Imagine five people tied to a train track and a train fast approaching such that there is no time to reach the people and free them. On a separate train track to the side of those five people, there is one person similarly tied. In front of you is a button which if pressed, would divert the moving train from the path of five people to the path of the one person. Death is inevitable, time is running out! Would you press the button?
Alternatively imagine a similar situation however this time, there is no button and no track with one tied person. Instead the one person is standing beside you, far from the five about to die. But the train has to pass you to reach those helpless five. The person beside you is fat enough that if they were to happen to be hit by the train from your position, the train would slow down to a stop and not hit the five people ahead. Of course the fat person would die as a result. All it takes if for you to push the fat person. Would you?
This is a rendition of a classic thought experiment in (western) philosophy under morality. People vary in their answers, even though there are just about two options, because their reasons for selecting the same answer may be vary considerably. Thought Experiment is a tool of Philosophy which science cannot afford; even though psychology borrows often.
Some days ago, while discussing the issue of polygamy among Muslims, I came up with a thought experiment which I thought I should share. I had my motif for designing that experiment. I would like to present the experiment as simple as possible, however the issue of polygamy in Islam has deep ideological and cultural sentiments attached to it. Therefore I shall try to create a fair ground (objectivity) in the experiment by providing neutralizing information to the simple experiment. Here is the experiment, simply:
A Muslim man who is married to a woman meets another woman and is overcome by passion for this new woman. This passion can be anything; sexual, intellectual or spiritual. He would do anything to get married to her. It turns out she is available for him to marry, and even inclined to marry him as well. He is certain his life (spiritual and otherwise) would be greatly enhanced if with this woman. Should he marry this woman? Keep in mind one thing: that Shari’ah allows for men to marry up to four wives at a time.
Now the second question
A Muslim woman who is married to a man meets another man and is overcome by passion for this new man. The same passion applies in this situations and she would do anything to marry this man. It also turns out that the man is inclined to marry her were she not bounded by marriage. She is certain her life (spiritual and otherwise) would be greatly enhanced if with this man. Should the woman marry this man?
The following are what to keep in mind (The neutralizing information):
- The Shari’ah does not allow for a woman to have more than one husband at a time.
- The Shari’ah allows for a woman to initiate a divorce, and effect it with the approval of the court or the husband.
- Men and Women are considered equal in Islam because they are essentially souls that will be judged not based on the bodies they were given but based on how they related with the bodies they were given(e.g. how did they respond to their passions; which love falls under)
- For this experiment, disregard the societal unfairness weighed on women where men can effect a divorce even by slip-of-the-tongue, whereas women would have to go through societal hurdles, juristic restrictions decided by males, and even stigma before succeeding in their plead for divorce. Disregard this in our fair world of thought-experiment.
- The verses in the Qur’an (Q2:229, Q4:128) that talk about a woman’s right to divorce can be interpreted to empower women much more than it is often presented, while remaining faithful to the spirit of the Qur’an (actually I think it would be more faithful)
- It is on record that The Prophet (acting as the Islamic Court/Judge) granted the request of a woman who wanted divorce from her husband, not because he lacked in character or his religious duties but because she feared she would continue to “behave in an un-Islamic manner” if she remains with him (Bukhari 63:197). I’d like to think that covers all situations where dislike of the husband festers the mind of the woman to an extent that she wishes evil on him for nothing wrong he has done.
- A woman who has been married to a man for some time should be able to bring up so many cases to buttress her point of making her “behave in an un-Islamic manner”. Just as we cannot ascertain the sincerity of the man who says he is adding a wife because she is well behaved; not simply out of passion.
It is interesting to note that what men give as reasons for having another wife varies depending on their community and what is considered as acceptable. Some proudly boast that they marry more wives because they like more women and find pleasure in that; that is because their community accepts such statements. Others however would give other reasons. The point is that reasons given are likely no more than justifications, culturally variable, rather than the sincere reason that prompted them to marry extra. Similarly a woman only needs to justify herself properly in the court of the thought-experiment.
I reiterate the situation of the woman:
A Muslim woman who is married to a man meets another man and is overcome by passion for this new man. This passion can be anything; sexual, intellectual or spiritual. She would do anything to get married to him. It also turns out that the man is inclined to marry her were she not bounded by marriage. She is certain her life (spiritual and otherwise) would be greatly enhanced if with this man. Should the woman marry this man even if it means orchestrating her divorce with the current husband?
Whatever your answer, how is that different from your answer for the situation of the man. Remember, in this world of thought-experiment, women and men are essentially equal in Islam because they are essentially souls that will be judged not based on the bodies they were given but based on how they related with the bodies they were given. Should the woman seek divorce in order to marry the other man?
If you haven’t guessed by now, my motif for this thought experiment is that I think simply wanting a different/variety of spouses is not a good enough reason for men to marry more than one wives. Reason here is referring to the sincere reason that may be only known to the person and God, not what the person claims.