The Wisdom behind Polygamy
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
Polygamy is the practice of having more than one spouse at the same time. We live in a dysfunctional world where homosexuality is celebrated while people argue that polygamy should not be legalized because it would cause gender inequality and social instability. Islam, on the other hand, has permitted the practice of polygamy by having wise and noble purposes behind it.
Allah ﷻ says in the Qur’an,
“And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one, or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice].” (Surah An-Nisa 4:3)
The above verse clearly shows that Islam allows plural marriage and that a man can marry two, three or four wives, but not more than that.
Further, the Qur’an lays two conditions for a man to consider before choosing a polygamous marriage.
“But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one… “ (Surah An-Nisa 4:3)
If a man is afraid that he cannot treat his wives justly, then Allah ﷻ instructs him that it is best for him to marry only one woman.
“And let those who find not the financial means for marriage keep themselves chaste, until Allah enriches them of His Bounty…” (Surah An-Nur 24:33)
In this verse, Allah ﷻ commands that if a man cannot afford to provide for his wife or wives, he may refrain from plural marriage.
The following are the reasons why Islam says “yes” to polygamy.
- Polygamy increases the population of the ummah of the Prophet ﷺ. He ﷺ said, “…Marry women who are loving and very prolific, for I shall outnumber the peoples by you.” (Sunan Abi Dawud, 2050) The only halal means to increase the number of children is through polygamous marriage.
- If a wife is sick, barren, or unable to meet her husband’s needs, the husband can go for another marriage to meet his needs or to increase the progeny.
- Statistically, women outnumber men. If the marriage ratio is one man to one woman, then many women would be left unmarried which would pave way for sins, which can be avoided otherwise. Also, more men are prone to death than women as they work in dangerous professions. Thus, plural marriage would be the only solution to balance the number of husbandless women.
- If a woman known to a man is left widowed or uncared for, he can marry and provide for her to keep himself and the woman chaste.
- Polygamy existed even during the pre-Islamic era where people married many women; for example, Prophet Sulayman AS had 90 wives, and some Muslims had five and eight wives during the time of Prophet ﷺ. It was Islam that limited the number to 4.
- Additionally, some men have stronger sexual desires, thereby limiting the number of marriages would cause them to channelize their desire in forbidden ways. Similarly, when a woman menstruates or has postpartum bleeding, it is not permissible for a man to have a sexual relationship with her. This makes plural marriage fair.
Even after having knowledge of these valid justifications for the permission of plural marriage, it is still considered a taboo in many societies. People think, if a man has multiple wives, he is disrespectful, shameful, greedy, and exploitive of women.
People refrain from polygamy because they view it as taking away the right of an independent woman to a prosperous marriage, as a hindrance to a peaceful family setup, and that it might lead some men to attract more women and leave few others wifeless.
Also, it is a well-established fact that it is difficult for a man to provide financial and emotional support equally to his wives. These question the efficiency of practical application of the idea of plural marriage, thus inciting dislike towards polygamy.
Often, the question arises that why Islam permits polygamy (a man having multiple wives) and not androgyny (a woman having multiple husbands). The answer is very simple – humans are psychologically adapted for mating in a way that reproductive benefits are more for males than for females. Technically, a man can have many children over a period of nine months, but a woman can only reproduce one.
Moreover, androgyny potentially leads to nothing other than mishaps, which may include difficulty in maintaining a proper relationship with the husbands, difficulty in identifying the father of the baby, a husband waiting till the wife delivers the child of the other husband to continue his progeny and so on. This is why Islam permits only polygamy.
How can women deal with polygamy?
Being in a polygamous marriage itself is a source of hurt and emotional pain for a woman. It makes her caught up in a web of unrequited love and emotions and unsatisfied needs. So why would Islam propagate such an idea?
Firstly, as Muslims, we must trust Allah’s ﷻ wisdom and His love for us. He ﷻ wouldn’t command us to do anything that is not good for us.
Secondly, we must accept the fact that plural marriage is the best solution to prevent greater harm to society, even if it means allowing lesser harm to individual women. If polygamy is restricted, it will force a portion of women to be husbandless and that forces them to become girlfriends, prostitutes or call girls. To prevent such immorality, it is better to accept a sister as a co-wife, thus being content in knowing that sin is prevented.
Lastly, sometimes a husband marrying another wife may be a test or trial for a woman and there is a huge reward from Allah ﷻ for those who are patient.
“Only those who are patient shall receive their reward in full, without reckoning” (Al-Zumar 39:10)
Credit Islamic Reflections