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Autor:   •  December 23, 2010  •  2,529 Words (11 Pages)  •  969 Views

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Polygamy means a system of marriage where one person has more than one spouse. There are two basic forms of polygamy: polyandry, where one woman has more than one husband, and polygyny, where one man has more than one wife (Merriam Webster dictionary). Over the course of history and at present, polygyny is by far the most common form of polygamy, though there have been some documented reports of the practice of polyandry in isolated societies (Al-Krenaw, 1995). Polygyny appears to be the only type of polygamy practiced in North America. While Polygyny is practiced in several societies in the world it is most common in Middle Eastern and African nations, where cultural and religious background continue to encourage its practice (Agadjanian, 2000). There has been growing concern and controversy about polygamy around the world. In many countries where polygamy has traditionally been practiced, there has been increasing encouragement for the restraint of polygamy to protect women from abuse and support gender equality. In the United States, there is increasing concern about the practice of polygamy and other abuses of women and children in fundamentalist communities (Altman & Ginat, 1996). Furthermore, these communities are composed of Christian, Jewish and Muslim believers.

In this paper I will use two ethical theories Divine Command and Egoism to discuss the morals and ethics accepting polygamy. Let’s first begin with the assumption that religions are acceptable sources of morals. Morals are broad societal rules or guidelines that define the boundaries of acceptable behavior. In other words, morals are the principles that determine right and wrong in relation to human activity and character (The American Heritage Dictionary).

Moral principles are most often expressed in terms of what should or should not be done. You shall do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Thou shall not steal. These rules fir together seem to create a framework that form moral codes by which a society may behave. Rules that are determined to be crucial for societal order are codified as laws and consequences are affixed (Hinman, 1998). As I continue with an assumption of religion’s being acceptable sources of morals I have selected to discuss three religions Judaism, Islam and Christianity which are closely related, in order to see where they stand on the issue of polygamy. Further I will discuss how ethical egoism can influence and encourages polygamy.

Polygamy is a very ancient practice found in many human societies. The Bible did not criticize polygamy and most of the content in the Bible is an influence of the Old Testament. The Old Testament frequently demonstrates legality of polygamy. In Judaism it is prominent that most of the Old Testament Prophets are polygamous. According to the Old Testament, Abraham "the friend of God" had more than one wife, David had one hundred wives, and Solomon is even said to have had 700 wives 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Also, king David is said to have had many wives and mistress (2 Samuel 5:13). The Old Testament does have some injunctions on how to distribute the property of a man among his sons from different wives (Deut. 22:7). The only restriction on polygamy is a ban on taking a wife's sister as a rival wife (Lev. 18:18). The Talmud (book of Jewish law) advises a maximum of four wives.

Polygyny is permitted in Judaism. According to Talmudic law, Abraham had three wives, and Solomon had hundreds of wives. The practice of polygyny continued till Rabbi Gershom ben Yehudah (1030 C.E) issued a law against it (US Marriage laws). An express prohibition of it was not pronounced until the convening of the Rabbinical Synod at Worms, in the beginning of the eleventh century (US Marriage Laws). This prohibition was originally made for the Jews living in Germany and Northern France, but it was successfully adopted in all European countries. Nevertheless, European Jews continued to practice polygamy until the sixteenth century. Oriental Jews regularly practiced polygamy until they arrived in Israel where it is forbidden under civil law (Kershaw, 2000). In earlier times, Christian men were permitted as many wives as they wished, since the Bible puts no restriction on the number of wives. It was only a few centuries ago that the Church restricted the number of wives to one. Although polygamy was practiced among some early Christians, the Christian Church rejected polygamy as inconsistent with the ideal of marriage as a love based partnership of equals (National Post, 2005).

The Quran too allows polygamy, but not without restrictions: "If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, 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). The Quran also recognizes the challenges of living in a polygamous marriage. "You cannot be fair in a polygamous relationship, no matter how hard you try" (Quran 4:129). The Quran contrary to the Bible limited the maximum number of wives to four under the strict condition of treating the wives equally and justly is an obligation. This applies to housing, food, clothing, kind treatment etc, for which the husband is fully responsible. It should not be understood that the Quran is urging the believers to practice polygamy, or that polygamy is considered as an ideal. In other words, the Quran has tolerated or allowed polygamy. Westermarck catholic encyclopedia, the noted authority on the history of human marriages states, polygamy in Islam is neither mandatory, nor encouraged, but merely permitted. Why is polygamy permissible? The answer is simple: there are places and times in which there are undeniable social and moral reasons for polygamy. The permission to practice polygamy is not associated with mere satisfaction rather; it is associated with compassion towards widows and orphans. The reason for not prohibiting polygamy is due to the fact that there are certain conditions which face individuals and societies in different places and at different times, which make the limited practice of polygamy a better solution than divorce.

As the above Quranic verse indicates, the issue of polygamy in Islam cannot be understood apart from community obligations towards orphans and widows. Quran is the only religious book that contains the phrase “marry only one”. There is no other religious book that instructs men to have only one wife. In none of the other religious scriptures, whether it is the Bible, Torah and Hindu religious books does one find a restriction on the number of wives. According to these scriptures one can marry as many as one wishes. It was only later, that the Jewish Rabbi’s and the Christian Church


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