Polygamy in Islam

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

ISLAM holds women in high esteem. The woman is a masterpiece of Allah’s creation. And Islam stressed that woman is that creation into whose delicate hands the future of the world is entrusted.

Men and women in Islam have equal rights but their duties are different. Science agrees that there are several physical differences between men and women. A woman is biologically different from a man. Thus, the two sexes have different roles in society. The man is responsible for the maintenance of the family and the wife is responsible for taking care of her children and home. And they should both offer other love, comfort, and support. Allah said: “They are your garments and you are their garments.” (Qur’an 2:187).

Men and women are each other’s garments, they are for mutual support, comfort and protection, fitting into each other as a garment fits the body. Islam requires men and women to behave with modesty and decency towards one other. A different role does not mean that some are superior and some are inferior. Islam gave them equal rights and encourages education for both of them.


The Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w) said: “The search for knowledge is a duty on every Muslim.” (Narrated by Ibn Majah).

As a result of this, many women have become famous scholars, writers, doctors, and teachers.

Islam encourages marriage and considers happy family life as the foundation of a healthy society. It also stresses that sexual relationships outside marriage are sinful and it strongly condemns sexual scandal. Marriage in Islam had been ordained by Allah as the right and legal way to bear children and replenish the earth, for life on earth continues through children and children are products of marriage. Allah said: “And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between you: verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.” (Qur’an 30:21)

And He, Most High said: “And Allah has made for you mates from your own selves and made for you from them sons [and daughters] and grandsons [and granddaughters].” (Qur’an 16:72)

Marriage in Islam is an important institution which protects the rights of men, women and children while satisfying the physical, emotional and intellectual needs of the family members. In order for family life to go smoothly, each partner must fulfill his/her part of the partnership according to the Law of Allah. He, the Almighty, Most High has given general guidelines concerning the role of each partner in the following verse: “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other [in strength] and because they spend [to support them] from their means. Therefore, the righteous women are devoutly obedient [to Allah and to their husbands] and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard [their chastity, their husband’s property]. (Qur’an 4:34)

Islam gives polygamy a legal status, for Allah has given men the option to marry more than one wife and restricted the number to a maximum of four, on condition that they should be treated with perfect equality in all materials things. But if they fear that they will not be able to deal justly with them, then only one. Allah said: “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, three, or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly [with them], then only one.” (Qur’an 4:3)

The Holy Qur’an takes full comprehension of the state of human nature and the weakness of human beings: “You will never be able to be fair and do justice between women, 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 ].” (Qur’an 4:129)

Hence, such an option is not only permissible but desirable for those who can fulfill its condition. But if a man may harm himself, his children or his wives by practicing polygamy, then he should marry only one.

Polygamy is a blessing, particularly when circumstances make it an ideal solution that a man or woman may face: First, to a childless couple when the wife is unable to bear children and the husband is desperate to have a child. Secondly, when the wife is suffering an incurable disease; in that case, by marrying a second wife, a man not only helps his sick wife and children to get proper care and attention, but to retain her home and maintain her status as a wife, instead of being discarded. And at the same time, it allows the husband to have the relationship he needs under a legal marriage relationship and keeps him away from adultery, because marriage as described by ‘Umar ibn al-khattab ‘– the Companion of the Prophet and the second Caliph of Islam – is a strong weapon against adultery. Thirdly, during times of war, when men are killed in large numbers and leave widows and orphans behind, or when violent crime among males becomes high and the rates of homosexuality increase, it becomes obvious that women outnumber men and are causing alarm and concern to society. In such cases, we are faced with one of three situations: 1) Some women are forced to live a deprived life until death; and this is unacceptable to those women who reject a life of privation and also reject a life of sin and transgression. Or they will be left destitute and exposed to prostitution and immorality; 2) Or it allows men to take mistresses and legalize adultery which leads to a corrupt society; 3) Or polygamy is permitted as a decent solution.

Islam permitted polygamy on condition that absolute justice prevails (in materials matters). It may be painful for some women, but it is also beneficial for surplus women and society as a whole. It protects those helpless women’s rights and saves them from destruction (prostitution, plagues of venereal disease, herpes and AIDS etc.). It also protects their socio-economic rights and provides protection for women and children from mental and physical abuse.

Islam stresses legal marriage to establish a family and bring up children in a decent atmosphere. Every child has a natural desire to know his parents and the denial of that right often leads to serious problems later in life.

If the West had followed the lead of Islam, all destitute and helpless women roaming the streets would become members of decent families and prostitution and immorality would be a thing of the past. The enormous number of unmarried women, the high incidence of rapes and sexual harassment of females, the teenage pregnancies and the illegitimate children are causing great anxiety and alarm to the western countries today.

Males, in general, continue to be protected by monogamy while they play around without any responsibility. They oppose polygamy while a large number of them practice a form of it by engaging in illicit or casual relationships, free of worry. The fact is, that they oppose polygamy because it would force them to fidelity and oblige them to take socio-economic responsibility and provide protection for women and children. Instead of providing protection for women, they take monogamy as a shield to hide behind and indulge in adultery and sins.

Islam permitted polygamy to save men and women from the great zina (adultery) which is a curse to social life. Allah (s.w.t) said: “The woman and the man guilty of fornication, flog each of them with a hundred stripes. Let not pity withhold you in their case, in a punishment prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a party of the Believers witness their punishment.” (Qur’an 24:2)

A number of verses from the Bible in support of polygamy, says that plurality of wives is not only laudable, but a downright blessing. Similarly, Pope Filax, John Milton and Azzac Taylor have supported polygamy. Some hostile critics (Christian missionaries and Crusaders) condemn polygamy and try to make out that it began with the noble Prophet Muhammad. This allegation is based on hatred and ignorance of Islam, for polygamy is an institution as old as the human race itself. It has been known and practiced since the time of Noah. Thee Hindus and Zoroastrians practiced it and prescribed no limits to the number.

Prophet Abraham had Sarah and Hajar as his wives at the same time. The Jewish patriarchs were polygamous and some had hundreds of wives. King David had ninety-nine wives and two hundred concubines, according to the Bible and his son, Solomon the Wise had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. Prophet Jacob and Prophet Moses had three or four wives. Early Christians were polygamous, following Jewish tradition. Some of the Church Fathers accused the Jewish Rabbis of sensuality, yet not a single church council in the early centuries opposed polygamy, nor was any obstacle placed in the way of its practice.

In fact, St. Augustine declared openly that he did not condemn it. Luther, on occasion, spoke of it with considerable toleration and was known to have approved the bigamous status of Philip of Hesse. In 1531, the Anabaptists openly preached that a true Christian must have several wives. There was even a time in 1650 when some of the Christian leaders resolved that every man should be allowed to marry two women. The Germans, up to the sixteenth century enjoyed an unbridled license. King Constantine and his successors had more than one wife. The Romans and the French practiced polygamy before they came into the fold of Christianity. In Iran, Egypt, Greece, Babylon and Austria polygamy was in vogue. The New Testament, while upholding monogamy, does not prohibit polygamy, except in the case of a bishop or deacon. Even the Christian kings practiced it. Charlemagne had two wives and many concubines.

In fact, it was only after Christianity was revised according to Pauline doctrines that concepts of monogamy were introduced into Christian philosophy in order for it to conform to Greco-Roman culture. Greece and Rome had evolved an institutionalized form of monogamy in societies where the majority of the populace were slaves who could be used freely. Hence, what was termed monogamy in theory was in fact unrestricted polygamy. Hence, there are no Scriptural accounts of Jesus prohibiting countries, because they are alone among all the religions of the world since the time of Noah in condemning and prohibiting polygamy and restricting all men – whatever their status – to one wife only and then leaving society to battle with the surplus women.

In Arabia, polygamy was rooted custom. A man could have as many wives as he wanted since there were no limits on numbers before Islam. It was also a way to increase the number of members of a tribe, since the power and influence of a tribe depended upon the number of its members. The most numerous tribes had the greatest power. A man with several male children was considered to be powerful in the tribe and highly respected by other tribes.

In the Holy Qur’an, Allah restricted the number of wives to a maximum of four for those men who are able to fulfill its condition. And a Muslim husband has a legal right to take a second wife, but does not have the right to compel his first wife to live with him if she sees that cruelty befalls her in such a case. In Islam, the decisive voice in marriage is that of the girl (if a woman refuses to marry a married man, no one can force her to do so, even if the man is the King). The Qadi (Judge) cannot perform and complete a legal marriage without a verbal sanction from the bride through her Wakeel (Guardian). No law can legalize a forcible marriage. All contracts in such cases are void.

Unfortunately, some Muslims have chosen to ignore Allah’s Law and applied polygamy without being conscious of the meaning and application of its prescribed condition. In fact, they have responded to the call of lust and indulge themselves in sins; this is a clear proof of their lack of understanding of the Islamic Law and not the fault of the latter. Verily, fixing the rules is one thing, and applying them is another. Allah knows what is best for His creation: Hence He allows it and makes it a valid part of the marriage system of Islam, for it is the only decent solution to spare the Muslims the pain resulting from committing adultery and having illegitimate children. It is a beneficial institution which saves women from destitution, prostitution, and fatal diseases and it is the only way to protect women and children’s socio-economic rights and stop men’s infidelity.

Some shallow-minded people raise the question of why Islam allows polygamy for men and prohibits it for women. What a strange question to ask! How could the woman know who the father of her child was? And how could the child know his real father? And since the goal of marriage is to establish a healthy family and bring up children in a decent and clean atmosphere, how can this be possible in the home of a woman with more than one husband. And this is a denial of the nature of things, since in a sexual relationship, the woman is the recipient, not the giver, the led, not the leader. And since man is the guardian of woman, let life go naturally and spare the human race from grave and disastrous results. Let the Law of Allah dominate and rule this Universe, for He is the One Who did not leave any aspect of life without regularity, enabling His creatures to stay on the Right Path. So do not make the lawful unlawful and the prohibited lawful under any circumstances, for He is the Creator and the Sustainer of the Universe and knows what is best for His creation. And we should follow the Prophet’s Sunnah, for it leads us to the Right Path. He went through great hardships and made his public as well as his private life an open book to set an enduring example for the future generations to follow. (Abdul Aleem Hadji Abdillah, Al-Hadj)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 04, 2011.


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