Monogamy and polygamy depend upon temperament. A monogamous
temperament could never be otherwise than monogamous. And there
are temperaments that will always have a tendency towards polygamy;
no matter how happily placed in life, or how carefully guarded;
these naturally seek variety of experience in sex.
In the lower animal creation, the polygamous temperament
is seen to predominate. There one male has a number of females.
One male is capable of procreation through a number of females,
and in this respect man is no exception.
To permit polygamy is simply to recognize a natural human
tendency with frankness. But to permit polygamy does not in
any way mean the same as to enjoin polygamy. Muhammad, for instance,
advised many temperaments that they should marry one woman only.
To permit polygamy does not mean, either, an interference
with the ideal of monogamy, and it certainly need not tend to
bring about a decrease in the number of perfectly mated monogamous
lives. Among Muslims really monogamous lives are no rarer than
among other communities that wish to maintain an appearance
of conforming to a more artificial standard of morals. It would
not, for instance, be difficult to find Muslim families where
the men have been definitely monogamous over a period of four
or five generations.
Since the male represents strength and power, his life is
not only hazarded in the wars and battles that have existed
in all ages, but is also risked in the adventurous sports and
dangerous occupations of peace. There is consequently in all
communities a greater loss of life in the male than in the female
population. Under this disparity of numbers it is a question
how far it is a virtue to enforce a system that robs a large
number of women of their natural rights, without leaving them
any choice in the matter. If it be a virtue it none the less
means a loss of members of the community. Actually the average
individual does not keep with honesty to such a standard, and
so loses the opportunity of procreation without restraining
passion. Thus morals are undermined, and prostitution encouraged.
In Afghanistan, which is considered backward in progress
by the East, but where polygamy, being a natural tendency, is
recognized both by law and religion, there are few instances
of sexual crime; prostitution is practically unknown and there
are no foundling children.
There are again cases when polygamy from every reasonable
point of view seems a necessity. In a marriage, for instance,
where the wife is insane, or diseased, or childless. And besides
these physical reasons there are intellectual reasons. Looking
into life one sees men unlike in all things. Perhaps one man
is equal in his physical strength to ten average men; another
is intellectually a giant among his fellows. In Sanskrit
Mana means mind; and the real man is mind. One mind may
be equal to a thousand minds. One mind may have innumerable
sides, each eager for expression. One mind may be capable of
managing innumerable activities, and of supporting innumerable
It was the custom in a country where people lived by agriculture,
that each man should receive as his portion a certain plot of
land. Some availed themselves of the privilege and others disregarded
their inheritance. Now one man, a good husbandman, saw a field
lying untouched and unclaimed, and he passionately desired it.
He knew that by his labor it could become a fair and beautiful
place. And going to the ruler of his country, he demanded of
him this field he had found lying waste and unclaimed.
The ruler replied, 'You are a good husbandman. You have in
no wise neglected that which you have. And for myself I feel
grieved that this goodly field that you have seen should lie
overlooked. For it is my desire that my land should be a happy
and rich country and that every part of it should be filled
with prosperity. But if I should grant you this portion, what
restraint could I have over other dishonest and neglectful husbandmen?
For it is rare to find a man such as yourself. For the most
part the husbandmen are slothful and thriftless, thieving and
dishonest, scarcely worthy to keep that possession and that
liberty which they already have, but ready at all times to snatch
at what is not theirs by right.'
'But' said that good husbandman to the ruler, 'if a portion
of land remains unclaimed, weeds will grow and all manner of
harmful things may breed there. So there is a double loss to
your country, for these harmful things spread to other enclosed
and cultivated places, and the seeds of the weeds are blown
everywhere by the wind.'
'This I know well,' said the ruler of the country, 'but it
is my duty to make my laws having regard to the worst of my
It is the lawless, the degenerate, and the mentally incapable
who breed and multiply under a system of enforced monogamy.
While families that have inherited talent and position are weakened
by every kind of artificial restraint, and their unmarried womenfolk
in tens of thousands lead artificial lives with natural instincts
repressed by conventions of education, law, and religion.
It is not unusual for travelers from the West to comment
with a kind of contempt upon the swarming poorer populations
of Eastern towns. But it will never be easy for Western missionaries
to turn the educated Eastern men and women to their views of
civilization once these have seen the teeming streets and slums
of European towns, where dirt, disease, and drunkenness have
so degraded humanity. And not only in the slums of the West
does one see violence done to human nature, but there are vast
sections of humanity whose lives can be called little else but
lives of slavery, who are caught and wedged in the wheels of
a civilization that crushes and destroys so much beauty of ideal,
of personal freedom and expression. Nature is adaptable, and
the individual is not always fully conscious of his loss. Therefore,
not being fully conscious of it suffers but slightly. The loss
of the individual is none the less felt in its entirety by the
whole of society. While such things exist under one scheme of
civilization, that scheme cannot afford to ignore every other
In all ages the thinkers who sought to solve the problems
of the universe have come to the realization that man is the
result, and also the aim of creation. In other words, they have
come to the realization that life, the consciousness, which
alone is the divine essence, rises upwards from the lowest creation,
from the mineral up through the vegetable and animal world,
and fulfills its purpose in humanity.
The human creation has therefore been regarded by them as
the most sacred creation. The whole tone of Christianity, for
example, teaches this. The ideal of the birth of Christ gives
an idea of the sacredness of human birth.
The same desire to elevate the ideal of human birth can be
seen in every religion. And since religion has at all times
held the lives of people within its grasp, religious customs
of various kinds have developed everywhere to surround marriage
with sacredness. Because of the idea of the sacredness of human
birth, marriage was held sacred. But at the same time polygamy
prevailed unrestricted by religion until the coming of Muhammad.
To see life as a whole is beyond the power of the generality
of mankind. The outlook of the average man is bounded by consideration
of the welfare of the race or community to which he happens
to belong. In the cycles that form the history of civilization
man evolves and degenerates, and often his gain in the eyes
of succeeding generations has been quite outweighed by a corresponding
loss. Man sees no further than he sees. And ever and again the
turn of the cycle has brought a period of cruelty, of intolerance,
and of degeneration.
Krishna has said, 'Whenever Dharma is threatened, then am
I born.' The Sanskrit word Dharma has wider significance than
that usually given to 'religion;' it embraces as well the things
of Caesar and whole of duty and law. The words of all those
great teachers who have appeared to guide humanity at various
dark moments of history are of supreme value, for the very reason
that in their vision and knowledge of life they touched what
is beneath and beyond life, and saw creation as a whole.
It is remarkable that at no time in history was polygamy
restricted by religion until the coming of Muhammad. He was
the first religious teacher to regulate marriage. Until he spoke
on the matter, religion, which had always made marriage a sacred
union, had nowhere put any limit to the number of wives a man
had. Christ, Muhammad's great predecessor had not pronounced
directly or indirectly upon polygamy, the prevalent custom among
the Jews of the Old Testament.
Looking at the surface of things many are tempted to wonder,
although few will express the thought, whether those great teachers
of humanity who themselves led polygamous lives were actuated
by sensuality, or by some base conception of life and humanity.
Abraham, the father of religion, holy and pure; Moses, the divinely
inspired law-giver; Solomon, who represents wisdom and justice,
were all these, whose words are read Sunday by Sunday in services
dedicated to the worship of Christ, and also Krishna, the Lord
of the Hindus, actuated by sensuality or some base conception
Digging into their histories we find something very different.
Take for example the life of Muhammad, who has been so denounced
and misunderstood by the ignorant, although he had a larger
number of followers than any religious teacher. He, with his
broad outlook on life, he, whose actions were prompted by the
highest ideals, had the greatest respect for women as for all
humanity. Even in the short oath of allegiance that he exacted
from his followers he found a place to show his ideal of woman.
For his adherents swore 'to speak no evil of women.' As a young
man full of strength and vigor he was the faithful husband of
Khadija; and the proof of his sincerity and faithfulness to
her is seen in her unswerving devotion to him. She was the first
to believe in his inspired message and to sustain him in it.
For the eighteen years of their married life they were everything
to each other. She shared with him the dangers and insults of
those rigorous years, when to all except herself and two or
three close friends there seemed no possibility that he should
ever succeed in his mission.
How then does this picture of the first part of his life
compare with the latter part, after the death of the beloved
Khadija? A great virtue indeed dictated that later conduct of
his, which has been so distorted by those who know but little
of his teaching. The few who followed Muhammad believed in him
to the extent that they lived for him alone. He was to them
the representative of God. They sacrificed all, even their lives
for him. And he, in his turn, gave them all the protection that
he could during their lifetime and supported their widows and
children when they died. These women could hardly have returned
to their own people for they were outcasts. Widows of men rejected
by their families for giving allegiance to Muhammad, with pride
they became members of the household of their Prophet.
Not even the most slanderous of the Prophet's detractors
has been able to deny that they lived in happiness and harmony;
nor able to prove that he ever dealt otherwise than kindly with
the women whom he thus took under his care, many of whom were
his wives in name only.
Each nation exaggerates the outstanding qualities of the
hero it glorifies, and to each the history of the lord and hero
of an alien faith, as it is told by its devotees, appears not
only incredible but also repellent. The followers of Muhammad
proudly trace relationship with their honored teacher. Thus
no doubt this part of his life has been given an unreal prominence,
and stories have arisen which have been maliciously perverted
by other nations and creeds, unable to appreciate their origin.
At the same time it is certain that Muhammad in this way brought
about reconciliations between enemy tribes, to the great benefit
of his people; a fact that his followers have always gratefully
recognized. For the orphans and dependents of families that
had been divided by ancient jealousies and blood feuds met together
on an equal footing, as honored members of one family, under
In this way he gave to his countrymen a new ideal of patriotism.
Hali, the poet of modern Hindustan, the beauty of whose verses
and whose ideas of religious and social reform have evoked the
admiration not only of his own countrymen, but also of the Western
world, has expressed this fact in a beautiful lyric, which may
be thus roughly translated into prose:
He who was truly a merciful teacher,
Who helped the feeble to fulfill their lives,
Who was an ever-present help in sorrow,
Who grieved with his own people and in the trouble of
He was my beloved Muhammad.
He who forgave the faults of the wrongdoers,
Who cleansed the hearts of the timorous and despairing
from their fear,
Who vanquished evil with power and with might,
Who reconciled families long at war and embittered against
He was my beloved Muhammad.
Akbar, the memory of whose reign is engraved upon the hearts
of Hindu and Muslim alike for his wisdom in reconciling these
two faiths, followed in this the example of the Prophet. For
besides the freedom that he gave to his subjects to worship
in their own way, whether Christian or Jew, Hindu or Muslim,
treating the religion of each community not only with sympathy
but also with respect, he also chose princesses from different
provinces for his wives, and so promoted understanding between
followers of different religions, different standards of morals,
and different customs. And his reign is honored by all Indians
as the most peaceful in the whole history of the Mogul Empire.
It was by quality of mind that the great teachers impressed
their messages upon such vast sections of humanity. One mind
may be equal to a hundred minds. Another to a thousand minds,
such is the difference in the quality of men's minds. And it
is the quality of a great mind that finds truth, not a quantity
of lesser minds. The teaching of any of the great leaders of
humanity is of greater value than the opinion that filters through
any section of average humanity ant any time in history. For
the great thinker who contemplates the flow of that divine consciousness,
which is life, rises in his contemplation above the boundaries,
which must limit the view of average men at any and every stage