Polygamy and slavery in the sight of the Shari‘a


QUESTION: Foreigners cast doubt on the Shari‘a from the viewpoint of civilization on certain pretexts such as polygamy and slavery.

ANSWER: I will express a principle for the time being; I am contemplating explaining such matters in a separate booklet.

Islam has two sorts of legal codes. One is that on which the Shari‘a is based; all the principles and commands included in this code are pure good and beauty.

The second is that the Shari‘a has balanced and improved the code. That is, the Shari‘a saved the principles and laws included in this code from being cruel and oppressive; it has amended them and put them in a practicable form suited to the essential human nature, and entrusted them to time so that they might gain full beauty in the future. For abolishing all at once a tradition, practice, or law that is prevalent throughout the world and deeply established in human societies and institutions requires changing the essential nature of humanity. This is impossible and causes negative results. Consequently, the Shari‘a did not legislate against slavery; rather, it saved slavery from savagery and amended it and put it in a form that would enable the emancipation of slaves and the complete abolition of slavery.

As for polygamy, the permission to have one to four wives has particular purposes and is not contrary to reason, wisdom, or essential human nature. However, the Shari‘a did not increase the number of wives from one to four. Rather, it decreased them from many to four at the most. In addition, it laid such restrictions to having more than one wife that following these restrictions prevents whatever harm could possibly arise from polygamy. Even if it may cause some evil on certain occasions, it is the lesser of evils. The acceptance of the lesser of evils in the face of complete evil is relative justice. It is impossible for there to be pure good in every dimension or aspect of human life.

(From Tulu‘at [“Flashes of Thoughts Rising in the Heart”])


Bediuzzaman Said Nursi