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What the Taliban guidelines on polygamy, tell us about Abraham’s day

Abraham and his family
By József Molnár (1821–1899)/Wikipedia/Public Domain

I recently read an interesting article on BBC about an edict issued by the Afghanistan Taliban regarding polygamy earlier this year. In her article, Taliban Cracks Down on ‘Costly’ Polygamy, Author Khudai Noor Nasar states that in its two-page edict, the Taliban urges its commanders and officers not to take multiple wives.

Curiously, this partial ban on polygamy has an interesting connection to a story in the Book of Genesis involving Abraham and his wife Sarah.

Islam allows a man to have up to four wives and essentially an unlimited number of concubines. This has resulted in a shortage of women in countries such as Afghanistan for marriage and thousands of single men who have no hope of marrying and raising a family.

Most of the Taliban’s recruits come from this large pool of single men.

When the BBC contacted the Taliban asking how many of its leaders have more than one wife, they were simply retorted: “Which one hasn’t.?”

But polygamy has resulted in an increased corruption among Taliban officers, who require extra money to maintain multiple households. It is also causing resentments among its soldiers, made up largely of single men, who are having problems finding wives because of polygamy.

In her article, Nasar writes that former Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, actually addressed this issue in a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum (WEF) last year, noting:

“The good news is that the ranking Taliban fighters are sick of fighting while [Taliban leaders] are getting their fourth and fifth wife and are enjoying themselves.”

However, Nasar adds the Taliban’s new revised polygamy guidelines will only affect those going forward. All of the Taliban’s current leadership, who already have multiple wives, will be grandfathered in.

And she notes that the provision comes with some exemptions that allow for polygamy:

“The decree does provide for exceptions though, endorsing multiple marriages for men who either have no children, have no male child from a previous marriage, who are marrying a widow, or who have family wealth to afford multiple wives.

“The decree says that in those circumstances, a man wishing to marry multiple wives should seek permission from his direct superior before arranging another marriage.”

Specifically, this includes allowing a man to marry another woman if his wife is unable to provide either children or a male heir.

And this reminds of an interesting story involving Abraham and his wife Sarah. God had promised them that their heirs would be as innumerable as the “sands of the sea” and “stars of the sky.”

But there was one big snag. They were unable to conceive children.

Though they were getting older, God was calling for both Abraham and Sarah to trust God for this promised child.

In the end, Sarah offers her maid servant, Hagar, an Egyptian woman, as a concubine wife for her husband, resulting in the birth of Ishmael.

However, this was an act of unbelief and was not the child that God had promised Abraham and Sarah.

But there was something else going on her. Because it appears that the cultural expectations of the day finally got to Sarah.

Archaeologists have uncovered a 4,000-year-old marriage contract in the Mesopotamia Valley from the time of Abraham.

It was discovered in modern Turkey and the small clay tablet is on display at the Archaeology Museum in Istanbul, Turkey.

Under the contract, if the wife was not able to provide a child after two years of marriage, then the husband would take a slave girl as a second wife in order to have a child. If she conceived a male heir, the contract also stated that the slave girl would then be allowed to go free.

Unable to conceive, Sarah was feeling an intense cultural pressure to provide a child and specifically a male heir. In tune with the expectations of the day, she offered Hagar, as a surrogate wife.

And we see that 4,000-year-old societal expectation still playing out today in Afghanistan.

READ: Taliban cracks down on ‘costly’ polygamy AND 4,000-year-old marriage contract found in Turkey contains the first known mention of infertility and says a female slave should be used as a surrogate: Daily Mail

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