With Islam under attack from every quarter, one of the most "objectionable" features of Islam, from the point of view of its critics, is "polygamy", that is a family where one man is married to two or more women at the same time.
Not only anti-Muslim American evangelists call the Prophet Muhammad a "polygamist", meaning by that a "very bad person", not only the American military in Afghanistan were dropping leaflets saying that while the Afghan people were fighting, their leader, Mullah Omar was "enjoying himself with his four wives", but even many Muslims become apologetic whenever they talk or write about "polygamy", saying, that it was allowed only under special conditions, or was only allowed, because there was a surplus of women, etc.
But what is "polygamy", is it bad, and why is it bad?
To answer these questions we shall look at the stages of a monogamous (one wife) family throughout a single generation.
So, as we see, "monogamy" is by no means to the woman's benefit. So why is such opposition to a family with more than one wife in Christian based cultures, and why is it allowed in Islam?
The answer is in the different views of the procreational activity in mainstream Christianity and Islam.
The mainstream Christianity, and especially the Roman Catholic Church, see any form of "sex" as sin. Celibacy is seen as the highest of virtues and a way of seeking proximity to Jesus (God, or the Son of God). Sex is allowed to those who are not close to Jesus (God, or the Son of God), as a concession, but it is something "dirty", something to be ashamed of, something to seek forgiveness for.
Because total abstinence from sex is unnatural and requires a great effort, which few people are prepared to make, those who are required to abstain from sex throughout their lives, but cannot do it, resort to some unnatural ways of satisfying their sexual urge. Up to recent times such practices were kept in great secrecy, but now they all came out in the open. The present child sex scandals involving Catholic priests in the USA and Britain, or groups of nuns marching in a "gay pride" parade are clear proofs of that.
But even those who are allowed to marry see sex either as "sin" or as "pleasure". They see the sexual act as an aim in itself. The purpose of marriage is to make sex easier. And now it does not even matter whether this "sex" is between a man and a woman, or between a man and a man. It is a "relationship" that matters, and it is this sex-based relationship that is the basis and justification of marriage in modern western culture.
Because in the modern western culture sex is seen as "pleasure", when the westerners think of a Muslim with four wives, they see a sex orgy - a man having sex with four women at the same time. Hence the American "black propaganda" leaflet at the time of the Afghan war. And hence all those statements by the American evangelists about the "evil" of Islamic "polygamy".
But the words "sex" and "marriage" in Islam have different meaning from that of the Christians.
In Islam sex is a blessing from God given to people as a means of procreation of Mankind. Sex is not sin, it is a command from God which must be obeyed. It is abuse of sex that is sin.
In Islam marriage is not a result of a "relationship", nor is the sex act or "relationship" is the purpose of marriage. The purpose of marriage is creation of a family and procreation of human race.
Marriage is a mutually binding legal contract. A man or a woman should marry, not because they "fancy" each other, but because they know that the prospective husband or wife is a reliable person, marrying whom will result in a happy and healthy family. Love is not an infatuation, or "affair", it is a contractual obligation arising out of the contract of marriage.
Once marriage is seen as a contract and a duty before God, rather than as legalized "sin", having more than one wife acquires a different meaning. It is not about having sex with a few women at the same time - this is a "western" phantasy. It is about building a stable and healthy family where the wives share the burdens of child bearing and child care.
The model of a family with more than one wife is also based on the natural characteristics of men and women.
Most women cease their reproductive cycle by the age of 50, while a man's reproductive abilities can last till over 1001. Would it be natural to restrict the reproductive ability of a man to some 30 years of a woman's reproductive ability, if his reproductive ability is some 50-70 years, or more?
The practice of marrying more than one wife is healthy and natural. It is the Christian attitude to sex and marriage that is unnatural and perverse. There are, however, some people of Christian and other non-Muslim backgrounds who understand this. They have set up a website dedicated to what they call "polygamy" - www.polygamy.com. This is how they define the purpose of their website:
"Marriage and Family are institutions for all people, regardless of religious affiliation or lack of one, and are necessary for the stability and health of a nation. The purpose of this site is to provide a resource for people who wish to move beyond present day monogamy and to promote plural marriage by encouraging honorable individuals wishing to pursue polygamy as the marriage structure for their Family and to support those individuals living plural marriage with integrity."
If those non-Muslims see the benefits of man having more than one wife, then why are some Muslims apologetic about the ways of the Prophet?
1) In May 2002, a man died in a village in Saudi Arabia at the age of 133. He had 9 wives during his life, the last of which he married at the age of 90 (she was 43 at the time). At the age of 96 he begat a son, who is now 37, and is the youngest of the 23 sons now living. He was enjoying good health until the age of 130.