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Polygamy is not recommended?

This article has been reposted from Ijtihad Network with minor editting

According to Ayatollah Khamenei, polygamy is permissible (Jaʼiz), but it is not recommended (Mustahab). This view is not only strongly backed by Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh), and consistent with the decree of some early and recent jurisprudents, but there is consensus upon this position and adherence to monogamy as maintained by Sheikh Tusi.

According to the Ijtihad Network, Ayatollah Abbas Kabi, a member of the Qom Seminary Teachers Society and Khuzestan People’s representative in the Assembly of Experts, commented to Fars Agency about issues raised by the Supreme Leader that polygamy is not recommended, offering a jurisprudential explanation of this issue.

  1. The basis of marriage and intention of making family for men and women has been strongly recommended with a huge reward being promised for it in Islam. There are some Qur’anic verses and many traditions, in addition to the Muslim Consensus and the requirements of religion, even the necessity of religion, which have referred to this point. Marriage is deemed obligatory when there is dread of a committing a forbidden act in the event of abandoning marriage.
  2. The permission to take two or more wives (up to four)for men, according to the Shari’a, in case of dispensing justice between spouses and financial ability to provide their costs of living, represents a religious decrees, and there is no dissent among jurists, including the grand marja, Ayatollah Khamenei,‌ on this subject. Obviously, the verdict of polygamy for different people could vary from obligatory to permissible, prohibited or execrable under various circumstances, such as the principle of marriage.
  3. The verdict regarding the permissibility of polygamy not its recommendedness, apart from disparate conditions cited by Ayatollah Khamenei, is based not only on a deep jurisprudential argument, but also approval of the majority of the early and some later jurists.
  4. Evidences provided by the proponents of recommendedness of polygamy and its criticism: Basically, with regard to the recommendedness of polygamy, reference has been made to general and particular traditions that indicate the recommended nature of marriage and not the multiplicity of wives, and it is intrinsic to the principles of jurisprudence that an action denotes the essence of doing something not its repetition (nature is generated in the presence of one instance), and in our case, the act of marriage is realized in the first marriage.

The late Sheikh al-Tusi, nevertheless, argues that polygamy rather than being recommended is “not prohibited”, issuing an explicit fatwa concerning the permissibility of polygamy, but recommending the adequacy of one wife, referring to a consensus amongst jurists about this fatwa.

The statement of Sheikh al-Tusi is as follows:

يجوز للرجل أن يتزوج أربعا بلا خلاف ، و المستحب أن يقتصر على واحدة

It is permissible for a man to have four wives without a dispute, and it is recommended to suffice to only one wife

Al-Mabsut Fi Fiqh Al Imammiya, Vol 6, pg 4 – Link

and he says:

یجوز للرجل أن یتزوج أربعا بلا خلاف و الاستحباب أن لا یزید على من یعلم أن لا یقوم بها.

و قال جمیع الفقهاء: المستحب الاقتصار على واحده

It is permissible for a man to have four wives without dispute, and it is recommended not to take more than he has the financial means for.

And all the jurists said: It is recommended to suffice to only one wife

Al-Khilaf, Vol 5, pg 111 – Link

Editors note:

Shaykh al-Tusi claims consensus of the scholars here, but he quotes on the same page an alternative view:

و قال داود: الأفضل أن لا يقتصر على واحدة ، لأن النبي (صلى الله عليه و آله) قبض عن تسعة.

And Dawud said: it is prefered to not limit to one, because the Prophet صلى الله عليه و آله had 9.

Al-Khilaf, Vol 5, pg 111 – Link

Shaykh al-Tusi proceeds to quote as his evidence for his view:

دليلنا: أن ما ذكرناه مجمع عليه، و الزيادة و النقصان عنه يحتاج الى دليل.

Our evidence: That what we have mentioned is agreed upon, and anything more or less [on this issue] requires evidence.

Al-Khilaf, Vol 5, pg 111 – Link

After late Sheikh Tusi, late Qaḍi Ibn Baraj and late Tabarsi issued fatwas regarding the recommendedness of monogamy. The late Tabarsi, like the Sheikh, has an opposing view, expressing the consensus of the jurists regarding the recommendation of taking only one wife.

However, from verse 3 of Sura Nisaa:

إِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلَّا تُقْسِطُوا فِی الْیَتامى‌ فَانْکِحُوا ما طابَ لَکُمْ مِنَ النِّساءِ مَثْنى‌ وَ ثُلاثَ وَ رُباعَ فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا فَواحِدَهً أَوْ ما مَلَکَتْ أَیْمانُکُمْ ذلِکَ أَدْنى‌ أَلَّا تَعُولُوا

If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice

Quran 4:3

The late Sahib Jawahir and other late jurisprudents have not inferred the recommendedness of polygamy. That is, although they ultimately issued a fatwa regarding the recommendedness of polygamy, they used the verse merely as an indication of the permissibility of polygamy.

The late Ayatollah Sayyid Mohsen Hakim and, consequently, other exegeses and Commentators of Urwat al-Wuthqa have cited this verse in connection with the recommendedness of polygamy, but in response to the negation of the recommendedness of polygamy and inference of permissibility from the verse, various aspects should be taken into account, which for the sake of brevity, we just point out that according to a principle in the principles of jurisprudence, ordering after prohibition constitutes recommendation. The verse indicates the permissibility of polygamy not its recommendedness.

One of the exegeses of Urwat al-Wuthqa, the late Ayatollah Sheikh Alipanah Eshtehardy, has stated the permissibility of polygamy and renounced the recommendedness of polygamy. However, given its social effects and adverse consequences, he has expressed aversion to polygamy due to its multiple problems, as cited in verse 3 of Sura Nisaa.

He says:

هذا کلّه فی جواز التعدّد و أما استحبابه فلم أعثر على خبر یدلّ علیه، و التمسّک بالآیه کما ترى، إذ لیست فی مقام الترغیب إلى أصل النکاح، بل فی مقام آخر و لا سیّما إذا لوحظ صدرها بقوله تعالى وَ إِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلّٰا تُقْسِطُوا فِی الْیَتٰامىٰ فَانْکِحُوا مٰا طٰابَ إلخ، بل الآیه الشریفه من المشکلات و المعضلات من جهه ارتباط الشرط و الجزاء فلاحظ التفاسیر. بل یمکن دعوى کراهه التعدّد فإنّه معرّض للزوجات للشنآن و البغضاء و للرجل لترک القسط و العدل و هو موجب لتعیّن الواحد

The late Ayatollah Sheikh Alipanah Eshtehardi, a great jurist and teacher of ethics in the Qom Seminary, about the translation and explanation of the above statement says:

“The rule of the permissibility of polygamy is clear. But the recommendedness of polygamy is not backed by any Qur’anic verse and tradition. However, verse 3 of Sura Nisaa is not intended to urge polygamy, but demonstrate the importance of taking care of orphans and dispensing justice about them. The verse, given the relationship between the condition (If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans) and its corollary (Marry women of your choice), is perceived to indicate difficulties and problems. The late Eshtehardi then sums up: polygamy is reprehensible on the account of its harassment and frustration of the wives and social problems, and the fear of failure to dispense justice amongst wives by a man.”

In conclusion, according to the above said, it can be gathered that Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa regarding the permissibility of polygamy and the negation of the recommendedness of polygamy has a strong argumentative and jurisprudential basis and credibility amongst early jurists such as Sheikh Tusi, Qadi Ibn Baraj and Tabarsi and contemporary jurisprudents such as the author of Madark al-Orvah, the late Ayatollah Sheikh Alipanah Eshtehard, and the argument about the recommendedness of the polygamy is not verified.

Nevertheless, the consensus among the earlier jurists regarding the permissibility of polygamy and the recommendedness of monogamy in the Shari’a, irrespective of the dignity conditions of individuals, may be variable.

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