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Polygamy and contemporary morals

By Keysar Trad - posted Friday, 27 June 2008

All forms of human relations can be abused and exploited, some monogamous relationships have been entered into with ulterior motives and it is quite likely that some plural relationships may be entered into with similar ulterior motives. However, most amorous relationships are entered into because one person develops love or succumbs to the desire for another person.

Decades ago women in all societies were warned not to engage in amorous relations unless there was the commitment of marriage in case they were just being exploited for sexual gratification. The father and the mother would guard their daughters like hawks.

The world has changed dramatically, parents are no longer involved to the same degree, and as many young people develop their own relationships an increasing number are exploring life with the same or different partners outside of marriage. Amorous relationships amongst consenting adults have continued to morph over the years and cover all different possibilities.


Most of our laws dealing with business, taxation and scientific advances are regularly reviewed. The marriage laws seem to have only changed from church laws where marriage was "till death do us part", to one where either party can apply for an annulment through secular courts.

The law has consistently only entertained the notion of monogamous marriage among couples of the opposite gender, but more recently we have started to debate whether this law should allow same-gender unions. This is to provide protection to a section of society. Discussion about other traditional forms of amorous unions among consenting adults continues to be a taboo and an affront to our sensibilities.

When we discuss the UK decision, we owe it to ourselves to put aside all emotive issues that may influence our analysis. If we don't, we could blind ourselves to real issues that affect ordinary people. Many of us are aware of individuals in our society who may put themselves in vulnerable positions and have an affair. We have legal brothels; we have a certain level of street prostitution. All these point to a real fact: that there are people in our society who enter into extra-marital relations.

What usually happens in those relations differs with the individuals, but generally, the person who is not the first partner has no certainty in the relationship, may never be able to have children for fear of the social stigma and if they do, these children themselves do not receive the same level of fatherly support, if they receive any.

This is not about any religion calling for privileges, the examples I have outlined are diverse and the secular outnumber the religious. They are real life examples. Some of the people who enter into them may attend their place of worship on Sunday or Friday and many may not.

In all these cases, the most vulnerable person is the second woman and the children. The poor little children are completely innocent and should not face any stigma because our society dictates that the love of their parents must remain secret.


The Islamic teachings came at a time where polygamy was prevalent. The Koran brought the restriction down to four and said: but if you fear that you cannot be just to them, then only one.

In a traditional society where sexual gratification is only permitted in marriage, this restriction placed a responsibility on males that if they choose to place themselves in an additional amorous situation, they must be certain of their ability to respect, honour, support and love these women equally. If they have any fear that they cannot, then, only one wife. This made monogamy the norm, and kept a safeguard for those who cannot be monogamous.

In a sense, the scriptures are applying psychology, that if a person finds himself in a situation that may lead to amorous overtures, this can only be progressed through a full commitment and responsibility. It makes the person think about it and in many cases, make a strategic retreat because of the stringent difficulties attached to the issue. Next time, this person is less likely to go in that direction. In the absence of this religious restriction, the aforementioned studies show large percentages of people embracing an extra-marital relationship.

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About the Author

Keysar Trad is the spokesperson for the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia Inc. which he founded.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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