Polygamy and Islam

Not only one…..


In many cultures, in many lands and in many civilizations, the treatment of women has been diverse. They have been looked upon as slaves, given no share in inheritance, treated as mere machines for progeny, looked down upon, branded as week and taken as pieces of entertainment. This article does not intend to relate the tale of their sufferings. Instead it tries to impress on the role of Islam in restoring and amending the wrongs done to them.

Some of the women rights in Islam are :

1. Permission for widow remarriage,

2. Granting inheritance rights for women,

3. Permitting them to participate in politics and judiciary,

4. Accepting them as witnesses in courts, forbidding dowry,

5. making it mandatory for the men to take up financial responsibilities of the family while declaring the same as optional for women.

And finally permitting the practice of polygamy are Islam’s contribution to establish a decent livable environment for women which most cultures deny – or it’s better for her to be a mistress!!!-

Of the above things there is nothing that is more controversial than Polygamy. People might wonder how on earth does Polygamy make way for a decent livable environment for women? Isn’t Polygamy an evil that is an insult to women? Well, lets find out.

Firstly let me clarify that Islam does not impose polygamy as a universal practice. The Prophet himself was a monogamist for the greater part of his married life, from the age of twenty-five when he married Khadija until he was fifty when she died.
One should therefore regard monogamy as the norm and polygamy as the exception.

One may observe that, although it has been abused in some times and some places, polygamy has under certain circumstances proved to be a valuable option. In some situations it may be considered as the lesser of two evils, and in other situations it may even be a positively beneficial arrangement.

1. The most obvious example of this occurs in times of war when there are inevitably large numbers of widows and girls whose fiancees and husbands have been killed in action. One has only to recall the figures of the dead in the first and second world wars to be aware that literally millions of women and girls lost their husbands and fiancees and were left alone without any income or care or protection for themselves or their children. If it is still maintained that under these circumstances a man may marry only one wife, what options are left to the millions of other women who have no hope of getting a husband? Please keep in mind that in any war more men die than women. Their choice, bluntly stated , is between a chaste and childless old maidenhood, or becoming somebody’s mistress, that is an unofficial second wife with no legal rights for herself or for her children. Most women would not welcome either of these since most women have always wanted and still do want the security of a legal husband and family.

The compromise therefore is for women under these circumstances to face that if given the alternative many of them would rather share a husband than have none at all. And there is no doubt that it is easier to share a husband when it is an established and publicly recognized practice than when it is carried on secretly along with attempts to deceive the first wife. This is where Islam comes into picture by legalizing Polygamy.

2. And it is no secret that polygamy of a sort is widely carried on in Europe and America. The difference is that while the Western man has no legal obligations to his second, third or fourth mistresses and their children, the Muslim husband has complete legal obligations towards his second, third or fourth wife and their children. This is where Islam comes into picture by legalizing Polygamy.

3. There may be other circumstances unrelated to war–individual circumstances, where marriage to more than one wife may be preferable to other available alternatives– for example, where the first wife is chronically sick or disabled. There are of course some husbands who can manage this situation, but no one would deny its potential hazards. A second marriage in some cases could be a solution acceptable to all three parties. This is where Islam comes into picture by legalizing Polygamy.

4. Again there are cases in which a wife is unable to have children, while the husband very much wants them. Under Western laws a man must either accept his wife’s childlessness if he can, or adopt a child which will not compensate for a child from his own flesh and blood, or if he cannot he must find a means of divorce in order to marry again. This could be avoided in some cases if the parties agreed on a second marriage. This is where Islam comes into picture by legalizing Polygamy.

5. There are other cases where a marriage has not been very successful and the husband loves another woman. This situation is so familiar that it is known as the Eternal Triangle. Under Western laws the husband cannot marry the second woman without divorcing the first one. But the first wife may not wish to be divorced. She may no longer love her husband, but she may still respect him and wish to stay with him for the security of marriage, for herself and their children. Similarly the second woman may not wish to break up the man’s first family. There are certain cases such as this where both women could accept a polygamous marriage rather than face divorce on the one hand or an extra-marital affair on the other. This is where Islamic laws come to the rescue and grant women what they want.

6. In most human societies, females outnumber males. In the U.S. there are at least  eight million more women than men. In a country like Guinea there are 122 females for every 100 males. In Tanzania there are 95.1 males per 100 females.

-Eugene Hillman, Polygamy Reconsidered: African Plural Marriage and the Christian Churches (New York: Orbis Books, 1975) pp. 88-93.

What should a society do towards such unbalanced sex ratios? There are various solutions. Some might suggest celibacy, others would prefer female infanticide (which does happen in some societies in the world even today !). Others may think the only outlet is that the society should tolerate all manners of sexual permissiveness: prostitution, sex out of wedlock, homosexuality etc. But for other societies , like most African societies today, the most honorable outlet is to allow polygamous marriage as a culturally accepted and socially respected institution.

7. To impress the benefit of Polygamy let me cite an example. If your sister fails to get an unmarried man, what would you have her do? Make her stay unmarried for the rest of her life? let her be in live-in relationships? let her be someone’s mistress with no legal rights for her and her children? Tolerate all manners of sexual permissiveness: prostitution,  sex out of wedlock,  homosexuality  etc? OR let her marry a man who is already married and live a decent and recognized life,  enjoying all rights equally that the first wife has? The choice Is yours.

I have mentioned some of these examples because to the majority of the Westerners,  polygamy is only thought of in the context of a harem of glamorous young girls, not as a possible solution to some of the problems of Western society itself. I have given some time to it not in order to advocate its indiscriminate use, but in an attempt to show that it is a practice not to be condemned without thinking of its uses and possible benefits in any community.

9 responses to “Polygamy and Islam

  1. Excellent article! I haven’t seen it this well explained before.

    As a female I have always supported polygamous relationships. I do not see why the “West” is so arrogant about monogamy when you have all of the promiscuity issues and children without fathers.

    Islam has been successful with this institution when cultural beliefs don’t override the laws of Islam. I am marrying soon and we have discussed a second wife if he wishes children since I’m unable to have them. It is like having a sister and friend but closer and more emotional than that.

  2. @ Dee

    mashallah, May Allah bless you and the person whom you are going to marry with the happiness that you are seeking. and may the second wife to your future husband be as wise as you are.

    Whether or not the above article clear the misconception about polygamy in the hearts of the people of other faiths, i am sure your comment of approval would definitely help them in seeing polygamy as a solution to the problems that some section of women are facing today.

    With best wishes and regards,
    mansoor and muna

  3. Interesting post! I’ve recently been reading other blogs (from Muslim women) and the overwhelming response to polygamy as practiced NOW is negative.

    To say I’m not a fan is an understatement. The whole male attitude of being tired of the first wife and wanting a newer, younger model coupled with some men threatening a first wife with his “right” to take another woman just really makes this practice not OK with me.

    But obviously it is fine with some as Dee has spoken out in favor of it.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  4. I was just wondering what your faith says about women having 3-4 husbands ? Or is it silent ??

  5. Salam to all….
    first thank you for passing by and leaving a comment.
    second, about having more than one husband i think you are not even convinced of what you said coz it’s against any logic we know in this world-and i’m not talking about religion here- imagine having more than one husband, what about the kids you will have??? are you gonna keep your life guessing who is the father of this child? no u might make a DNA test!!!!!
    actually with all of my respect you said something illogical.

    @ Susanne
    you are right i’m not with what men do becoz they have the right to have another wife, they just want another younger one!!! this is nonsense and not acceptable coz Islam set the conditions for having another wife and this is not one of them.

    thank you again.


  6. Unfortunately what seems reasonable to me as a question,looks illogical to you.

    Polygamy means many marriages.Right or wrong ?

    In a marriage 2 people are involved – a man and a woman

    A simple deductive logic would imply that for any equality to exist what’s true for one must be true for other.Right or wrong?

    If you do not want to answer my question,I can understand.

    Your answer to Sussane suggests that you believe in equality and also the fact that anything that our scriptures say does not have to be contorted to suit personal gratification.

    As long as there are strict regulations and polygamy is not used to cover pervert behavior you and me are on the same page.

    I am sorry if I crossed the line.

    Have a good day.Allah Haafiz.

  7. Salam once again…..

    no i’m not trying to escape from answering your question but it is trivial to me so i couldn’t think of any thing to answer.
    ok then i’ll answer the questions u set here.
    yes polygamy means having more than one wife-but not more than 4-, and i’m not with men having another wife for any reason i believe in what the article stated and that’s why i put it in this thread.

    when a man have certain rights that doesn’t mean woman has to have the same ones.
    for me i don’t believe in the western equality but let me state my definition for equality between men and women.
    equality means that each gender has rights and responsibilities and they don’t have to be the same, and those rights must be preserved and given for all.
    why when we talk about having the same rights as men we forget to ask for having the same responsibilities?? isn’t men right to ask for their wives to work and support the family financially-for example-??if you are saying if someone having something the other must get the same!!!. in Islam women don’t have to work to support themselves coz it’s their RIGHT for financial support by their fathers, husbands, or even brothers and this is just one example.
    yes i believe in equality in the way how Islam stated it.

    Yes u r right when u said “the fact that anything that our scriptures say does not have to be contorted to suit personal gratification.” and “As long as there are strict regulations and polygamy is not used to cover pervert behavior you and me are on the same page.” and i agree with u.

    thank you for replying….

  8. Excellent reply muna. and a valid question indeed aahang. But you sorta missed the point here.

    Islam permits only polygamy and polygamy is for a man to have more than one wife (<=4).

    Women having more than one husband is not known as polygamy. It is known as polyandry. So there is no question of having vice versa rights here.

    Moreover polygamy is permitted mainly for the sake of “protection of women” which generally men love to do and are proud to do too.

    Now if you permit women to have more than one husband then the main reason for this should be for the ” protection of men”. By nature Men protect women and not the other way round. God in his infinite wisdom knows this and this is exactly the reason why he permitted polygamy and not polyandry.
    Hope this answers your question. Thank you very much for spending your time here. God bless you all.


  9. Dear Mansoor,
    Perhaps my conditioning for this life and past ones makes me hold the view that all children of God are created equal.And he for one should not discriminate while making rules – they should be same for one and all.The external form is just a structure that nourishes the soul.
    This is where the Vendantic(not Hindu) philosophy is different from other faiths and belief’s of realizing the self.Vedanta teaches self realization through direct experience of truth.And truth cannot be different from person to person.
    Anyways It is a practical explanation that you have provided and I will buy it.One thing I would like to point out though that many psychologists,thinkers and Philosophers have kept women far above than men as far as evolution is concerned.Due to their superior Human Qualities women are said to be the ‘better half’ and ‘fairer sex’.So it’s just the way of looking at things.

    By the way thanks for correcting my vocab.

    May God/Allah/Krishna bless us all and peace be on earth forever.

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