In Islam, monogamy is essential and polygamy is exceptional. It can be sought only when it is necessary or compulsory. Islam neither made polygamy obligatory for anyone, nor did it encourage polygamy. However, it is regarded permissible when there are some general or special reasons.


Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

Islam sets forth some conditions for marrying more than one woman. These are as follows:

1. To be able to deal justly among the wives. This is limited with human capability; it includes being just in food, clothes, housing, interest and treatment. However, the Quran denotes that it is very difficult:

“…if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one (wife), or that which your right hands possess.” (an-Nisa, 4/3)

So, if there is fear that one cannot deal justly or one can oppress, then the principle of being content with one woman becomes valid. However, justice does not include issues like liking, inclinations of the heart and love, because these cannot be controlled. Islam does not place a burden on man greater than he can bear. However, it is forbidden to incline to one of the wives extremely and deprive the others of love. The following is stated in a verse:

“You are never able to do justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire: but turn not away (from a woman) altogether, so as to leave her (as it were) hanging (in the air).” (an-Nisa, 4/129)

When the two verses above are evaluated, we can draw the conclusion that polygamy is not an essential rule but a permission that can be sought when extraordinary conditions are present.

2. To be able to maintain the family. In Islam, it is necessary for a man who wants to marry one woman or more to be able to meet their feeding, drinking, clothing and housing expenses. The Prophet (PBUH) said the following:

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“O young men! Those among you who can support a wife should marry…” (Bukhari, Sawm, 10, Nikah, 2, 3, 19; Muslim, Nikah, 1,3; Abu Dawud, Nikah, I; Ibn Majah, Nikah, ; Nasai, Siyam, 43)

There is no doubt that the hardship of marriage lies in the expenses of the wife.

The Reasons Why Islam Permits Polygamy

In Islam, monogamy is essential and polygamy is exceptional. It can be sought only when it is necessary or compulsory. Islam neither made polygamy obligatory for anyone, nor did it encourage polygamy. However, it is regarded permissible when there are some general or special reasons.

The General Reasons:

“In some regions the male population decreases and female population may increase above normal. During the time of wars it is more frequent. As a matter of fact, after the World War I in Germany, there were four or six women for one man. Then German women advocated that men should marry more than one woman. In such a situation polygamy serves to protect women from prostitution, to provide them with a warm home and to guard fatherless children.

Sometimes it may be necessary to marry more than one woman to increase the population in some regions; for instance, the death of most of the population in war. There may be polygamy in order to spread Islam. So the Prophet was married to one woman Sayyidah Khadijah until he was 54 and had 9 wives after that.” (Professor Wahbah az-Zuhayli, VII, 169, 170)

There are a lot of special reasons:

1. The woman may be ill and cannot meet her husband’s sexual needs. It may be a gynaecological disease that cannot be cured; the woman may be barren and cannot bear a child. In such a case, divorcing the wife with the problem and marrying another may seem to be a solution but instead of sending her away, marrying a second woman with the consent of the first wife should be a better solution. Thus the rights of the first wife are preserved.

2. Some men may have fallen in love with other women. The only way to prevent such men from adultery is the second marriage.

So, the fact that polygamy is permissible is due to obligations, necessities, illness or any other valid cause.

Love and Polygamy

Islam advises spouses to love each other in a legitimate way. However, it does not want that love to be confined to this world only but to become eternal. It defines some criteria for this. One of them is to love a person for the sake of Allah, because everything depends on Allah and belongs to Him. He is the owner of all the estates. He who loves the people he loves for the sake of Allah makes his love eternal and guarantees it. Death and partings cannot cause the disappearance of that love.

A man who thinks of marrying more than one woman can marry only if he is determined to act equally among his wives in terms of treatment, spending the nights with them proportionally, observing uniform justice, providing clothing, meeting their necessities and other issues. If he does not observe these conditions, he would have committed haram (a forbidden act) and violated other people’s rights.

Allah permitted marrying more than one woman in the Quran. However, there is the demand for monogamy in cases where there may be injustice. Therefore, we can easily say that marrying more than one woman is not right, unless it is obligatory. We see that treating all of the wives equally is almost impossible; at least it is very difficult and not every man can do it.

However, a person who thinks that a second marriage is obligatory can marry in the presence of witnesses and it is not compulsory for him to inform his relatives about it.

Polygamy

“A man who has two wives and who is completely inclined to one and who ignores the other emerges with one side of his body paralysed in the Day of Judgment.” (Hadith; Ibn Majah, Nikah, 47; Mishkat al-masabih, 2/196)

Antique Egypt Law: A man could marry more than one woman under some circumstances.

Babel Law: According to Hammurabi laws, if a woman could not bear a child or had a serious disease, the husband could have a concubine.

Chinese Law: If the wealth of the husband were sufficient, he could marry secondary wives. However, the children from the secondary wives were regarded as the children of the first wife.

Antique Brahmans: According to the book Vichnou, men could marry one, two, three or more women in accordance with their classes. In the book Apastamba, there was a limit; if the woman carried out her tasks and she had a male child, the husband could not marry a second woman. In the laws of Manu, the husband had to choose his first wife from the same social class; he could marry a woman of lower classes as his second wife.

Ancient Iran: Polygamy was legal.

Roman Law: It was possible to have a concubine, without a legal wedding.

The Bible: It is stated in the Old Testament that Dawud married several women. There are some other places that mention polygamy in the Old Testament. There existed polygamy in Judaism.

In the New Testament, there is not an item prohibiting polygamy. However there are recommendations that it is better to be content with one wife. In Christianity, polygamy was normal until the 16th century.

Arabia before Islam: There were no limitations regarding polygamy. Men could marry as many women as they wanted; sometimes they even exchanged their wives.

Polygamy in Islam

Allah states the following:

“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 only one, or that which your right hands possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.” (Chapter an-Nisa / 3)

It is seen clearly in the verse that marrying more than one woman – two, three and finally four – is not an order that has to be carried out like fardh or wajib (compulsory) but with permission. However, this permission depends on dealing justly among the wives. It is stated that being content with one wife is the closest and rightest way to justice; it is ordered that a person who fears that he won’t be able to deal justly has to be content with one wife.

Principles of Islam Regarding Polygamy

1) Limitation of the number: Islam put a limitation to the limitless marriages of men during the period of Jahiliyyah (Ignorance). After Allah sent down that verse, acting on the order of the Messenger of Allah, those who had more than four wives divorced the extra ones.

2) Dealing justly with the wives: This will be in eating, drinking, clothing, housing, intercourse and love. However, it is very difficult, almost impossible to deal justly in terms of love. Various physical and psychological characteristics will cause differences in the level of love. No matter how hard he tries to deal justly, it is almost impossible for a man to achieve it on this level.

Allah states the following:

“You are never able to do justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire: but turn not away (from a woman) altogether, so as to leave her (as it were) hanging (in the air). If you come to a friendly understanding and practice self-restraint, Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful.” (Chapter an-Nisa/ 129)

In this verse, Allah exempts men from dealing absolutely justly in terms of love and liking. However, He prohibits men from inclining totally to one and ignoring the other(s), and He orders men to do their best to deal justly. The following is stated in a hadith:

“A man who has two wives and who is completely inclined to one and who ignores the other emerges with one side of his body paralysed in the Day of Judgment.” (Hadith; Ibn Majah, Nikah, 47; Mishkat al-masabih, 2/196)

A woman does not consent to share her husband with another woman under normal circumstances, and no woman would like to marry a married man unless she has to.

It is a necessity of belief that polygamy is right. However, to believe it does not necessarily mean for a woman to consent to the second wife and approve it.

No believer father would like his son-in-law to marry a second, third or fourth woman along with his daughter. The jealous nature of the woman and the affection of the father for his daughter disapproves this. As a matter of fact, the daughter of our beloved Prophet, Sayyidah Fatima, objected to her husband, Ali’s marrying of a second woman. If it weren’t permissible to object, Sayyidah Fatima, who was brought up by our Prophet, would not have objected. The Messenger of Allah would have warned her and ordered her to consent to her husband’s wish. However, it did not take place like that. On the contrary, the Messenger of Allah, who saw that his daughter was worried, asked Ali to give up his wish and told him that if he did not give it up, he could marry another woman after divorcing Sayyidah Fatima. He did not consent to Ali’s second marriage to depress his daughter.

By considering that act of the Messenger of Allah, it can be stated that Muslim daughters and fathers may object to the second marriage of their husband or son-in-law.

To sum it up: Islam neither orders nor prohibits polygamy. It only permits it when it is necessary. There is no need to say much after narrating the happening above.

Wassalamu Alaikum

Your Brother:

Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, from Okene, Kogi State Nigeria.

Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau can be reached through +2348038289761.