practice, something more is required. It has to be shown that if the headscarf is not worn, the identity of the person as a believer in the faith itself would be jeopardized.

It could be argued that wearing of a headscarf may be a religious practice but is not essential to the religion as non-following of such practice would not lead a believer to be non-Muslim. The essential religious practices are those practices, if not followed, would render the person religion-less.

In this vein, it is worth considering the issue of wives for example. The Muslim law permits marrying four women. Personal law nowhere mandates or dictates it as a duty to perform four marriages. No religious scripture or authority provides that marrying less than four women or abstaining from procreating a child from each and every wife in case of permitted bigamy or polygamy would be irreligious or offensive to the dictates of the religion.

The Five Pillars of Islam are: Profession of Faith (shahada). The belief that “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God”; Prayer (salat). Alms (zakat); Fasting (sawm) and Pilgrimage (hajj).

We must not end this sermon without reference to what is happening in Afghanistan.  Today, nobody would call what is going on in Afghanistan Sharia, the dictates of hadith nor define it as based on any known Islamic injunction.  It is not only a blatant travesty of Islam but also an abuse of fundamental human rights of the female gender.

How can they be more Muslim than the holy Prophet?  Afghanistan is everything bad about Islamic fundamentalism.  It is not Islam, but religion gone awry.

The veil by whatever name it is called should be by choice and not by force. Secondly, being a choice, society should stop making political weapons out of it by banning it in whatever guise.

Barka Juma’at and happy weekend

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Friday Sermon: Hijab 1: A Historical Excursion

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By Babatunde Jose

The issue of the veil and hijab has created so much controversy and continues to do so depending on which side of the religious and social platform we stand to observe the unfolding events. The issue raises many fundamental questions which cut across historical, social and traditional spheres, Quranic pronouncement and Hadith, Islamic jurisprudence, Sharia and the whole gamut of Islamophobia and Hijabophobia. Finally, issues of law across nations where the question has been, to ban or not to ban.

We would start our discourse with a historical excursion into the institution of veiling across the ages and its metamorphosis into a symbol of Islamic identity.

We shall interrogate the Quranic provision and determine if it was recommendatory or mandatory. Therefore, without the hijab, would the Muslimness of a woman become null and void? Can what is made recommendatory by the Holy Quran be metamorphosed into mandatory dicta by hadith which is supplementary to the Quran? These and other issues shall be explored in the Sermons to come.

There is no doubt, the controversy over the hijab arose out of the age-long interpretations given the Quranic verses, some hadiths,  and the role of Islamic schools of jurisprudence after the demise of the Prophet.

Veiling did not originate with the advent of Islam. Evidence of veiling dates back as far as 2500 BC. Elite women in ancient Mesopotamia and in the Byzantine, Greek, and Persian empires wore the veil as a sign of respectability and high status.

In ancient Mesopotamia and Assyria, they had explicit sumptuary laws detailing which women must veil and which women must not, depending upon the woman’s class, rank, and occupation in society. Female slaves and prostitutes were forbidden to veil and faced harsh penalties if they did so. Veiling was thus not only a marker of aristocratic rank, but also served to “differentiate between ‘respectable’ women and those who were publicly available”; pro bono publico.

Strict seclusion and the veiling of matrons were also customary in ancient Greece. Between 550 and 323 BCE, prior to Christianity, respectable women in classical Greek society were expected to seclude themselves and wear clothing that concealed them from the eyes of strange men. Roman custom included the practice of the head covering worn by the priestesses of Vesta (Vestal Virgins).

It is not clear whether the Hebrew Bible contains prescriptions with regard to veiling, but rabbinic literature presents it as a question of modesty. It became an important rabbinic virtue in the early Roman period, and it may also have been intended to distinguish Jewish women from their non-Jewish counterparts in Babylonian and later in Greco-Roman society. According to rabbinical precepts, married Jewish women have to cover their hair. According to Fadwa El Guindi, at the inception of Christianity, Jewish women were veiling their heads and faces.

The Bible attests to the veiling of women as we read in the passage in 1 Corinthians 11:4-7: “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head”.

The early Church Fathers, including Tertullian of Carthage, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus of Rome, John Chrysostom and Augustine of Hippo attested in their writings that Christian women should wear a headcovering, while men should pray with their heads uncovered.

There is archaeological evidence demonstrating that headcovering was observed as an ordinance by women in early Christianity, and the practice of Christian headcovering continues among female adherents of many Christian denominations today.

In the Indian subcontinent, Hindu women cover their heads with a veil in a practice known as ghoonghat. Intermixing of populations resulted in a convergence of the cultural practices of Greek, Persian, and Mesopotamian empires and the Semitic peoples of the Middle East. Veiling and seclusion of women appear to have established themselves among Jews and Christians before spreading to urban Arabs of the upper classes and eventually among the urban masses. In the rural areas it was common to cover the hair, but not the face.

According to Leila Ahmed, the rigid norms pertaining to veiling and seclusion of women found in Christian Byzantine literature have been influenced by ancient Persian traditions, and there is evidence to suggest that they differed significantly from actual practice.

Available evidence suggests that veiling was not introduced into Arabia by Muhammad, but already existed there, particularly in the towns, although it was probably not as widespread as in the neighboring countries such as Syria and Palestine.

Similarly, to the practice among Greeks, Romans (Byzantines), Jews, and Assyrians, its use was associated with high social status. In the early Islamic texts, the term hijab does not distinguish between veiling and seclusion, and can mean either “veil” or “curtain”.

Allah says “O Prophet! Tell your wives & daughters & the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (screen themselves completely except the eyes), that will be better that they should be known as respectable women so as not to be annoyed or molested. (Quran 33:59)

 The Holy Quran does not make wearing of hijab or headgear mandatory for Muslim women. Whatever is stated in the above Ayat, is only directory, because of the absence of prescription of penalty or penance for not wearing hijab, the linguistic structure of other verses supports this view.

The only verses in the Qur’an that specifically reference women’s clothing are those promoting modesty, instructing women to guard their private parts and draw their scarves over their breast area in the presence of men.

The contemporary understanding of the hijab dates back to Hadith when the “verse of the hijab” descended upon the community in 627 CE. Now documented in Sura 33:53, the verse states, “And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts”. This verse, however, was not addressed to women in general, but exclusively to Muhammad’s wives.

As Muhammad’s influence increased, he entertained more and more visitors in the mosque, which was then his home. Often, these visitors stayed the night only feets away from his wives’ apartments. It is commonly understood that this verse was intended to protect his wives from these strangers. During Muhammad’s lifetime the term for donning the veil, darabat al-hijab, was used interchangeably with “being Muhammad’s wife”.

Because Islam identified with the monotheistic religions of the conquered empires, the practice was adopted as an appropriate expression of Quranic ideals regarding modesty and piety.  Veiling gradually spread to upper-class Arab women, and eventually it became widespread among Muslim women in cities throughout the Middle East.

Veiling of Arab Muslim women became especially pervasive under Ottoman rule as a mark of rank and exclusive lifestyle, and Istanbul of the 17th century witnessed differentiated dress styles that reflected geographical and occupational identities.

By the 19th century, upper-class urban Muslim and Christian women in Egypt wore a garment which included a head cover and a burqa (muslin cloth that covered the lower nose and the mouth). The name of this garment, harabah, derives from early Christian and Judaic religious vocabulary, which may indicate the origins of the garment itself. Up to the first half of the twentieth century, rural women in the Maghreb and Egypt put on a form of niqab when they visited urban areas, “as a sign of civilization”.

Hijab has been referred to as the veil that covers the head and is usually worn by Muslim women. It is taken as a symbol of modesty and privacy. The Quran never explicitly used the term hijab in reference to body veiling, instead used the words khimār and jilbab. The word hijab means “a screen or curtain” and is used in the Quran to show the meaning of a screen, partition, or curtain. None of these words are used in the Quran in reference to what the Muslims refer to today as a dress code for the Muslim woman.

Some meanings for the word include screen, covering, curtain, drapes, or partition. Hijab in the Quran has nothing to do with the Muslim women dress code.

Jews practiced the tradition of wearing a veil (by women) and cover (by men), as apparent from Talmud quotes (Talmud equals the hadiths and sunnah, but neither of which are the words of God Himself). The Christians adopted this further. The people belonging to the above-mentioned religions cover their heads in the synagogues, weddings, and religious festivities.

Christian nuns are seen in full veil all the time. In pre-Islamic times in Arab, everyone used to wear a veil only out of tradition. In Saudi Arabia up to this day, men cover their heads with veils. In North African Sahara, the Tuareg Tribe has men wearing veils instead of women. In pre-Islamic times people used to cover themselves more fully in order to protect themselves from the harsh weather conditions, especially in the Arab states with scorching heat.

Covering the heads was neither a religious nor a social obligation. But today it has assumed a potent religious ammunition, particularly with the weaponization of religion.

There is nothing bad in the adornment of hijab by choice by women to protect them from the lustful attention of the menfolk and also to project their Islamism, but when its use is being forced as we have in some Talibanic societies under the guise of Hadithi injunctions, then it becomes a questionable exercise open to interrogation. This brings into fore the various interpretations of the provisions of the Quran and the fatwa of the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence on the matter. To be continued.

Barka Juma’at and happy weekend,

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Friday Sermon: Why Does Islam Allow Polygamy?

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By Babatunde Jose

Time and time again the question of polygamy in Islam is raised as a grave issue and a big hurdle to any serious discussions about Islam. The general idea is to ask: How can Islam claim that there is gender equality when it allows men to marry up to four wives? If men can have multiple wives, why are women also not allowed to marry more than one husband?

The idea that Islam allows polygamy so that men could pursue lust and as an excuse to fulfill sensual desires is a far cry from what Islam actually wishes to achieve. Yet this is what some men do when they descend into polygamy.

Marriage is a sacred institution in Islam with very important objectives. In most cases, the objective is achieved through monogamy. However, in certain situations, a man is allowed to marry more than one wife, with the condition that he treats his wives with justice, equality and fairness.

In Islam polygamy is allowed though it is not mandatory and as such, it is the exception and not the rule. It could arise as a remedial measure for certain situations that may arise from time to time.

The primary occasion then for the provision of polygamy is in war-time situations, when the number of men in the society is reduced due to war casualties. Consequently, there is an increase in the number of widows and orphans. For such situations, Islam gives the provision of polygamy so that the widows and orphans could continue to have the possibility of a family life after the passing of the husband/father. Hence the following Ayat was revealed after the ‘battle of Uhud’ during which many men were lost leaving large number of widows and orphans:

“And if you fear that you will not be fair in dealing with the orphans, then marry of women as may be agreeable to you, two, or three, or four; and if you fear you will not deal justly, then marry only one or what your right hands possess. That is the nearest way for you to avoid injustice.” (Quran 4:4)

It is evident from a study of the Holy Quran that a special situation of a post-war period is being discussed. A similar situation prevailed in Germany after the Second World War… There were a large number of virgins, dejected spinsters, and young widows for whom it was impossible to get married.

Though Islam tolerates polygamy; it has placed various conditions for it that, in practice, are very difficult to observe. These are as follows:

1. Possession of sufficient financial resources to provide all expenses of each family

2. Physical prowess for completely satisfying the sexual desires of each wife

3. Observance of complete justice and equality among each family in every way without any favoritism

It is clear that completely adhering to justice and fairness is quite challenging and few men can be sure about their ability to shoulder such heavy responsibilities.

Whilst traditional Islamic scholarship upholds the notion that Islamic law permits polygyny and furthermore enforces the divine command to “marry only one” where the man fears being unable to fulfil the rights of two in a fair manner, a substantial segment of the Islamic scholarship elaborates further on the ruling.

Their opinion was derived from performing ijtihad or independent legal reasoning which determined their belief that it is to be deemed preferable (even for the male individual who is capable of delivering justice to the multiple families) to refrain from joining more than one wife in the marital bond.

This opinion has been codified into the official positions of the Hanbali and Shaafi’i schools of jurisprudence which assert that it is held recommended for a Muslim male to have only one wife, even if he may act equitably with more than one woman. See Ash-Shirbeeni and Al-Maawardi from the Shaafi’i School of jurisprudence.

Ibn Qudaamah from the Hanbali School of jurisprudence, said: “It is more appropriate to marry only one wife, based on the saying of Allah: ”…But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one).”

Imam Ghazali, from the Shaafi’i School of jurisprudence, stated: “It does not call for two wives, [since] plurality may render life miserable and disrupt the affairs of the home.” (Kitab al Nikah, Ihya Uloom ud Din).

Ash-Shaafi’i is of the view that it is desirable to confine oneself to marrying only one although it is permissible for him to marry more than one. This is to avoid being unfair by being more inclined to some of them than others or being unable to financially support them.

The Quran makes it quite clear that if they doubt their ability to behave equally and justly with their wives, they should suffice themselves with one wife. This is without any ambiguity. Consequently, polygamy in Islam is a very onerous and high-liability undertaking, something that most men are not competent enough to accomplish.

From a historical perspective, the concept of polygamy is not a novel idea as history is replete with the practice in different societies of old, in particular Patriarchal Palestine where most of the old prophets of God practiced polygamy. Abraham had three wives (Genesis 16:1, 16:3, 25:1). Moses had two wives (Exodus 2:21, 18:1-6; Numbers 12:1). Jacob had four wives (Genesis 29:23, 29:28, 30:4, 30:9). David had at least 18 wives (1 Samuel 18:27, 25:39-44; 2 Samuel 3:3, 3:4-5, 5:13, 12:7-8, 12:24, 16:21-23). Solomon had 700 wives (1 Kings 11:3).

Marriage is a legal arrangement in Islam, not a sacrament in the Christian sense, and is secured with a contract.  Islamic marriage lays rights and corresponding responsibilities on each spouse.

The primary purpose of marriage in Islam is regulating sexuality within marriage as well as creating an atmosphere for the continuity and extension of the family.  This is in sharp contrast to growing trends in marriage in the West.  In recent decades, there are more alternatives to marriage than ever before.  Cohabitation – living together outside of marriage – has greatly increased among young, never-married adults, as well as the divorced.  More women are having children outside of marriage, ignoring the traditionally sanctioned sequence of marriage followed by childbearing.

The Quran, is the only known world scripture to explicitly limit polygamy and place strict restrictions upon its practice: “… marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with them, then only one.” (Quran 4:3)

Most modern Muslims view the practice of polygyny as allowed, but unusual and not recommended. The practice of polygyny is often viewed in its historical context, as marriage was the only way for a woman to be provided for during the time of Muhammad. Many countries today either outlaw the practice of polygyny or place restrictions on it.

Several countries, such as Libya, allow polygyny with few or no restrictions. In Indonesia, a majority-Muslim secular nation, polygyny is rare. In 2018, it was practiced by approximately 1% of the population.

Polygamy has always been rare among South Asian Muslims. In medieval India and Punjab, most ordinary Muslim men only had one wife.

Most men in the Ottoman Empire were monogamous while only a small minority were polygamous. Turkey was the first Muslim-majority country to legally ban polygyny in 1926. This decision was not based on religious reasons, but rather was an entirely secular ban.

Tunisia was the next country to ban polygyny through legislation passed in 1956 and restated in 1964. Unlike Turkey, Tunisia banned polygyny on religious grounds, citing two main reasons. First, the Quran limited the practice of polygyny, thus it did not support the practice and clearly intended for the practice to be eliminated over time. Second, the Quran demands equal treatment of all wives in a polygynous marriage, which was deemed impossible, thus making the practice illegal. Finally, Israel banned polygyny as well by 1978.

Countries that restrict polygyny include the following: Egypt (1920), Sudan (1929), India (1939), Algeria, Jordan (1951), Syria (1953), Morocco (1958), Bangladesh, Iraq (1959), Iran (1967, 1975), Kuwait, and Lebanon.

Some countries, including India, Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh, Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan, and Kuwait, allow women to include a clause prohibiting polygyny in marriage contracts.

Other countries, such as Iran and Pakistan, require that a man get permission to take a second wife from his first wife, and then show the court proof of his first wife’s consent. Finally, countries such as Malaysia state that a man must get permission from both his wife and from the governmental religious authority in order to take a second.

Although many countries have laws restricting or banning polygyny, it is still practiced. It is difficult to enforce anti-polygyny laws and restrictions in countries with large rural populations. Furthermore, illegal polygyny often occurs in countries with poor social services as women rely on husbands to support them in these situations.

From the perspective of a woman, if the objectives of her marriage are not being fulfilled, Islam allows her recourse through divorce, and to find another husband. That is the path which will bring her far greater benefits as compared to having two or more husbands.

Barka Juma’at and happy weekend.

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