Polygamy and Islam


Family life is the basis of the Islamic society. It’s origin goes back to the beginning of the creation of man and woman – Adam and Eve. So it is an institution founded by Allah’s will. Allah says in the Qur’an: “O mankind! Be mindful of your duties to your Lord who created you from single soul and from it created its mate and from the two created many me n and women.” (4:1).

Marriage is the basis of the Islamic family. A good and sound society can only grow if a man and woman are bound in a solid relationship through the sacred contract of marriage. Marriage developes love, care and co-operation between the husband and wife. It gives peace of mind and provides secure atmosphere for the growth and progress of the who human race. Without marriage the human race would come to a standstil. Marriage was the practice of most of the prophets including Muhammad (pbuh).

Islam is a practical religion. It can answer all human problems. The normal Muslim practice of marriage is monogamy- one man married to one wife.  Islam only permits polygamy – marriage to more than one woman, to the maximum of four with the proviso that men accept the challenge of some difficulties and specific situations with full responsibility and mete out the full measure of justice and equality to the second, third and fourth wives as well.

The Quran has imposed strict conditions for marrying several wives as it is said in this verse: “And if you fear that you will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if you fear that you cannot be fair to so many then one only or (the captives) that your right hand possess. Thus it is more likely that you will not do injustice” (4:3). This verse says that to marry more than one woman, a man must be able to be fair and justice to each of them. If he is not able to be so, he should marry only one wife.

Another verse of the Qur’an says: “You will not be able to deal fairly between your wives, however much you wish. Yet do not turn completely aside (from one) so that you leave another in suspense, if you maintain proper conduct and do your duty, Allah is ever forgiving and merciful” (4:129). This further emphasizes fair treatment. But in special circumstances, Islam allows polygamy. These situations are:

  1. When a wife is barren and cannot bear children, but the husband wants children, It is better to have a second wife than to divorce the barren one. For example Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) married Hagar as a second wife because her first wife Sarah was barren at first and could not give Ibrahim a child. Because of her deep love to her husband, she suggested to him to marry Hagar as a  second wife who would bear him a child and so it was. But a barren wife has the option to seek separation from her husband if she wishes, on the grounds of the second marriage of her husband.
  2. If the wife is chronically ill and she is unable to carry out her marital and household duties, the husband may marry another woman and so to take care of the husband, the sick wife and the family duties.
  3. Polygamy may be the solution to the problems of the society which has more women than men. This happens naturally because many male babies often die in their breastfed period than females and this makes the population of women become higher than that of men. And also this happens especially after war. It is evident from a study of the Qur’an that a special situation of post – war period is being discussed. It is time when a society is left with large number of orphans and young widows, and the balance of male and female population is severely disturbed. The verse in the Quran allowing more than one wife was revealed after the battle of Uhud in which many Muslim men were martyred. But because Islam has the solution for every problem, the Muslim women suffered not following the above verse which allows men to marry more than one wife.

The Proportion of women increased considerably in the countries taking part in the first and second world wars. A solution to such a situation is the marriage of more than one woman by those men who are able to and can be fair to each wife. This is better than leaving a large number of unmarried women.

Similar situation prevailed in Germany after the Second World War. Germany was left with no solution for the problem. The strictly monogamous teaching of Christianity could offer no relief. As such, people of Germany had to suffer the consequence of these imbalances. There were a large number of virgins, dejected spinsters and young widows for whom it was impossible to get married. Germany was not the only country in the vast continent of Europe to experience such social problems of extremely dangerous and gigantic proportions.

As can plainly seen by every unbiased person, the only answer to all such problematic disturbances is to permit men to Mary more than one wife. This is not proposed as a solution to satiate their social desire, but to meet the genuine requirements of a large number of women. If this very logical and realistic solution is rejected, the only alternative left for the society is to rapidly degenerate into a growingly and permissive society.

An excessive number of women left without marriage cannot be blamed for attempting to entice and allure married men in societies which are not deeply religious. After all, women are humans too. They have their own emotions and unfulfilled desires.  While the emotional traumas of war have enhanced the urge for finding someone to turn to, a life without security of marriage and home, with no life partner and no hope for children, is a life which is empty. And the future is as blank as bleak as the present. If such women are not accommodated and assimilated on the principle of give and take, it can play havoc with the peace of the society. They will anyhow, illegally share the husbands of married women. The outcome is bound to be worse. Loyalties will be split. Married women will begin to lose faith in their husbands. Suspicious will grow. The increasing lack of mutual trust between husband and wife will rock the foundation of many homes. For unfaithful men to live with a sense of crime and guilt with further generate emotional complexes and tendency towards more crime. Romance will begin to lose sublimity and descend to commonplace, temporary love. Broken marriages, illegitimate children and the breakup of family life. School girl pregnancies, an increase in abortion, and transmitted diseases like aids, syphilis and gonorrhea will increase rapidly. These problems are already rife in the western society.

Islam strictly forbids any sexual relationships outside marriage. It does not allow free mixing of grown-up boys and girls nor does it allow sex outside marriage. The Islamic way of life does not approve of the boy-friend/girl-friend system, or mixed parties of the grown-ups and the like. There is no such thing as a mistress in Islamic society.

Hiv/aids and polygamy

Enemies of Islam contradicts polygamy and believe that it encourages the spread of hiv/aids in the society. This argument is far from the truth because the practice of polygamy was not found by Islam and the Muslims but it was there in the generations of  other religions before Islam. Prophets like Sulaiman (Solomon), Dawud (David), Ibrahim and other prophets practiced polygamy and this is evident even in the bible. Polygamy was there thousands and thousands years ago while hiv/aids was detected in the early 80s. And also you will find that the spread of hiv/aids is increasing rapidly in western countries, I mean those societies which prohibit the practice of polygamy while in Islamic countries, I mean those who allow and practice polygamy, the population of those infected by hiv/aids is very small. Polygamy has nothing to do with hiv/aids but to fight it.

Islam has given dignity to women by marriage and has protected them from the exploitation of greedy and selfish men. Having more than one wife is better and more dignified than having a number of mistresses. Islam holds you responsible for your actions. You cannot just enjoy and have no responsibilities of fatherhood. This is sheer injustice and inhuman. There can be no one parent family or illegitimate child in an Islamic society. It is only possible in a cultural climate of irresponsible and permissiveness. A woman who is going to be a second wife could refuse to marry the man on the ground that he already has a wife.

But if a woman happily concerts to her husband marrying again and the second wife agrees, why should anyone else object it?

The overwhelming majority of Muslims is monogamous – they have only one wife. The fact that few Muslims have more than one wife has become a propaganda against Islam and such propaganda can give a misleading impression of the Islamic life. This is especially so when is non-practicing Muslims who are highlighted on the issue of being married to more than one wife.

As opposed to polygamy, the case of polygamy may be raised. The case of polyandry is impractical and it creates problems rather than solves them. How will paternity be decided? Which husband would claim the fatherhood of the child? How would inheritance be decided? Such questions have no answer in polyandry.

Furthermore, it is possible for a man to live with more than one wife and have children from all of them, but for a woman to please more than one husband seems almost impossible. A woman can bear children from only one husband. Polyandry is forbidden in Islam. Islam is a practical way of life. It has responded to reality and necessity. It has also put a check on human tendencies and ensured balance. The system is full of wisdom and perfectly scientific, completely logical.

Allah, the All knowing, has prescribed what is best for us. We should not apologetic in our approach. Islam provides the best answer for all problems. We cannot blame Islam if we do not know it or fail to understand it. We need to look at Islam as a whole, not only at a part of  it. This is because Islam views life as a whole, as a unit, and does not divide it.

All areas of life are inter-related; the status of women, marriage and family life are only single aspects of the whole Islamic system.