Monogamy (Practice of being married to only one woman at a time) is the most natural form of matrimony. The spirit of exclusive relationship or individual and private ownership prevails in it, though this ownership is different from that of wealth or property. In this system the husband and wife each regard the feelings, sentiments and the sexual benefits of the other, as exclusively belonging to him or to her.
The opposites of monogamy are polygamy (Custom of having more than one wife at the same time) and sexual communism. The latter, in a sense, may also be regarded as a form of polygamy.
Sexual communism means no exclusiveness. According to this theory, no man should exclusively belong to any particular woman, nor should any woman belong to any particular man. It amounts to complete negation of family life. History and the theories related to pre-historical times do not point to any period when man totally lacked family life and when sexual communism prevailed. What is claimed to have existed among certain barbarian tribes was a midway state between exclusive family life and sexual communism. It is said that among certain tribes it was the usual practice that several brothers jointly married several sisters, or several male members of a clan jointly married several women of another clan.
Will Durant in his book, 'History of Culture', Vol 1, writes that at certain places collective marriage was popular in the sense that several male members of a clan jointly married several female members of another clan. For example, it has been customary in Tibet that several brothers have an equal number of sisters as their wives. Nobody knows which sister is the wife of which brother. Every brother cohabits with any of the sisters he likes. A sort of sexual communism exists there. A similar custom existed in ancient England. The custom, which was prevalent among the Jews and some other people of the past and, according to which, after the death of a brother, another brother married his widow, was a remnant of this ancient custom.
It appears that, while enunciating his theory of 'philosopher-rulers', Plato has suggested in his book, "The Republic", a sort of family socialism for this class. Several leaders of communism in the 19th century also made a similar suggestion, but, as reported by the author of the book, 'Freud and the Prohibition of Consanguineous Marriage', after some bitter experiences, several of the powerful communist countries officially recognised the law of monogamy in 1938.
Another form of polygamy is polyandry, viz. a woman having more than one husband at the same time. According to Will Durant this custom is found among certain tribes of Tibet etc.
Al-Bukhari, in his famous corpus of traditions, as-Sahih, reports Ayesha as having said that among the pre-Islamic Arabs there existed four kinds of conjugal relations. One of them was the proper marriage that is still being practised. In this form a man proposes to a girl through her father and, after the fixation of dower, carries her. There can be no controversy about the father of the children born in such a wedlock. There was another kind of marriage, which was called 'istibza To procure a better progeny for himself, the husband selected a man and asked his wife to allow him to have access to her for a fixed period. He himself kept aloof till the pregnancy of the woman. It was a marriage within a marriage and was indulged in with a view to improving the breed. According to another custom, a group of men consisting of less than ten people, established a liaison with a particular woman. On becoming pregnant, she called all of them, and, as the custom of the day was, they had to respond to her call. At this time she selected one man as the father of her child out of those who were willing to take that responsibility. The man, after being so chosen, could not decline to accept the fatherhood of the child.
The fourth kind of conjugal relations was known as prostitution. The prostitutes had a flag on the top of their houses. It served as their distinguishing mark. Anybody could have access to these women. If such a woman gave birth to a child, she called all those who had intimacy with her, and with the help of a physiognomist, determined who was the father of the child. The man concerned had to accept the decision of the physiognomist and to own the child.
These were the forms of the conjugal relations which prevailed in pre-Islamic Arabia. The Prophet abolished all of them, except the one which is practised today.
This shows that the custom of polyandry existed among the pre-Islamic Arabs also.
Montesquieu reports that the Arab globe-trotter, Abu Zahir al-Hasan, found this custom in India and China during his visit to these countries in the 9th century and regarded it as a form of debauchery. He also writes: "On the coast of Malabar there lives a tribe called Nair. The male members of this tribe cannot have more than one wife, but the women are allowed to choose several husbands. Probably the reason is that the Nairs belong to a martial race and their profession is fighting and hunting. Just as we discourage the marriage of the soldiers in Europe so that it may not interfere with their profession of fighting, the Malabar tribes have also decided that, as far as possible, the male members of the Nair tribe should be excused from shouldering family responsibilities. As, owing to the tropical climate of the area, it is not possible to ban marriage totally, it has been decided that several men should have only one wife, so that they may not be heavily burdened with family responsibilities and their professional efficiency may not be affected".
DEFECTS OF POLYANDRY
The main and the basic defect of the system of polyandry is that the paternity of the children practically remains uncertain. In this system, the relations between the child and the father are undetermined and that is the reason why it has not been successful. As sexual communism 1L1~ not been able to take roots anywhere, this system also has not been accepted by any society worthy of the name. As we have said earlier, the family life, the building of a home for the future generation and the definite connection between the past and the future generations are some of the demands of the human instinct. The exceptional cases of the existence of plurality of husbands among certain sections does not prove that the desire of the formation of one's own family is not an instinct of man. Similarly, perpetual celibacy or complete abstinence from conjugal life, as practised by a number of men and women, is also a sort of deviation. Polyandry is not only inconsistent with man's monopolistic nature and his paternal love, but it is opposed to the nature of woman also. Psychological investigations have proved that woman wants monogamy more than man.
Another form of polygamy is plurality of wives. It has been more commonly and successfully practised than polyandry and sexual communism. It has not only existed among the barbarian tribes, but has also been practised by many civilised people. Apart from the Arabs, it has been practised by the Jews, the Iranians of the Sasanian period and several other people. Montesquieu says that in Malaya it was permissible to have three wives. He also says that the Roman Emperor, Valentinian II, had, by an edict, allowed the subjects of the Empire to marry several wives, but as this law was not suited to the climate of Europe, it was repealed by other emperors like Theodore etc.
ISLAM AND POLYGAMY
In contrast to polyandry, Islam has not totally abolished polygamy, but has restricted it. On the one hand, it has fixed the maximum number of wives, which one can have, at four, and, on the other, it has stipulated certain conditions and has not allowed everyone to indulge in having several wives. We shall discuss the conditions stipulated by Islam later and will explain why Islam has not banned polygamy.
It is surprising that during the Middle Ages, when anti Islamic propaganda was at its highest, the opponents of Islam used to say that it was the Prophet of Islam who, for the first time, invented the custom of polygamy. They claimed that this custom was the basis of Islam and the rapid spread of Islam among the various people of the world was due to it. At the same time, they claimed that polygamy was the cause of the decline of the people of the East.
Will Durant in his 'History of Culture'. Vol.1, says that the ecclesiastics of the Middle Ages believed that polygamy was an invention of the Prophet of Islam, whereas this is not a fact. As we know, the matrimonial life in most of the primitive societies proceeded according to this system. There are many causes of its emergence. In the primitive societies men were mostly busy in hunting and fighting and the rate of mortality among them was naturally high. As the number of women exceeded the number of men. it became essential to adopt this system. It was not possible to allow some women to remain unmarried, for the rate of mortality being high in the primitive societies, every woman was required to procreate children. There is no doubt that this system suited those societies, not only because of the excess of women over men, but also because it strengthened them numerically. In modern times the most strong and healthy men usually marry late in life and beget only a few children. But in the olden days the strong men could have the best wives and could procreate a large number of children. That is why this practice continued to exist for a very long time, not only among the primitive people but even among the civilised ones. It is only recently that it has gradually begun disappearing from the countries of the East. Agriculture has stabilised the life of men and reduced the hardships and perils of the ancient times, with the result that the number of men and women has almost equalised. Now polygamy, even in primitive societies, has become a privilege of a small wealthy minority and the masses have to be content with only one wife and, as an additional enjoyment, they can only indulge in adultery, whenever possible.
Gustav Leabeon in his book, 'History of Culture', says that no Eastern custom is so infamous in Europe as polygamy, nor has Europe misjudged any other custom to the extent that it has misjudged this. The European writers have believed polygamy to be the basis of Islam and the main cause of its spread. They also hold this custom to be mainly responsible for the decline of the Eastern people. Other objections apart from these, showing sympathy with the women of the East, are raised alleging that these ill-fated women are detained within the four walls of their houses, under the hard-hearted eunuchs. They further say that the slightest action on their part, which may displease the head of the household, renders them liable to be put to death. Such notions have no basis at all. '[he unbiased Europeans should know that it is the custom of polygamy that has strengthened the family relations and uplifted the moral spirit of those people among whom it is prevalent. It is due to this custom that woman in the East enjoys more respect than she does in Europe. Before proving this point, we must make it clear that this custom is in no way related to Islam. Even prior to Islam, it was practised by all the people of the East, including the Jews, the Iranians, the Arabs etc. The people who embraced Islam in the East did not derive any benefit in this respect. So far, no such mighty religion has appeared in this world as could invent or abolish such a custom as polygamy. It has not been first introduced by any religion. It is the creation of the climatic and the racial characteristics and other causes related to the way of life in the East. Even in the West, where the climate is not congenial to the existence of such a custom, monogamy is a thing which is found in law books only. In actual life there is no trace of it. It is not known how and in what way the lawful polygamy found in the East is inferior to the clandestine polygamy of the people of the West. Apparently, the former is better and more dignified than the latter. The people of the East, when they visit a European country and are confronted with the European criticism of their custom, are naturally bewildered and feel offended.
It is a fact that Islam has not invented polygamy. It has only restricted it. It has prescribed a maximum limit for it. It has laid down strict conditions for it. This custom already existed among most of the people who accepted Islam. They were only compelled to comply with the conditions laid down by Islam.
In his book, 'Iran During the Sassanian Period', Christenson writes: "Polygamy was considered to be the basis of the family. Practically, the number of wives, which a man could have, depended on his means. The poor people apparently could not afford to have more than one wife as a general rule. The head of the family had special rights as such. One of the wives was regarded as the favourite wife and enjoyed full rights. Some other wives were treated as servants only. Legal rights of these two categories widely differed. The slave girls were included among the servant wives. It is not known how many favourite wives a single man could have. But there has been a mention of two favourite wives in the course of several legal discourses. Each of them was called the lady of the house. Apparently they lived in separate houses. The husband was bound to maintain the favourite wife so long as she lived. Every son till he reached the age of puberty, and every daughter till she was married, had the same rights. But only the male children of the servant-wives were admitted to the paternal family".
In the 'Social History of Iran from the fall of the Sassanians to the fall of the Omayyads' the late Sa'id Nafisi writes: "The number of women whom a man could marry was unlimited and at times it is observed in the Greek documents that one man had hundreds of women in his house."
Montesquieu, quoting a Roman historian, says that several Roman philosophers, who were being tortured by the Christians because they refused to embrace Christianity, fled from Rome and took refuge in the court of the Iranian King, Khusro Parviz. They were astonished to see that not only polygamy was legal there, but the Persian men had intimacy with the wives of others also.
It may be pointed out here that the Roman philosophers took refuge in the court of the Persian king, Anushirwan, and not in the court of Khusro Parviz. Montesquieu has mentioned the name of the latter owing to some misunderstanding.
During the pre-Islamic period, the Arabs could have an unlimited number of wives. It was Islam that prescribed a maximum limit. This naturally created a problem for those who had more than four wives. In exceptional circumstances, some had even ten. They had to part with six of them.
From the above it is evident that polygamy is not an invention of Islam. Islam only restricted it. Anyhow, it did not abolish it totally. In the following chapters we shall discuss the causes which gave rise to this custom and shall explain why Islam did not do away with it. We shall also discuss the reasons which in modern times have impelled both men and women to rise against this custom.
HISTORICAL CAUSES OF POLYGAMY (I)
What are the historical and social causes of polygamy? Why have many nations of the world, especially the Eastern nations, accepted this custom, and why have other nations, such as the Western nations, never practised it? How is it that out of the three forms of polygamy only plurality of wives could gain considerable popularity? Polyandry and sexual communism either have never been practised or have been practised rarely, and only in exceptional cases.
Unless we look into these questions, we cannot discuss the question of polygamy from the point of view of Islam, nor can we study it from the viewpoint of modern human requirements.
If we do not take into consideration the ample social and psychological studies made in this respect, we, too, may, like many superficial writers, harp on the old tune and say that the causes of polygamy are obvious. That is, this custom has come into existence as a result of the high-handedness and the domination of man and the subjugation of woman. It is an outcome of the patriarchal system. As man has dominated woman and has ruled over her, he has given the laws and the customs a turn to his own benefit. That is how he enforced this custom which is beneficial to him and harmful to woman, and has been practising it for centuries. As woman was suppressed, she could not put polyandry into practice. As now the age of the high-handedness of man is over, the privilege of polygamy should, like many other false privileges, make room for equal and reciprocal rights of man and woman.
This way of thinking is very superficial and puerile. Neither the cause of polygamy is the oppression of man nor that of the failure of the polyandry the suppression of woman. If the custom of polyandry has practically come to an end, that is not because the age of man's high-handedness is over. Man has lost no privilege; he has actually gained an advantage over woman.
We do not deny the factor of oppression as one of the factors which give a particular turn to history. We also do not deny that man has, throughout history, misused his domination over woman. But we believe that it is sheer short-sightedness to explain family relations on the basis of the oppression factor only.
If we admit this view, we must also admit that during the period when polyandry was popular among the pre-Islamic Arabs or, as reported by Montesquieu, among the Nairs on the Malabar coast, woman had got an opportunity to dominate over man and impose polyandry over him. It also must be admitted that that period was the golden period of woman. But we know for definite that the pre-Islamic period of Arabia was one of the darkest periods in the life of woman. Earlier we have quoted Montesquieu as saying that the custom of polyandry among the Nairs was not due to the domination or respect of woman, but was the result of the decision of society to keep the soldiers free from the burden of family responsibilities.
Further, if patriarchy is responsible for polygamy, how is it that this system did not gain popularity in the West? After all, the patriarchal system is not confined to the East. Have the people of the West been, from the beginning, pious Christians believing in the quality and reciprocity between man and woman? Has the factor of domination worked to the benefit of man in the East and for the promotion of justice in the West?
Till half a century ago, the Western woman was among the most unlucky of the world. Even her own property was controlled by her husband. The Europeans themselves admit that during the Middle Ages the position of the Eastern woman was far better than that of her counterpart in the West. Gustav Leabeon says that Islam, in its early days, gave the woman exactly that position, which the European woman could get after a very long time; that is, after the chivalry of the Arabs of Andolusia was transmitted to Europe. Courteous behaviour towards woman is the main part of the chivalry which the Europeans learnt from the Muslims. It was Islam, and not the religion of Christ, as is believed by the common people, that enhanced the position of woman. During the Middle Ages the chiefs and barons, though Christians, never held woman in respect. A study of ancient history leaves no doubt that the behaviour of the dukes and barons of Europe towards woman was most barbaric.
Other European authors have also given a more or less similar description of the position of women during the Middle Ages. Though patriarchy prevailed in Europe during that period, polygamy could not become customary.
The fact is that neither polyandry (wherever it was practised) was ever due to the power and domination of woman, nor was its ultimate failure due to her weakness and suppression. Similarly, polygamy in the East is neither due to the oppression and high-handedness of man, nor is it unpopular in the West owing to the existence of equality between man and woman.
CAUSES OF THE FAILURE OF POLYANDRY
The main cause of the failure of polyandry is that it neither suits man's nature nor woman's. It does not suit man's nature, because firstly, it does not conform to his monopolistic spirit and, secondly, because it is not in agreement with the principle that a father should be confident of his paternity. It is human nature to have an attachment with one's children. Every human being is, by nature, keen to beget children and wants that his relationship with his past and future generations should be definite and satisfactory. He wants to know whose son and whose father he is. Polyandry does not agree with this instinct of man. On the other hand polygamy creates no such problem, neither in the case of man nor in that of woman. It is reported that once, about forty women came to Imam Ali (P) and asked him why Islam had allowed men to have several wives, but had not allowed women to have several husbands. They asked whether it was not a case of undue discrimination.
Imam Ali (P) ordered some cups of water to be brought in and gave one cup to each women. Then he ordered them to pour all the water into a big utensil, which was placed in the middle of the room. When the order had been carried out, he asked them to fill their cups again, but only with the water which they originally contained. The women said that it was not possible as the whole water had mixed. Imam Ali (P) said that if a woman had several husbands, they would naturally have sexual connections with her. If she became pregnant and gave birth to a child, it would not be possible to determine as to who was the father of that child.
As far as woman is concerned, polyandry is neither in her interest nor does it conform to her nature. Woman does not want a husband to satisfy her sexual instinct only. Had it been so, it could be said: 'the more, the better'. Woman wants a man whose heart she may control, who may be her protector and defender, who may make sacrifices for her and who may work hard and bring money for her. The money which a woman earns through her own work and labour neither meets her requirements, nor has the same value as that which is given to her by the man who loves her. A husband meets the financial needs of his wife with the spirit of sacrifice. The wife and the children are the best and the strongest incentive for man to work.
In the case of polyandry woman cannot claim the love, devotion and sacrifice of any man. That is why, like prostitution, it has always been abominable to woman. Hence, polyandry neither conforms to the wants and the leanings of man, nor to those of woman.
FAILURE OF SEXUAL COMMUNISM
In the case of sexual communism, neither a man can align himself with any particular woman, nor can a woman with any particular man, and that is the reason why it could never become popular. It was proposed by Plato who limited its scope to the ruling class or the 'philosopher-rulers'. But his suggestion was not liked by others, and he himself had to revise his opinion.
During the past century, Frederick Engels, the second father of communism, put forward this idea and strongly advocated it. But it was not accepted by the communist world. It is said that the Soviet Union tried to implement the family theory of Engels, but following some bitter experience had ultimately to recognise monogamy as the official policy.
Polygamy may be regarded as a matter of pride for man, but polyandry has never been and will never be a matter of pride for woman. The reason is that man wants the body of woman and woman wants the heart of man. So long as man controls the body of woman, it is immaterial for him if he loses her heart. That is why man attaches no importance to the fact that, in the case of polygamy, he is deprived of the love and devotional sentiments of woman, But for woman the main and the most important thing is man's heart and his sentiments. If she loses them, she loses everything.
In other words, there are two important elements of matrimonial life, one material and the other sentimental. The material element of matrimony is its sexual aspect, which is at its height during youth and gradually declines afterwards. The sentimental element consists of mutual tender feelings and earnest devotion. It grows and becomes stronger with the passage of time. The nature of woman being different from that of man, she attaches more importance to the sentimental aspect of matrimony. But for man either the material aspect is more important or, at least, both the aspects are of equal importance.
We quoted earlier a lady psychologist who is of the view that woman has a mental disposition of her own. The child develops and grows in her womb and is nursed on her lap. She badly needs the devotion and attachment of her husband in the capacity of the child's father. Even the amount of her own affection and love for her children is directly in proportion to the amount of the love shown to her by their father, Only monogamy can meet this requirement.
It is a grave mistake to compare polyandry with polygamy and to say that there is no difference between them. It is also wrong to say that polygamy became popular in certain parts of the world, because man belonged to the stronger sex, and polyandry could not do so, because woman belonged to the weaker sex.
A contemporary writer, who happens to be a woman, says:
"We can say that as man can have four wives, woman also should have a similar right, for both are human beings. This logical conclusion is most appalling to men. They are enraged on hearing such an argument and shout: "How can a woman have more than one husband?" In reply we quietly say: "How can a man have more than one wife?"
She further says: "We do not want to promote immorality or to belittle the importance of chastity. We only want to make men understand that the views held by them, about women, are not based on any solid ground. Man and woman are equal as human beings. If man has the right to have four wives, woman also must have the same right. Even if it is granted that woman is not intellectually superior to man, it is certain that spiritually and mentally she is not weaker than he is."
As you might have observed, the above statement makes no distinction between polyandry and polygamy, except that man being the stronger sex has adopted polygamy to his own advantage, and woman being the weaker sex could not do so.
The above writer further says that man regards woman as his property, and that is why he wants to have several wives. In other words, he thus wants to acquire as much property as practicable. Woman, being in the position of a slave, cannot have more than one master.
Contrary to the views of this writer, the fact that the system of polyandry has never been accepted by any large section of people proves that man does not regard his wife as his property, for, as far as property is concerned, it is a common practice all over the world to own it jointly and to be benefited by it jointly. Had man considered woman to be his property, he certainly would have had no objection to sharing it with others. There is no law in the world, restricting the ownership of a property to one owner only.
It is said that the husband is one individual and the wife is another individual. They should have equal rights. Why should the husband have the right of enjoying polygamy and why should the wife not have the right of enjoying polyandry?"
We say, here lies the mistake. You presume that polygamy is a part of the rights of the husband and polyandry a part of the rights of the wife. The fact is that polygamy is a part of woman's rights and polyandry is neither a part of man's rights nor of woman's rights. It is against the interests of man and woman both. We shall prove later that the system of polygamy has been laid down by Islam with a view to safeguarding the interests of woman. Had the intention been to be partial to man, Islam could have allowed the husband to have extra-marital affairs with a woman other than his wife and would have laid no responsibility on him with regard to his legal wife and legal children.
Polyandry has never been in the interests of woman. It is not a right of which she has been deprived.
The writer whose views we have quoted has said: "We want to make men understand that the views held by them about women are not based on any solid ground".
Coincidentally, that is what we also want to do. In the following chapters we propose to explain the basis of the Islamic views regarding polygamy.
We invite all thinking people to look into it and see if the Islamic views are, or are not, based on any solid ground. We give our word of honour that we shall withdraw all what we have said, if it is proved by anybody that the basis of the Islamic viewpoint is defective.
HISTORICAL CAUSES OF POLYGAMY (II)
Man's lust for indulgence in sensual pleasure and his unrestricted domination alone are not a sufficient cause for the emergence of polygamy. There must be some other contributory causes also for a licentious man to satisfy his taste for variety. It is easier and less cumbersome to indulge in free love instead of having a woman of his choice as his legal wife and shouldering the responsibility of the maintenance of her possible future children. Plurality of wives gains popularity only in the societies where there are moral and social restrictions on free love and a voluptuary has to pay the price of seeking variety by accepting the woman concerned as his legal wife and by shouldering the responsibility of fatherhood of her children.
Now let us see whether there is any contribution of geographical, economic or social factors in this respect.
Montesquieu and Gustav Leobeon insist that climatic conditions are the main cause of the development of polygamy. These intellectuals believe that the climate of the East is such that this custom is inevitable there. In the Eastern countries puberty and old age in females commence earlier and, therefore, a man requires a second and a third wife. Moreover, they think that one woman cannot satisfy the sexual needs of a man brought up in the Eastern climate.
Gustav Leobeon in his book, History of Islamic and Arab culture says: "The custom of polygamy was not introduced by religion. It is an outcome of the climatic conditions, the racial characteristics and other causes related to life in the East. It needs not be emphasised that these are very strong and effective factors. Furthermore, their physical and temperamental traits, their nursing of children and their ailments and diseases often
force the women of the East to keep themselves aloof from their husbands. As the climatic conditions and the national characteristics of men in the East are such that they cannot bear even temporary separation, polygamy has become customary".
Montesquieu in his book, the Spirit of Law says: 'In tropical countries women attain puberty at the age of eight, nine or ten years and after being married, soon become pregnant. It may be said that in tropical countries, pregnancy immediately follows marriage".
Predo, giving an account of the life of the Prophet of Islam, states that he married Khadijah, at the age of five and consummated the marriage at the age of eight. Because of a very early marriage, women in the tropics become old at the age of twenty. He says that before they become mature, they are already old. In the countries having a temperate climate women retain their charm and beauty for a long time. They attain puberty at a later age and they are more mature and experienced at the time of their marriage. They have children at a comparatively advanced age and the husband and the wife become old almost at the same time. That is how equality between man and woman is established and men do not need to have more than one wife.
Thus it is because of the climatic conditions that the law prohibits polygamy in Europe and allows it in Asia.
The above explanation is in no way correct. The custom of polygamy is not confined to tropical regions in the East. During the pre-Islamic period this custom was common in Iran, where the climate is temperate. It is purely fictitious to say that in the tropics, women get old at the age of twenty, as alleged by Montesquieu. It is even more fantastic to say that the Prophet of Islam, married Khadijah at the age of five and consummated it at the age of eight. Everyone knows that at the time of their marriage Khadijah was forty and the Prophet was twenty -five.
Secondly, if it is accepted that the early onset of old age in women and the intense virility in men are the causes of this custom, why did the people of the East not adopt the practice of free love and debauchery, as the people of the West did both during the Middle Ages and in the modern times. In the West, as Gustav Leabeon has pointed out, monogamy is found only in the legal books and there is no trace of it in daily life.
Again, in the East polygamy exists in its legal form. The man has to accept the woman as his legal wife and has to bear the responsibility of her children. In the West, it exists in an illegal and clandestine form. Man indulges in free love and escapes all matrimonial responsibility.
POLYGAMY IN THE WEST
We deem it necessary to give a brief account of polygamy in Europe during the Middle Ages, as described by an eminent Western historian. This account should convince those who criticise the East for polygamy that in spite of all its defects it is much more dignified than what existed in Europe.
Will Durant in his book, History of Civilization, vol.17, gives an interesting account of the state of morality in Italy during the renaissance. We give below a summary of what he has said under the heading 'Morals in Sexual Relations'.
In the course of his brief introduction he says that before describing the morals of the laity it may be pointed out that by nature man is polygamous. Only strict moral restrictions, an adequate amount of hard work and poverty, and a continuous vigilance of the wife can compel him to maintain monogamy.
Then he says that adultery was not uncommon during the Middle Ages, prior to the Renaissance. As during the Middle Ages the guilt of adultery was extenuated by chivalry, similarly, during the Renaissance period, it was watered down among the educated classes by the craving for the polished manners and the refined spirit of the females. Girls belonging to respectable families were, to a certain extent, kept segregated from the males not connected with their own family and were taught the merits of pre -marital chastity. Sometimes these instructions were exceptionally effective. It is reported that a young woman, after being assaulted, drowned herself. That must have been an exceptional case, because a bishop took the trouble of installing her statue after her death to commemorate her chastity.
The number of pre-marital affairs must have been considerable, because there were innumerable children born of illegitimate relations in every town of Italy. It was a matter of pride not to have an illegitimate child, but to have one was not a matter of shame. Usually a husband persuaded his wife at the time of the marriage to bring her illegitimate child with her, to be brought up along with his children. Illegitimacy was not a slur on the reputation of anyone. Furthermore, a certificate of legitimacy could easily be obtained by bribing a clergyman. In the absence of other lawful or eligible heirs, an illegitimate son could inherit property and even a crown, as Frante-I, succeeded Alfonso-I, King of Naples. When in 1459 Pius-II came to Bavaria, he was received by seven princes, all of whom were illegitimate. Rivalry between the legitimate and illegitimate sons was an important cause of a long series of commotions during the Renaissance period. As far as homosexuality is concerned, it was only a revival of the ancient Greek tradition.
San Bernardino found this sort of perversion so common in Naples that he thought it to be threatened with the fate of Sodom. Artino found the perversion equally prevalent in Rome. The same thing can be said about prostitution. In 1490, out of a total population of 90,000, there were 6,800 registered prostitutes in Rome. Of course, this figure does not include clandestine and unofficial prostitutes. According to the statistics of 1509, out of a population of 300,000 of that city, there were 11,654 prostitutes. In the 15th century, a girl who had reached the age of 15 without having a husband, was regarded as a slur on the fair name of her family. In the 16th century, the 'age of disgrace' was extended up to 17 years, to enable the girls to receive higher education. Men, who enjoyed all the facilities provided by widespread prostitution, were attracted to marriage only if the woman concerned promised to bring a considerable dowry. According to the system of the Middle Ages, husband and wife were expected to love each other and share each other's joy and grief. Apparently in many cases this expectation came true, but still adultery was rampant. Most of the marriages of the upper classes were diplomatic unions contracted for political and economic gains. Many husbands regarded it as their right to have a mistress. The wife might feel dejected, but usually connived at the situation.
Among the middle classes, some people thought that adultery was a lawful pastime. Machiavelli and his friends apparently did not feel uneasy about the stories of their unfaithfulness which they exchanged with each other. When in such cases, the wife followed the example of her husband to wreak vengeance upon him, he usually connived at her behaviour and did not feel jealous or perturbed.
This was a specimen of the life of the people who regard polygamy as an unpardonable crime of the East and have occasionally blamed its climate for this supposedly inhuman custom. As far as their own climate is concerned, it does not allow them to be unfaithful to the wives and to exceed the limits of monogamy!
By the way, it should be remembered that the absence of lawful polygamy among the Europeans, whether good or bad, has nothing to do with the religion of Christ, who never prohibited it. On the other hand, it confirms the rules of the old Testament, which expressly recognise polygamy. Thus we can say that, in fact, the religion of Christ allows polygamy, and the ancient Christians have actually practised it. Hence, the legal abstinence of the Europeans from it must have some other reason or reasons.
Some others attribute polygamy to woman's menstrual periods and her aversion to sex during that time as well as to her exhaustion after child-birth and her desire to avoid sexual intercourse during the nursing period.
Will Durant says that in the primitive societies women grow old quickly. That is why, in order to be able to nurse their children for a longer period, to lengthen the interval between their own pregnancies, without interrupting the husband's desire to have children, and to enable him to satisfy his sexual urge, they encourage their husbands to have a new wife. It has been often observed that the first wife, with a view to making her own burden lighter, has persuaded her husband to contract another marriage in order to have more children and to acquire more wealth.
There is no doubt that woman's menstrual periods and her exhaustion as the result of child-bearing place man and woman, sexually, in dissimilar positions.
These reasons often make men turn to another woman, but they alone cannot be a sufficient cause of polygamy, unless there exists some social or moral impediment preventing man from indulging in free love. The above factors can be effective only when man is not free in the pursuit of his sexual desires.
LIMITATION OF THE PERIOD OF FECUNDITY IN FEMALES
Some believe that the limitation of the period of fecundity of a woman and her menopause, are one of the causes which gave rise to polygamy, for it may happen that a woman reaches this age without being able to bear enough number of children. It is also possible that her children may have died.
In such cases, if the husband does not like to divorce his first wife and at the same time wants to have more children, he has no alternative but to have a second, or sometimes even a third wife. Similarly, the sterility of the first wife may be another reason for the husband in contracting a second marriage.
Some economic factors have also been mentioned as the cause of polygamy. It is said that in ancient times, several wives and a large number of children were regarded as an economic asset. Man extracted work from his wife and children and treated them like slaves. Sometimes he even sold them out. Most of the slaves were not captured in battles, but were sold by their fathers.
This may be a cause of polygamy, because man can have children only by accepting the woman as his legal wife. Free love cannot ensure this advantage. Anyhow, this cause cannot explain all the cases of polygamy.
Some primitive people had several wives with this idea. But that was not the case with all the people. In the ancient world polygamy was customary among the classes which lived with dignity and decorum. The kings, the princes, the chiefs, the divines and the merchants had several wives.
As we know, these classes never exploited economically their wives and children.
NUMBER OF MEMBERS OF A FAMILY
Interest in the numerical increase of the children and the expansion of the family has been another cause of polygamy. The position of a man and a woman with regard to the number of children each of them can have is different. The number of children a woman can bear is very limited, whether she has one husband or several husbands. But the number of children which a man can beget depends on the number of women he has at his disposal. It is theoretically possible that a man may have thousands of children by hundreds of wives. Unlike the modern world, in the ancient world the number of family members was counted as an important social factor. The tribes and the clans did all they could to increase their numbers It was a matter of pride for the ancient people to have a large tribe. It is obvious that polygamy was the only means of achieving that end.
The last and the most important factor, which has contributed to the emergence of the custom of polygamy, is that women have always outnumbered men. It is not that the birth-rate of females is greater than that of males. If occasionally in certain places more females are born, in other places more males are born. But still the number of the women eligible for marriage is always higher than the number of men so eligible. The reason is that the mortality rate among men has always been higher. It is possible that, in case monogamy is enforced strictly, a large number of women will go without having legal husbands, legal children and a household life.
There can be no doubt that at least in the primitive societies this was the position. We have already quoted Will Durant, who says that in primitive societies the life of man was constantly in danger because he was always busy with hunting and fighting, and that is why the rate of mortality among men was higher than among women. As the number of women increased, there were only two alternatives: either to adopt polygamy or to force a large number of women to pass their entire life as spinsters.
We have described above all the causes which can be presumed to be the source of polygamy. As you must have observed, some of these causes such as climate are actually no causes at all. Hence we ignore them. Other causes can be classified into three categories. The first category includes those causes which might have been effective in persuading man to adopt polygamy, but they provide no justification for his action. They have an aspect of oppression, high-handedness and cruelty. The economic causes come under this category.
It is evident that the sale of children is one of the most cruel and barbaric human acts. To resort to polygamy for this purpose is as unlawful as this act itself.
The second category includes those causes which may be regarded as a justification as far as the husband or society is concerned. Sterility of the first wife, her reaching the age of menopause while the husband still requires a child or the need of a large body of people by the tribe or the country, are such causes. As a general rule, all causes, which emanate from the dissimilarity between husband and wife as regards their sexual needs or procreation power, have a justifying aspect.
The third category consists of a cause which, if it is admitted that it ever existed or still exists, not only provides a justification for polygamy, but also makes it obligatory. In this case, polygamy is a woman's right which man and the society must discharge. This cause is the numerical superiority of women over men. In case the number of women eligible for marriage is larger than the number of such men, polygamy becomes an obligation of men and a right of woman, for, in the case of legally enforced monogamy, a number of women are bound to be deprived of their right of family life.
The right of marriage is a basic human right and no one can be deprived of it under any pretext. Society cannot take any action which may deprive a section of the people of this right.
The right of marriage is as natural a right as the right of freedom, the right to work and the right to get food, shelter and education. Hence, the law of monogamy is repugnant to the natural human rights in the case of the existence of a larger number of women eligible for marriage than the number of available men.
This, at least, has been the case in the past. In the next chapter we shall see whether there still exist circumstances which not only justify polygamy, but also create a woman's right to it. And if such circumstances do exist what is the position of this right vis-a-vis the right of the first wife?
RIGHT OF WOMAN IN "MORE-THAN-ONE" MARRIAGE
We have explained the causes of the failure of polyandry and the prevailing of polygamy and have shown that multifarious causes have contributed to the origin of the latter custom. Some of the causes originated from the man's spirit of oppression and domination and others from the disparity between man and woman as regards the duration of their power or procreation and the number of children which each of them can beget. The latter type of causes can be regarded as a justification for polygamy. But its main cause, throughout history has been the numerical superiority of women eligible for marriage over such men. This cause leads to the creation of a right of woman and an obligation of man.