The True Meaning of Polygyny
Polygamy was a way of life until the Quran was revealed 1400
years ago. When the Earth was young and scarcely-populated, polygamy was actually
a way to solve the problem: the one way of populating it and bringing in the human
beings needed to carry out Allah's plan. By the time the Quran was revealed, the
world had been sufficiently populated, and the Quran put down the first limitations
Polygamy is permitted in the Quran, but under strictly observed circumstances.
Any abuse of this divine permission incurs severe retribution. Thus, although
polygamy is permitted by Allah, it behooves us to examine our circumstances
carefully before saying that a particular polygamous relationship is permissible.
Our perfect example here is the Prophet Muhammad. He was married to one wife,
Khadijah, until the day she passed away. He had all his children, except one, from
Khadijah. Thus,she and her children enjoyed the Prophet's full attention for as
long as she was married to him; twenty-five years. For all practical purposes,
Muhammad had one wife - from the age of 25 to 50. During the remaining 13 years
if his life, he married the aged widows of his friends who left many children.
The children needed a complete home, with a fatherly figure, and the Prophet
provided that. Providing a fatherly figure for orphans is the only specific
circumstance in support of polygamy mentioned in the Quran (An Nisaa:3).
Other than marrying widowed mothers of orphans, there were three political
marriages in the Prophet's life. His close friends Abu Bakr and Omar insisted that
he marry their daughters, Aisha and Hafsah, to establish traditional family ties
among them. The third marriage was to Maria the Egyptian; she was given to him as
a political gesture of friendship from the ruler of Egypt.
This perfect example tells us that a man must give his full attention and
loyalty in marriage to his wife and children in order to raise a happy and
wholesome family. The Quran emphasizes the limitations against polygamy in very
"If you fear lest you may not be perfectly equitable in treating more than
one wife, then you shall be content with one." (An Nisaa:3)
"You cannot be equitable in a polygamous relationship, no matter how hard you
try." (An Nisaa:129)
The Quranic limitations against polygamy point out the possibility of abusing
Allah's law. Therefore, unless we are absolutely sure that Allah's law will not
be abused, we had better resist our lust and stay away from polygamy. If the
circumstances do not dictate polygamy, we had better give our full attention to
one wife and one set of children.
The children's psychological and social well-being, especially in countries
where polygamy is prohibited, almost invariably dictate monogamy. A few basic
criteria must be observed in contemplating polygamy:
1. It must alleviate pain and suffering and not cause any pain or suffering.
2. If you have a young family, it is almost certain that polygamy is an abuse.
3. Polygamy to substitute a younger wife is an abuse of Allah's law (An Nisaa:19).
NO Polygamy in Islam
Polygamy is defined in many dictionaries as:
"Any person (Male or female) may unconditionally marry unlimited number of
spouses at the same time."
This means that a male or female may marry unlimited number of males or
females at the same time. In other cultures and faiths, a male may marry unlimited
number of wives, at the same, for any reason, and unrestricted with any
conditions. Such practices are totally prohibited in Islam.
What is allowed in Islam is that in a specified restricted circumstances, a
Muslim male may marry other females provided that there are circumstances that
needs this kind of arrangements and it is restricted with several clear conditions.
Those conditions are :
So this is a legal provision that can be properly understood in the context
of Islamic position on this important issue:
First, in Islam, the family is considered the cornerstone of a society;
any extra-marital relationship is seen as devastating and damaging to the family,
hence it is strictly prohibited. Married life is most desirable in Islam, Allah
wants a woman to be a respected, and an honourable wife, never a secret mistress and
Allah wants all men to be a respected and responsible husbands also, never indulging in
secret affairs. Both men and women have to make sacrifices to make their family life a
Second, Islam and Islamic laws are for all times (past, present, future) and
for all circumstances and situations. Therefore, it must accommodate all possible
social and individual situations.
Third, in Islam, every Muslim man should have a wife and every Muslim woman
should have a husband. One may observe that, although it has been abused in some
times and places, this practice can have a valuable function in certain
circumstances, in some situations it may be considered as the lesser of two
difficult situations, and in others it may be even a beneficial arrangement.
The obvious example of this occurs in times of war, when there are inevitably
a large number of widows and orphans left without companionship, love, money,
care or protection.
If it is still maintained under these circumstances that a man may marry only
one wife, other females will be deprived from having a family that includes a
loving husband, a companion for life, lovely children, and a father for the
children. What options is left for those women who have no chance to marry? They
could either stay alone, or become someone's mistress.
Most women would not welcome either of those two options. A mistress is just
an unofficial second wife who has no legal rights or security for herself or her
children. The fact is that women under these circumstances may prefer to share a
husband than to have none at all.The ugly consequences which usually comes along
with the tag as somebody else's mistresses has made them choose this alternative.
Thus, there is no doubt that it is far easier and better to share a husband
when it is legally established than when it is carried on secretly with attempts
to deceive the first wife.
There are other situations where this kind of practice may be preferable for
all parties, such as
2. physical and emotional ability,
3. equal treatment of the wives,
4. the approval of the prospective female to this kind of marriage,
5. the wives are among those who are not
prohibited for him to marry either permanently (such as aunts, foster daughters
and others, or temporary such as marrying two sisters at the same time),
6. and that the number of wives is limited to up to four.
1. if the first wife is chronically ill,
These examples are mentioned because the society (especially the West)
at large has wrongly understood the misconception of polygamy as having a large
number of glamorous young girls (harem)having to serve and to please the man.
Obviously this is not a real solution to some difficult and "real" social problems.
The first verse in the Quran that allows this practice was revealed following
the battle of Uhud, in which thousands of Muslim men were killed, leaving widows
and orphans whose care was the responsibility of the Muslim male survivors. In the
Quran Allah says:-
2. if she cannot have children,
3. if a woman cannot earn a living and needs emotional and financial support.
"To orphans restore their property when they reach their age, and do not
substitute your worthless things for their good ones, and devour not their
substance by mixing it up with your own. For this is indeed a great sin. If you
fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of
your choice, two, or three, or four ; BUT IF YOU FEAR THAT YOU SHALL NOT BE ABLE
TO DEAL JUSTLY WITH THEM, THEN MARRY ONLY ONE." (Quran An Nisaa:2-3)
From these verses, a number of facts are evident:
This permission is not only associated with mere satisfaction of passion, but
it is rather associated with compassion towards widows and orphans, a matter that
is confirmed by the atmosphere in which these verses were revealed. Even in such
a situation, the permission is far more restricted than the practice that existed
before or even now (unlimited number of wives and no restricted conditions).
Dealing justly with one's wives is an obligation in Islam. This applies to housing,
food, kind treatment, etc., that is to say that the husband has complete
obligation towards all of his wives and their children without any discrimination.
If one ONLY is not sure of being able to deal justly with them, Allah says to
marry only one wife.
This practice is far better and honourable than the case where the husband is
secretly having mistresses or involved with prostitutes (adultery). This practice
is also better than the case where the husband divorces his ill wife and marry
another one.The requirement of justice between wives rules out the fantasy that a
man can have as many wives as he pleases, it also rules out the concept of a
"secondary" wife, for all wives have exactly the same status and are entitled to
identical rights and claims over their husband.
The verses say "marry" not buy, seduce, or select, since in Islam, marriage
is a civil contract which is valid only when both parties consent to it. Thus no
wife can be forced or given to a man who is already married, except if she agrees
and her family agree, and since in Islam there is no suc thing as secret
marriages, then it is a free choice of both parties.
It is evident that the permission is consistent with the realistic Islamic
view of the varying social needs, problems, and cultural variations throughout
time and in all places.
Polygamy in Islam
WHO PRACTICES POLYGAMY?
Women In Islam Versus Women In The Judaeo-Christian Tradition
Women, Polygamy and Islam
Polygamy, Slavery and Qur'anic Sexual Ethics
Polygamy in the Bible