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Debate about Polygamy

By: Sherif Muhammad Abdel Azeem
Let us now tackle the important question of polygamy. Polygamy is a very ancient practice found in many human societies. The Bible did not condemn polygamy. To the contrary, the Old Testament and Rabbinic writings frequently attest to the legality of polygamy. King Solomon is said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3)
Also, king David is said to have had many wives and concubines (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 advises a maximum of four wives[49].
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. However, under religious law which overrides civil law in such cases, it is permissible[50].
What about the New Testament? According to Father Eugene Hillman in his insightful book, ‘Polygamy Reconsidered’, “Nowhere in the New Testament is there any explicit commandment that marriage should be monogamous or any explicit commandment forbidding polygamy[51].”
Moreover, Jesus has not spoken against polygamy though it was practiced by the Jews of his society. Father Hillman stresses the fact that the Church in Rome banned polygamy in order to conform to the Greco-Roman culture (which prescribed only one legal wife while tolerating concubinage and prostitution). He cited St. Augustine, “Now indeed in our time, and in keeping with Roman custom, it is no longer allowed to take another wife[52].”
African churches and African Christians often remind their European brothers that the Church’s ban on polygamy is a cultural tradition and not an authentic Christian injunction.
The Qur’an, too, allowed 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.”(4:3)
The Qur’an, contrary to the Bible, limited the maximum number of wives to four under the strict condition of treating the wives equally and justly. It should not be understood that the Qur’an is exhorting the believers to practice polygamy, or that polygamy is considered as an ideal. In other words, the Qur’an has “tolerated” or “allowed” polygamy, and no more, but why? Why is polygamy permissible?
The answer is simple: there are places and times in which there are compelling social and moral reasons for polygamy. As the above Qur’anic verse indicates, the issue of polygamy in Islam cannot be understood apart from community obligations towards orphans and widows. Islam as a universal religion suitable for all places and all times could not ignore these compelling obligations.
In most human societies, females outnumber males. In the U.S. there are, at least, eight million more women than men. In a country like Guinea there are 122 females for every 100 males. In Tanzania, there are 95.1 males per 100 females[53].
What should a society do towards such unbalanced sex ratios? There are various solutions, some might suggest celibacy, others would prefer female infanticide (which does happen in some societies in the world today

.
Others may think the only outlet is that the society should tolerate all manners of sexual permissiveness: prostitution, sex out of wedlock, homosexuality, etc. For other societies, like most African societies today, the most honorable outlet is to allow polygamous marriage as a culturally accepted and socially respected institution. The point that is often misunderstood in the West is that women in other cultures do not necessarily look at polygamy as a sign of women’s degradation. For example, many young African brides, whether Christians or Muslims or otherwise, would prefer to marry a married man who has already proved himself to be a responsible husband. Many African wives urge their husbands to get a second wife so that they do not feel lonely[54].
A survey of over six thousand women, ranging in age from 15 to 59, conducted in the second largest city in Nigeria showed that 60 percent of these women would be pleased if their husbands took another wife. Only 23 percent expressed anger at the idea of sharing with another wife. Seventy-six percent of the women in a survey conducted in Kenya viewed polygamy positively. In a survey undertaken in rural Kenya, 25 out of 27 women considered polygamy to be better than monogamy. These women felt polygamy can be a happy and beneficial experience if the co-wives cooperate with each other[55].
Polygamy in most African societies is such a respectable institution that some Protestant churches are becoming more tolerant of it. A bishop of the Anglican Church in Kenya declared that, “Although monogamy may be ideal for the expression of love between husband and wife, the church should consider that in certain cultures polygyny is socially acceptable and that the belief that polygyny is contrary to Christianity is no longer tenable[56].”
After a careful study of African polygamy, Reverend David Gitari of the Anglican Church has concluded that polygamy, as ideally practiced, is more Christian than divorce and remarriage as far as the abandoned wives and children are concerned[57].
I personally know of some highly educated African wives who, despite having lived in the West for many years, do not have any objections against polygamy. One of them, who lives in the U.S., solemnly exhorts her husband to get a second wife to help her in raising the kids.
The problem of the unbalanced sex ratios becomes truly problematic at times of war. Native American Indian tribes used to suffer highly unbalanced sex ratios after wartime losses. Women in these tribes, who in fact enjoyed a fairly high status, accepted polygamy as the best protection against indulgence in indecent activities. European settlers, without offering any other alternative, condemned this Indian polygamy as ‘uncivilised’[58].
After the second world war, there were 7,300,000 more women than men in Germany (3.3 million of them were widows). There were 100 men aged 20 to 30 for every 167 women in that age group[59].
Many of these women needed a man not only as a companion but also as a provider for the household in a time of unprecedented misery and hardship. The soldiers of the victorious Allied Armies exploited these women’s vulnerability. Many young girls and widows had liaisons with members of the occupying forces. Many American and British soldiers paid for their pleasures in cigarettes, chocolate, and bread. Children were overjoyed at the gifts these strangers brought. A 10 year old boy on hearing of such gifts from other children wished from all his heart for an ‘Englishman’ for his mother so that she need not go hungry any longer[60].
We have to ask our own conscience at this point: What is more dignifying to a woman? An accepted and respected second wife as in the native Indians’ approach, or a virtual prostitute as in the ‘civilised’ Allies approach? In other words, what is more dignifying to a woman, the Qur’anic prescription or the theology based on the culture of the Roman Empire?
It is interesting to note that in an international youth conference held in Munich in 1948 the problem of the highly unbalanced sex ratio in Germany was discussed. When it became clear that no solution could be agreed upon, some participants suggested polygamy. The initial reaction of the gathering was a mixture of shock and disgust. However, after a careful study of the proposal, the participants agreed that it was the only possible solution. Consequently, polygamy was included among the conference final recommendations[61].
The world today possesses more weapons of mass destruction than ever before and the European churches might, sooner or later, be obliged to accept polygamy as the only way out. Father Hillman has thoughtfully recognized this fact, “It is quite conceivable that these genocidal techniques (nuclear, biological, chemical..) could produce so drastic an imbalance among the sexes that plural marriage would become a necessary means of survival....Then contrary to previous custom and law, an overriding natural and moral inclination might arise in favour of polygamy. In such a situation, theologians and church leaders would quickly produce weighty reasons and biblical texts to justify a new conception of marriage.[62]”
To the present day, polygamy continues to be a viable solution to some of the social ills of modern societies. The communal obligations that the Qur’an mentions in association with the permission of polygamy are more visible at present in some Western societies than in Africa. For example, In the United States today, there is a severe gender crisis in the black community. One out of every twenty young black males may die before reaching the age of 21. For those between 20 and 35 years of age, homicide is the leading cause of death[63].
Besides, many young black males are unemployed, in jail, or on dope[64].
As a result, one in four black women, at age 40, has never married, as compared with one in ten white women[65].
Moreover, many young black females become single mothers before the age of 20 and find themselves in need of providers. The end result of these tragic circumstances is that an increasing number of black women are engaged in what is called ‘man-sharing’[66].
That is, many of these hapless single black women are involved in affairs with married men. The wives are often unaware of the fact that other women are ‘sharing’ their husbands with them. Some observers of the crisis of man-sharing in the African American community strongly recommend consensual polygamy as a temporary answer to the shortage of black males until more comprehensive reforms in the American society at large are undertaken[67].
By consensual polygamy they mean a polygamy that is sanctioned by the community and to which all the parties involved have agreed, as opposed to the usually secret man-sharing which is detrimental both to the wife and to the community in general. The problem of man-sharing in the African American community was the topic of a panel discussion held at Temple University in Philadelphia on January 27, 1993.[68]
Some of the speakers recommended polygamy as one potential remedy for the crisis. They also suggested that polygamy should not be banned by law, particularly in a society that tolerates prostitution and mistresses. The comment of one woman from the audience that African Americans needed to learn from Africa where polygamy was responsibly practiced elicited enthusiastic applause.
Philip Kilbride, an American anthropologist of Roman Catholic heritage, in his provocative book, ‘Plural marriage for our time’, proposes polygamy as a solution to some of the ills of the American society at large. He argues that plural marriage may serve as a potential alternative for divorce in many cases in order to obviate the damaging impact of divorce on many children. He maintains that many divorces are caused by the rampant extramarital affairs in the American society.
According to Kilbride, ending an extramarital affair in a polygamous marriage, rather than in a divorce, is better for the children, “Children would be better served if family augmentation rather than only separation and dissolution were seen as options.” Moreover, he suggests that other groups will also benefit from plural marriage such as: elderly women who face a chronic shortage of men and the African Americans who are involved in man-sharing[69].
In 1987, a poll conducted by the student newspaper at the university of California at Berkeley asked the students whether they agreed that men should be allowed by law to have more than one wife in response to a perceived shortage of male marriage candidates in California. Almost all of the students polled approved of the idea. One female student even stated that a polygamous marriage would fulfil her emotional and physical needs while giving her greater freedom than a monogamous union[70]
In fact, this same argument is also used by the few remaining fundamentalist Mormon women who still practice polygamy in the U.S. They believe that polygamy is an ideal way for a woman to have both a career and children since the wives help each other care for the children[71].
It has to be added that polygamy in Islam is a matter of mutual consent. No one can force a woman to marry a married man. Besides, the wife has the right to stipulate that her husband must not marry any other woman as a second wife.[72]
The Bible, on the other hand, sometimes resorts to forcible polygamy. A childless widow must marry her husband’s brother, even if he is already married (see the “Plight of Widows” section), regardless of her consent (Genesis 38:8-10).
It should be noted that in many Muslim societies today the practice of polygamy is rare since the gap between the numbers of both sexes is not huge. One can, safely, say that the rate of polygamous marriages in the Muslim world is much less than the rate of extramarital affairs in the West. In other words, men in the Muslim world today are far more strictly monogamous than men in the Western world.
Billy Graham, the eminent Christian evangelist has recognized this fact: “Christianity cannot compromise on the question of polygamy. If present-day Christianity cannot do so, it is to its own detriment. Islam has permitted polygamy as a solution to social ills and has allowed a certain degree of latitude to human nature but only within the strictly defined framework of the law. Christian countries make a great show of monogamy, but actually they practice polygamy. No one is unaware of the part mistresses play in Western society. In this respect Islam is a fundamentally honest religion, and permits a Muslim to marry a second wife if he must, but strictly forbids all clandestine amatory associations in order to safeguard the moral probity of the community.[73]”
It is of interest to note that many, non-Muslim as well as Muslim, countries in the world today have outlawed polygamy. Taking a second wife, even with the free consent of the first wife, is a violation of the law. On the other hand, cheating on the wife, without her knowledge or consent, is perfectly legitimate as far as the law is concerned! What is the legal wisdom behind such a contradiction? Is the law designed to reward deception and punish honesty? It is one of the unfathomable paradoxes of our modern ‘civilised’ world.
Notes:
[49] Swidler, op. cit., pp. 144-148.
[50] Hazleton, op. cit., pp 44-45.
[51] Eugene Hillman, Polygamy Reconsidered: African Plural Marriage and the Christian Churches (New York: Orbis Books, 1975) p. 140.
[52]Ibid., p. 17.
[53] Ibid., pp. 88-93.
[54] Ibid., pp. 92-97.
[55] Philip L. Kilbride, Plural Marriage For Our Times (Westport, Conn.: Bergin & Garvey, 1994) pp. 108-109.
[56] The Weekly Review, Aug. 1, 1987.
[57] Kilbride, op. cit., p. 126.
[58] John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A history of Sexuality in America (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988) p. 87.
[59] Ute Frevert, Women in German History: from Bourgeois Emancipation to Sexual Liberation (New York: Berg Publishers, 1988) pp. 263-264.
[60] Ibid., pp. 257-258.
[61] Sabiq, op. cit., p. 191.
[62] Hillman, op. cit., p. 12.
[63] Nathan Hare and Julie Hare, ed., Crisis in Black Sexual Politics (San Francisco: Black Think Tank, 1989) p. 25.
[64] Ibid., p. 26.
[65] Kilbride, op. cit., p. 94.
[66] Ibid., p. 95.
[67] Ibid., p. 95.
[68] Ibid., pp. 95-99.
[69] Ibid., p. 118.
[70] Lang, op. cit., p. 172.
[71] Kilbride, op. cit., pp. 72-73.
[72] Sabiq, op. cit., pp. 187-188.
[73] Abdul Rahman Doi, Woman in Shari’ah (London: Ta-Ha Publishers, 1994) p. 76.

Unclean Impure Woman
Jewish laws and regulations concerning menstruating women are extremely restrictive. The Old Testament considers any menstruating woman as unclean and impure. Moreover, her impurity "infects" others as well. Anyone or anything she touches becomes unclean for a day:
"When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. Whoever touches her bed must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whoever touches anything she sits on must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whether it is the bed or anything she was sitting on, when anyone touches it, he will be unclean till evening" (Lev. 15:19-23).
Due to her "contaminating" nature, a menstruating woman was sometimes "banished" in order to avoid any possibility of any contact with her. She was sent to a special house called "the house of uncleanness" for the whole period of her impurity.[9]
The Talmud considers a menstruating woman "fatal" even without any physical contact:
"Our Rabbis taught: … if a menstruant woman passes between two (men), if it is at the beginning of her menses she will slay one of them, and if it is at the end of her menses she will cause strife between them" (b.Pes. 111a.)
Furthermore, the husband of a menstruous woman was forbidden to enter the synagogue if he had been made unclean by her even by the dust under her feet. A priest whose wife, daughter, or mother was menstruating could not recite priestly blessing in the synagogue[10]. No wonder many Jewish women still refer to menstruation as "the curse."[11]
Islam does not consider a menstruating woman to possess any kind of "contagious uncleanness". She is neither "untouchable" nor "cursed."
She practises her normal life with only one restriction: a married couple is not allowed to have sexual intercourse during the period of menstruation. Any other physical contact between them is permissible. A menstruating woman is exempted from some rituals such as daily prayers and fasting during her period.
Notes:
[9] Swinder, op. cit., p. 137.
[10] Swinder, op. cit., p. 138.
[11] Sally Priesand, Judaism and the New Woman (New York; Berham House Inc., 1975) p. 24.

Bearing Witness
Another issue in which the Qur’an and the Bible disagree is the issue of women bearing witness. It is true that the Qur’an has instructed the believers dealing in financial transactions to get two male witnesses or one male and two females:
“…and call in to witness from among your men two witnesses; but if there are not two men, then one man and two women from among those whom you choose to be witnesses, so that if one of the two errs, the second of the two may remind the other…” (2:282).
However, it is also true that the Qur’an in other situations accepts the testimony of a woman as equal to that of a man. In fact the woman's testimony can even invalidate the man's.
If a man accuses his wife of unchastity, he is required by the Qur’an to solemnly swear five times as evidence of the wife's guilt. If the wife denies and swears similarly five times, she is not considered guilty and in either case the marriage is dissolved:
“And (as for) those who accuse their wives and have no witnesses except themselves, the evidence of one of these (should be taken) four times, bearing Allah to witness that he is most surely of the truthful ones.And the fifth (time) that the curse of Allah be on him if he is one of the liars. And it shall avert the chastisement from her if she testify four times, bearing Allah to witness that he is most surely one of the liars; And the fifth (time) that the wrath of Allah be on her if he is one of the truthful. And were it not for Allah's grace upon you and His mercy-- and that Allah is Oft-returning (to mercy), Wise! Surely they who concocted the lie are a party from among you. Do not regard it an evil to you; nay, it is good for you. Every man of them shall have what he has earned of sin; and (as for) him who took upon himself the main part thereof, he shall have a grievous chastisement.”(24:6-11).
On the other hand, women were not allowed to bear witness in early Jewish society[12]. The Rabbis counted women's not being able to bear witness among the nine curses inflicted upon all women because of the Fall (see the "Eve's Legacy" section).
Women in today's Israel are not allowed to give evidence in Rabbinical courts[13]. The Rabbis justify why women cannot bear witness by citing Genesis 18:9-16, where it is stated that Sara, Abraham's wife had lied.
“Where is your wife Sarah?" they asked him. "There in the tent," he replied. One of them said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son." Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent, just behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years, and Sarah had stopped having her womanly periods. So Sarah laughed to herself and said, "Now that I am so withered and my husband is so old, am I still to have sexual pleasure?" But the LORD said to Abraham: "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Shall I really bear a child, old as I am?' Is anything too marvelous for the LORD to do? At the appointed time, about this time next year, I will return to you, and Sarah will have a son." Because she was afraid, Sarah dissembled, saying, "I didn't laugh." But he said, "Yes you did."”
The Rabbis use this incident as evidence that women are unqualified to bear witness. It should be noted here that this story narrated in Genesis 18:9-16 has been mentioned more than once in the Qur’an without any hint of lies by Sara:
“And certainly Our messengers came to Ibrahim with good news. They said: Peace. Peace, said he, and he made no delay in bringing a roasted calf. But when he saw that their hands were not extended towards it, he deemed them strange and conceived fear of them. . They said: Fear not, surely we are sent to Lut's people. And his wife was standing (by), so she laughed, then We gave her the good news of Ishaq and after Ishaq of (a son's son) Yaqoub. She said: O wonder! shall I bear a son when I am an extremely old woman and this my husband an extremely old man? Most surely this is a wonderful thing. They said: Do you wonder at Allah's bidding? The mercy of Allah and His blessings are on you, O people of the house, surely He is Praised, Glorious. So when fear had gone away from Ibrahim and good news came to him, he began to plead with Us for Lut's people”. (11:69-74)
“Has there come to you information about the honored guests of Ibrahim? When they entered upon him, they said: Peace. Peace, said he, a strange people. Then he turned aside to his family secretly and brought a fat (roasted) calf, So he brought it near them. He said: What! will you not eat? So he conceived in his mind a fear on account of them. They said: Fear not. And they gave him the good news of a boy possessing knowledge. Then his wife came up in great grief, and she struck her face and said: An old barren woman! They said: Thus says your Lord: Surely He is the Wise, the Knowing.” (51:24-30).
In the Christian West, both ecclesiastical and civil law debarred women from giving testimony until late last century[14].
If a man accuses his wife of unchastity, her testimony will not be considered at all according to the Bible. The accused wife has to be subjected to a trial by ordeal. In this trial, the wife faces a complex and humiliating ritual which was supposed to prove her guilt or innocence:
The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and tell them: If a man's wife goes astray and becomes unfaithful to him by having intercourse with another man, though her husband has not sufficient evidence of the fact, so that her impurity remains unproved for lack of a witness who might have caught her in the act; or if a man is overcome by a feeling of jealousy that makes him suspect his wife, whether she was actually impure or not: he shall bring his wife to the priest and shall take along as an offering for her a tenth of an ephah of barley meal. However, he shall not pour oil on it nor put frankincense over it, since it is a cereal offering of jealousy, a cereal offering for an appeal in a question of guilt. "The priest shall first have the woman come forward and stand before the LORD. In an earthen vessel he shall meanwhile put some holy water, as well as some dust that he has taken from the floor of the Dwelling. Then, as the woman stands before the LORD, the priest shall uncover her head and place in her hands the cereal offering of her appeal, that is, the cereal offering of jealousy, while he himself shall hold the bitter water that brings a curse. Then he shall adjure the woman, saying to her, 'If no other man has had intercourse with you, and you have not gone astray by impurity while under the authority of your husband, be immune to the curse brought by this bitter water. But if you have gone astray while under the authority of your husband and have acted impurely by letting a man other than your husband have intercourse with you'-- so shall the priest adjure the woman with this oath of imprecation--'may the LORD make you an example of malediction and imprecation among your people by causing your thighs to waste away and your belly to swell! May this water, then, that brings a curse, enter your body to make your belly swell and your thighs waste away!' And the woman shall say, 'Amen, amen!' The priest shall put these imprecations in writing and shall then wash them off into the bitter water, which he is to have the woman drink, so that it may go into her with all its bitter curse. But first he shall take the cereal offering of jealousy from the woman's hand, and having waved this offering before the LORD, shall put it near the altar, where he shall take a handful of the cereal offering as its token offering and burn it on the altar. Only then shall he have the woman drink the water. Once she has done so, if she has been impure and unfaithful to her husband, this bitter water that brings a curse will go into her, and her belly will swell and her thighs will waste away, so that she will become an example of imprecation among her people. If, however, the woman has not defiled herself, but is still pure, she will be immune and will still be able to bear children. "This, then, is the law for jealousy: When a woman goes astray while under the authority of her husband and acts impurely, or when such a feeling of jealousy comes over a man that he becomes suspicious of his wife, he shall have her stand before the LORD, and the priest shall apply this law in full to her. The man shall be free from guilt, but the woman shall bear such guilt as she may have." (Num. 5:11-31).
If she is found guilty after this ordeal, she will be sentenced to death. If she is found not guilty, her husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing.
Besides, if a man takes a woman as a wife and then accuses her of not being a virgin, her own testimony will not count. Her parents had to bring evidence of her virginity before the elders of the town. If the parents could not prove the innocence of their daughter, she would be stoned to death on her father's doorsteps. If the parents were able to prove her innocence, the husband would only be fined one hundred shekels of silver and he could not divorce his wife as long as he lived:
"If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, 'I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,' then the girl's father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate. The girl's father will say to the elders, 'I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. Now he has slandered her and said I did not find your daughter to be a virgin. But here is the proof of my daughter's virginity.' Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, and the elders shall take the man and punish him. They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl's father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives. If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl's virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of the town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house. You must purge the evil from among you." (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)
Notes:
[12]Swinder, op. cit., p. 115.
[13] Lesley Hazelton, Israeli Women. The Reality Behind the Myths. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977), p. 41.
[14] Matilda J. Gage, Woman, Church and State (New York: Truth Seeker Company, 1983) p. 142.

Adultery
Adultery is considered a sin in all religions.
The Bible decrees the death sentence for both the adulterer and the adulteress:
“If a man commits adultery with his neighbour's wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.” (Lev. 20:10).
Islam also equally punishes both the adulterer and the adulteress:
“(As for) the fornicatress and the fornicator, flog each of them, (giving) a hundred stripes, and let not pity for them detain you in the matter of obedience to Allah, if you believe in Allah and the last day, and let a party of believers witness their chastisement.”(24:2).
However, the Qur’anic definition of adultery is very different from the Biblical definition. Adultery, according to the Qur’an, is the involvement of a married man or a married woman in an extramarital affair. The Bible only considers the extramarital affair of a married woman as adultery.
"If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel" (Deuteronomy 22:22).
"If a man commits adultery with another man's wife both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death" (Leviticus 20:10).
“To keep you from your neighbour's wife, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress. Lust not in your heart after her beauty, let her not captivate you with her glance! For the price of a loose woman may be scarcely a loaf of bread, But if she is married, she is a trap for your precious life. Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his garments not burned? Or can a man walk on live coals, and his feet not be scorched? So with him who goes in to his neighbour's wife-- none who touches her shall go unpunished.” (Proverbs, 6:24-:29).
According to the Biblical definition, if a married man sleeps with an unmarried woman, this is not considered a crime at all. The married man who has extramarital affairs with unmarried women is not an adulterer and the unmarried women involved with him are not adulteresses. The crime of adultery is committed only when a man, whether married or single, sleeps with a married woman. In this case the man is considered adulterer, even if he is not married, and the woman is considered adulteress. In short, adultery is any illicit sexual intercourse involving a married woman. The extramarital affair of a married man is not per se a crime in the Bible.
Why is the dual moral standard? According to Encyclopaedia Judaica, the wife was considered to be the husband's possession and adultery constituted a violation of the husband's exclusive right to her; the wife as the husband's possession had no such right to him[15].
That is, if a man had sexual intercourse with a married woman, he would be violating the property of another man and, thus, he should be punished. To the present day in Israel, if a married man indulges in an extramarital affair with an unmarried woman, his children by that woman are considered legitimate. But, if a married woman has an affair with another man, whether married or not married, her children by that man are not only illegitimate but they are considered bastards and are forbidden to marry any other Jews except converts and other bastards. This ban is handed down to the children's descendants for ten generations until the taint of adultery is presumably weakened[16].
The Qur’an, on the other hand, never considers any woman to be the possession of any man. The Qur’an eloquently describes the relationship between the spouses by saying:
“And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them and He has put love and mercy between your hearts: verily in that are signs for those who reflect" (30:21).
This is the Qur’anic conception of marriage: love, mercy, and tranquillity, not possession and double standards.
Notes:
[15] Jeffrey H. Togay, “Adultery”, Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. II, col. 313. Also see Judith laskow, Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective ( New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1990) pp. 170-177.
[16] Swidler, op. cit. p. 141.

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