Polygamy means having more than one spouse at a time. Islam has always been targeted and attacked vociferously for being a religion advocating Polygamy. However, it is not true. Polygamy is an ancient practice found in many human societies that existed during different times. None of the other religious books (be it Vedas, or The Talmud or Bible), have any restrictions on the number of wives a man can have. It was later on that priests of these religions passed laws that a man cannot marry more than one woman. On the other hand, Qur’an is the only religious scripture in the world that says ‘Marry only one’. We shall understand this in course of the discussion.
Does Polygamy consider as a burden for Muslim Society ?
Polygamy can be of two types: Polygyny and Polyandry.
Polygyny refers to a condition where ‘a man has more than one wife’. This practice was seen in almost all societies on earth; and so is its prevalence in Muslim society. But it should be very well understood by us that Qur’an does not advocate Polygamy; rather strict conditions have been laid down for a man who wants to marry more than once. Let us refer to the following verse:
وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تُقْسِطُوا فِي الْيَتَامَى فَانكِحُوا مَا طَابَ لَكُمْ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ مَثْنَى وَثُلاثَ وَرُبَاعَ فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تَعْدِلُوا فَوَاحِدَةً أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ ذَلِكَ
أَدْنَى أَلاَّ تَعُولُوا
“And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphan-girls then marry (other) 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 ‘only one’ or that your right hands possess (the slaves). That is nearer to prevent you from doing injustice.”
(Aayah No. 3, Surah An-Nisa’, Chapter No. 4, Holy Qur’an).
I emphasize the word ‘only one’ in above mentioned verse. It is clear from the verse mentioned above that a Muslim male is allowed to marry up to four women at a time. But along with the permission of marrying four, are associated some conditions, failing which, one cannot marry more than one.
Complimenting this is another verse from Holy Qur’an:
وَلَنْ تَسْتَطِيعُوا أَنْ تَعْدِلُوا بَيْنَ النِّسَاءِ وَلَوْ حَرَصْتُمْ فَلا تَمِيلُوا كُلَّ الْمَيْلِ فَتَذَرُوهَا كَالْمُعَلَّقَةِ وَإِنْ تُصْلِحُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ غَفُوراً رَحِيماً
“You will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire, so do not incline too much to one of them so as to leave the other hanging. And if you do justice, and do all that is right and fear Allah, by keeping away from all that is wrong, then Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
(Aayah No. 129, Surah An-Nisa’, Chapter No. 4, Holy Qur’an).
This confirms that the permission for a man to marry more up to four women at a time is conditional. One should be very sure that he will be able to do justice with all wives, physically, financially, emotionally and whatever aspects one can think of, related to the relationship of a husband-wife. Do we think it is that easy?
Therefore, Polygyny is not a rule, it is an exception. It is allowed but not compulsory in Islam.
Polyandry means a condition where ‘a woman has more than one husband’. Islam has allowed Polygyny, whereas Polyandry is prohibited.
Now comes the big question: Why is Polygyny allowed and Polyandry prohibited?
A. Reasons for allowing Polygyny:
Women, typically, have an average life span more than men. Population data of almost all countries show that female population is more during all the times. This is a logical thing to understand because Allah has created these two genders (male & female) with different capabilities as well as different responsibilities. Where a woman has been given the responsibility of taking care of homes, upbringing of children and carry out all the duties associated with a Muslim wife and a Muslim mother; a man on the other hand has to strive for earning the bread for his wife and children. It is the responsibility of a man (ordained by Allah) to protect and maintain his wife (or wives) and children. Refer to following verse from Holy Qur’an:
الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other”
(Aayah No. 34, Surah An-Nisa’, Chapter No. 4, Holy Qur’an).
Problem of imbalanced sex ratio becomes truly problematic at times of war; and this was very much prevalent during old times. It was men who used to take part in war. Some of them would die during wars and leave behind their widows and orphans. Such women have only two options in front of them: Either get married again or Live unmarried for the rest of the life. Qur’an is saying that a woman shall be protected and maintained by a man. If we go by that, then the lady should opt for first option. But, what if she opts for second choice? She should be ready to encounter another problem. It is natural for some people with bad minds to eye such a widow or a divorcee who is living all by herself and striving to help her children grow. Such people will try to exploit her in all possible ways. A woman, on one hand may be stronger than a man in some things, but generally a woman is physically not stronger than a man. She needs a companion (in form of husband) to protect her from evil eyes. Apart from that, also a thought should be given to the feelings of that woman. She also has some desires; she also needs someone to be with her; she needs someone for her physical needs; she needs someone to take care of her (emotionally, financially, physically etc). We cannot say that once a lady is divorced or a widow, she has no right to live a happy life (as was and still is the case in Hindu religion). There is a chance (however slightest) that a lady is being denied the option of re-marrying after death of her husband or after her divorce, she might opt for other hidden means to satisfy her needs. So, which status is better for a woman: An accepted & respected second wife of a man (the Qur’anic approach) Or A virtual public property (as in the modern civilized approach)? The pious ones will definitely opt for the first option.
A.2. As discussed above, we know that men and women have been created equal by Allah. They are equal, but definitely not identical. The nature is different; the responsibilities are different; the abilities are different. One of these differences is that men are more polygamous by nature. No one can help this; Allah has created the man (male) like this.
A.3. We might sometimes face situations in our lives which can be best solved by Polygamy. An example of such a situation is following: There is a married couple facing a repeated problem of wife being not able to conceive (due to reasons whatsoever); all medical treatments have been done; doctors have tried their best, but still the couple is not able to have a child. The modern world has found a solution to such cases in terms of finding out a Surrogate Mother. I have no doubts that in every manner, the man getting married to another woman and seeking Allah’s blessings in form of a child (i.e. Polygyny), is a far better option than surrogacy. Any doubts?
B. Reasons for prohibiting Polyandry:
B.1. Islam gives utmost importance to the fact that every individual should be identified by his / her father’s name.
ادْعُوهُمْ لآبَائِهِمْ هُوَ أَقْسَطُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ
“Call them by the name of their father; that is more just with Allah…”
(Aayah No. 5, Surah Al-Ahzab, Chapter No. 33, Holy Qur’an).
If a woman has more than one husband, then naturally she will have to sleep with more than one man. In such situation, if she becomes pregnant, it will be difficult to ascertain who the father of that to-be-born child is. Although some might say that modern science has made it possible to check by DNA tests about the actual father, yet tests are tests and are prone to error. It is not such a trivial issue that can be left to the jurisdiction of a laboratory.
B.2. Biologically, a woman having several husbands, will not find it possible to perform her duties as a wife. She undergoes several behavioural and psychological changes due to different phases of her menstrual cycle, which is not the case with a man.
These are some of the obvious reasons. Allah, in His Infinite Wisdom, may have many more other reasons for prohibiting Polyandry and allowing Polygyny.
Recommended approach for a Muslim:
The approach of a Muslim male to this subject should be very cautious. It is clear that a man is allowed to marry up to four females at a time, but at the same time it should be ensured that the conditions laid down for the same are met. In no way should someone try to use it as a shield for satisfying his physical lust. Rather, this permission should be used to help widows, divorced ladies, orphan-girls etc, when we find that there is no other suitable male available for such ladies in need. Muslim brothers should ask themselves: Do they really mean to do it for Allah’s sake when they intend to marry for the second, third or fourth time; or is it just their crooked lust?
Who can be a better example to follow than our beloved Prophet (Muhammad, PBUH)?
The approach of a Muslim female to this subject should be straightforward, normal and simple, as they would approach other issues of the religion. Allah has allowed him to do so, should be a reason enough for women to accept the fact that their husbands can marry up to four times. Questioning the legality of this act means questioning Allah. Who can dare do that? Instead, women should support their husbands to use this permission in Qur’an, in order they may go ahead and help the needy. Of course if they feel that their husbands are using it for shielding their lusty plans, then they may raise their concern and stand up to oppose it. But it should not be the case where a man wants to marry any widow or a divorcee or an orphan-girl, with a pious intention of obeying Allah and helping the needy, or in order to be blessed with a child, and then he finds stiff opposition from his existing wife. Muslim sisters should ask themselves: Who are they to prevent their husband from doing something which is allowed for them by Allah?
Lessons should be learned from the lives of Umm-ul-Mumineen.
It should be noted that in many Muslim societies, the practice of Polygamy is rare (or at least very less), because the gap between the numbers of both genders is not huge. However, it is equally worthy to note that number of extra-marital affairs in almost all parts of the world are much more and growing at a rapid pace. It is ironical that if a man marries for a second time legally with observance of all conditions, he is looked down upon; whereas, if the same man cheats on his wife and commits adultery in hiding, he is like a normal being to the society. Do we condemn Polygamy and advocate Extra-marital affairs?
Multiple wives (A Quranic view) What does the Quran say about polygamy? Can a man be married to more than one woman at the same time and whenever he pleases? The straightforward answer is no. The Quran presents only one very specific situation in which a man may have more than one wife, but even then, God advises that it is better to be married to just one wife at any one time. Before we present the Quranic view on this matter, it must be said that Muslims today have badly corrupted God’s law in the Quran as they allow men to marry up to four wives at will, while acting totally oblivious to the conditions set by God for this concession. They justify this by making ridiculous excuses such as their claim that men have a much higher sex drive than women, thus God accommodated men accordingly! To make such outrageous claims is devious enough, but they also support their claims with various notorious fabricated hadith which do nothing but slur the image of the righteous and totally devoted prophet of God. One such hadith states: Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 5, Number 268: Narrated by Qatada Anas bin Malik said, "The Prophet used to have sexual intercourse with all his wives one after the other during the day and night and they were eleven in number." I asked Anas, "Had the Prophet the strength for it?" Anas replied, "We used to say that the Prophet was given the strength of thirty (men)." And Sa'id said on the authority of Qatada that Anas had told him about nine wives only (not eleven). ----------------------------------------
If we examine the Quranic evidence we find the concession given in the following verse: “And if you fear that you may not be just to the orphans, then you may marry whom you please of the women: two, and three, and four. But if you fear you will not be fair, then only one, or what your right hand possesses. This is best that you do not face financial hardship.” 4:3 What is immediately noticeable from the above words is that the word "if" (inn in Arabic) at the beginning of the verse is a conditional word. What follows after the word "if" is thus a condition that must be met in order for what comes after it to be possible. This means that if a man is not supporting any orphans nor being entrusted to protect the possessions of orphans, then it is not lawful for him to marry more than one wife. If a man is supporting orphans or acting as a guardian to them, then taking a second wife for the purpose of looking after the orphans and giving them a mother figure would be allowed. In verse 4:2 God speaks of orphans, protecting their money, and warning against consuming their money unjustly. God is speaking to the men who are entrusted with the protection of orphans and their money. If a man fears that he cannot perform the duty as a guardian to the orphans and their money on his own, and in a just manner, then he is permitted to marry the woman of his choice to bring a motherly figure who would support the man in the raising of the orphans. God allows 2, 3 and 4 (depending on the number of orphans the man is taking care of). It must be stated here that this concession is allowed purely for the benefit of the orphans and not to allow men a varied sexual life (as those hypocrites claim)! We also note the very important words in 4:3: “If you fear you will not be fair, then only one, or what your right hand possesses.” These words must be read in conjunction with the following Quranic words: “You will not be able to treat all women equally even if you wish to do so.” 4:129 If we combine the content of 4:3 and 4:129 it becomes obvious that God is very clearly discouraging more than one wife. God only allows this action under very strict conditions and even when these conditions are satisfied, God still advises no more than one.
The perfection of Islam is a certainty, that a muslim must believe in, faithfully. Islamic shari’a has regulated all aspects of men’s life, for them to achieve the true happiness in life. By obeying this rules, a muslim will be able to achieve salvation and joys both in this world and in the Hereafter.
Allah The Glorified and Exalted decreed:
قُلْنَا اهْبِطُوا مِنْهَا جَمِيعًا فَإِمَّا يَأْتِيَنَّكُم مِّنِّي هُدًى فَمَن تَبِعَ هُدَايَ فَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ
“We said: Get you down from here, all of you, and guidance shall come to you from Me: then, whoever will follow My guidance need have no fear, nor shall they grieve.” [Al Baqarah/The Cow/2:38]
In this verse, Allah has promised salvation and joys to those who are willing to follow and obey the teaching of Allah’s messenger -peace and prayer of Allah be upon him-. Thus, it is a must to refer all problems in this life to Islamic laws, that is, of course, Allah’s law too. Also in polygamy. And a muslim is not allowed to choose any rules or laws that against the shari’a, as Allah ordained in His decree:
وَمَا كَانَ لِمُؤْمِنٍ وَلَا مُؤْمِنَةٍ إِذَا قَضَى اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَمْرًا أَن يَكُونَ لَهُمُ الْخِيَرَةُ مِنْ أَمْرِهِمْ وَمَن يَعْصِ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا مُّبِينًا
“It does not behove a believer, male or female, that when Allah and His Messenger have decided an affair they should exercise their choice. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has strayed to manifest error.” [Al Ahzab/33:36]
How Islam Perceive Polygamy
In the Qur’an and Sunnah, it is mentioned that polygamy is sunnah for those who are capable of doing it. Allah revealed in His decree:
وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلَّا تُقْسِطُوا فِي الْيَتَامَىٰ فَانكِحُوا مَا طَابَ لَكُم مِّنَ النِّسَاءِ مَثْنَىٰ وَثُلَاثَ وَرُبَاعَ فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا فَوَاحِدَةً أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ ذَٰلِكَ أَدْنَىٰ أَلَّا تَعُولُوا
“If you fear that you might not treat the orphans justly, then marry the women that seem good to you: two, or three, or four. If you fear that you will not be able to treat them justly, then marry (only) one, or marry from among those whom your right hands possess. This will make it more likely that you will avoid injustice.” [An-Nisaa’/The Women 4:3]
In this verse, Allah speak to the guardians of the orphans, if they have an orphan that they are responsible of, and they are afraid that they are unable to give them enough dowry, they should turn to marry other women, since there are still more women left. Allah does not restrict his condition, because Allah has allowed him to marry until four women. If they are afraid of being wicked if they married more than one woman, they must marry only one woman, or marry their female slaves.
By Allah’s permission, the Messenger of Allah -peace and prayer of Allah be upon him- himself had married nine women in his lifetime, as mentioned in a hadith narrated by Anas Ibn Malik -may Allah be pleased with him-:
أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ كَانَ يَطُوفُ عَلَى نِسَائِهِ فِي اللَّيْلَةِ الْوَاحِدَةِ وَلَهُ يَوْمَئِذٍ تِسْعُ نِسْوَةٍ
“Indeed, the Prophet -peace and prayer of Allah be upon him- ever went to his wives in a night, and at that time he has nine wives.” [Narrated by al Bukhari, no. 5068 and an-Nasaa-i, 6/54
Also in the saying of Ibn ‘Abbas to Sa’id Ibn Jubair:
هَلْ تَزَوَّجْتَ؟ قُلْتُ: لَا, قَالَ: فَتَزَوَّجْ! فَإِنَّ خَيْرَ هَذِهِ الْأُمَّةِ أَكْثَرُهَا نِسَاءً
“Are you married?” Sa’id replied, “Not yet.” And he said, “Get married! Because the best of this nation is one having the most wives.” [Narrated by al Bukhari no. 5069]
In the sentence of “the best of this nation” has two definitions:
First: It refers to Allah’s messenger -peace and prayer of Allah be upon him-. Thus it means that Allah’s messenger -peace and prayer of Allah be upon him- is the best person of this nation and with the most wives.
Second: It means in marriage, that is one with the most of wives.
Sheikh Mushthafa Al ‘Adawi said, “Both of the meanings share the shame basis, and indicate a similar meaning, hence becoming the foundation of the scholars who stated that polygamy is sunnah.”
Other basis indicating that polygamy is sunnah are the hadith of the Prophet that suggest muslims to have many children.
Among the hadith are:
عَنْ مَعْقِلِ بْنِ يَسَارٍ قَالَ: جَاءَ رَجُلٌ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالَ: إِنِّي أَصَبْتُ امْرَأَةً ذَاتَ حَسَبٍ وَجَمَالٍ وَإِنَّهَا لَا تَلِدُ أَفَأَتَزَوَّجُهَا ؟ قَالَ: لَا, ثُمَّ أَتَاهُ الثَّانِيَةَ فَنَهَاهُ ثُمَّ أَتَاهُ الثَّالِثَةَ فَقَالَ: تَزَوَّجُوا الْوَدُودَ الْوَلُودَ فَإِنِّي مُكَاثِرٌ بِكُمْ الْأُمَمَ
“From Ma’qal bin Yasâr, who said: A man came to the Prophet -peace and prayer of Allah be upon him- and said: ‘I have encountered a woman of nobility and beauty, but she cannot give birth. Should I marry her?’ He said: ‘No.’ The man then came to him a second time, but he prohibited him. He then came for the third time, and the Prophet -peace and prayer of Allah be upon him- said: ‘Marry loving women who give birth, for I will compete with you against other nations.'” [Narrated by Abu Dawud in hadith no. 2050, Sheikh Al Albani said: “good and valid”. See: Shahih Sunan Abu Dawud]
Regarding this hadith, Sheikh Musthafa Al ‘Adawi explained that: “Marriage, by Allah’s permission, may cause people increase birth. And the increase of birth can make them proud of their numbers. Thus, a fertile woman, if it is known that a man (who propose her) is infertile, should not marry him. But the prohibition (in this hadith) is makrooh, but not forbidden. Because the Prophet -peace and prayer of Allah be upon him,- kept his wives who didn’t give him children, but Khadija and Mary,”
By that, it is known that one way to increase birth is by having more wives.
Wisdoms and Benefits of Polygamy
Every thing allowed in Islam must have it’s own wisdom and great benefits for muslims. To allow the practice polygamy is the best way to create dignified and honorable families and society.
There are several things to mention that indicate the wisdoms and benefits of polygamy, such as:
1. Polygamy is the chosen guidance, established by Allah The Mighty and The High Himself, for the sake of His slaves.
A woman might get ill, have her period, undergo her puerperal time, and the like, that interfere her to bear her tasks as wife. Whereas man is always ready to yield offsprings. Supposed a man is hampered during the time his wife unable to serve him, his functions will be lost in vain.
2. Allah has created fewer men than women. Men also face more life-threatening events during his whole life. Supposed that each man should only marry a woman, there will be more unmarried women left, forcing them to do wicked things such as adultery and the like. And turn away from Qur’an’s guidance is the greatest source of problems in manners.
About the number of men and women, the Messenger of Allah -peace and prayer of Allah be upon him- explained in his saying:
مِنْ أَشْرَاطِ السَّاعَةِ أَنْ يَقِلَّ الْعِلْمُ وَيَظْهَرَ الْجَهْلُ وَيَظْهَرَ الزِّنَا وَتَكْثُرَ النِّسَاءُ وَيَقِلَّ الرِّجَالُ حَتَّى يَكُونَ لِخَمْسِينَ امْرَأَةً الْقَيِّمُ الْوَاحِدُ
“Among the portents of the Hour are the knowledge will be diminished, foolishness emerge, adulteries committed undisguised, and woman’s number increases, whereas man’s decreases, until a man equals 50 women.” [Mutafaqun ‘alaihi]
3. Generally, all woman is always ready to marry, but in contrast, plenty of men do not have the ability to bear the consequences of marriage due to their poor condition. Thus, the number of men ready to marry is less than woman.
4. Polygamy will be a mean to elevate the status of a woman whose husband is dead or divorced her, whereas she has none of her family to be responsible of her. By polygamy, there will be a man who is responsible for her needs.
Beside that, polygamy also offers a lot of benefits toward individual, the society, and muslim communities as a whole. Among those benefits are:
One of the most effective way for people to lower their gaze, maintain their dignity, and multiply their offsprings.
5. One of the way to protect men and women from various factors of wickedness and deviation. Sheikh Ibn Baz said in his fatwa, that polygamy contains great benefits to men and women as a whole. Because, by polygamy, All people will obtain benefits; lowering of gazes, maintenance of dignity, plenty of descendants, men will be able to do much for the sake of his wives, protect them from factors of wickedness and deviation of manners.
6. Increasing the number of muslims, thus Islam will have enough human resources to face their enemies in holy battle.
Sheikh Muhammad Al Amin Asy Syinqithi said, “Qur’an legalizes polygamy for the sake of women, to be able to get husband, and for the sake of men, to protect their uses from being wasted, such as when a woman gets older, and for the sake of muslims to increase their numbers, to be able to face their enemies to establish and keep Allah’s enjoin high.”
That is the beauty of Islam, regarding it’s permission for polygamy. However, to practice it, one must fulfill certain criteria and requirements stated in shari’a. And Allah knows best.
And Allah knows best.
May Allah forgive me if I am wrong and guide us to the right path…Ameen.
سُبْحَانَ رَبِّكَ رَبِّ الْعِزَّةِ عَمَّا يَصِفُون َ ; وَسَلامٌ عَلَى الْمُرْسَلِينَ ; وَالْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ.