بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
رَبِّ اشْرَحْ لِي صَدْرِي ; وَيَسِّرْ لِي أَمْرِي ; وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِنْ لِسَانِي ; يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي
Polygamy means having more than one spouse at a time. Islam has always been targeted and attacked vociferously for being a religion advocating Polygamy. However, it is not true. Polygamy is an ancient practice found in many human societies that existed during different times. None of the other religious books (be it Vedas, or The Talmud or Bible), have any restrictions on the number of wives a man can have. It was later on that priests of these religions passed laws that a man cannot marry more than one woman. On the other hand, Qur’an is the only religious scripture in the world that says ‘Marry only one’. We shall understand this in course of the discussion.
Polygamy can be of two types: Polygyny and Polyandry.
Polygyny refers to a condition where ‘a man has more than one wife’. This practice was seen in almost all societies on earth; and so is its prevalence in Muslim society. But it should be very well understood by us that Qur’an does not advocate Polygamy; rather strict conditions have been laid down for a man who wants to marry more than once. Let us refer to the following verse:
وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تُقْسِطُوا فِي الْيَتَامَى فَانكِحُوا مَا طَابَ لَكُمْ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ مَثْنَى وَثُلاثَ وَرُبَاعَ فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تَعْدِلُوا فَوَاحِدَةً أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ ذَلِكَ
أَدْنَى أَلاَّ تَعُولُوا
“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 or three or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then ‘only one’ or that your right hands possess (the slaves). That is nearer to prevent you from doing injustice.”
(Aayah No. 3, Surah An-Nisa’, Chapter No. 4, Holy Qur’an).
I emphasize the word ‘only one’ in above mentioned verse. It is clear from the verse mentioned above that a Muslim male is allowed to marry up to four women at a time. But along with the permission of marrying four, are associated some conditions, failing which, one cannot marry more than one.
Complimenting this is another verse from Holy Qur’an:
وَلَنْ تَسْتَطِيعُوا أَنْ تَعْدِلُوا بَيْنَ النِّسَاءِ وَلَوْ حَرَصْتُمْ فَلا تَمِيلُوا كُلَّ الْمَيْلِ فَتَذَرُوهَا كَالْمُعَلَّقَةِ وَإِنْ تُصْلِحُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ غَفُوراً رَحِيماً
“You will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire, so do not incline too much to one of them so as to leave the other hanging. And if you do justice, and do all that is right and fear Allah, by keeping away from all that is wrong, then Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
(Aayah No. 129, Surah An-Nisa’, Chapter No. 4, Holy Qur’an).
This confirms that the permission for a man to marry more up to four women at a time is conditional. One should be very sure that he will be able to do justice with all wives, physically, financially, emotionally and whatever aspects one can think of, related to the relationship of a husband-wife. Do we think it is that easy?
Therefore, Polygyny is not a rule, it is an exception. It is allowed but not compulsory in Islam.
Polyandry means a condition where ‘a woman has more than one husband’. Islam has allowed Polygyny, whereas Polyandry is prohibited.
Now comes the big question: Why is Polygyny allowed and Polyandry prohibited?
A. Reasons for allowing Polygyny:
Women, typically, have an average life span more than men. Population data of almost all countries show that female population is more during all the times. This is a logical thing to understand because Allah has created these two genders (male & female) with different capabilities as well as different responsibilities. Where a woman has been given the responsibility of taking care of homes, upbringing of children and carry out all the duties associated with a Muslim wife and a Muslim mother; a man on the other hand has to strive for earning the bread for his wife and children. It is the responsibility of a man (ordained by Allah) to protect and maintain his wife (or wives) and children. Refer to following verse from Holy Qur’an:
الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other”
(Aayah No. 34, Surah An-Nisa’, Chapter No. 4, Holy Qur’an).
Problem of imbalanced sex ratio becomes truly problematic at times of war; and this was very much prevalent during old times. It was men who used to take part in war. Some of them would die during wars and leave behind their widows and orphans. Such women have only two options in front of them: Either get married again or Live unmarried for the rest of the life. Qur’an is saying that a woman shall be protected and maintained by a man. If we go by that, then the lady should opt for first option. But, what if she opts for second choice? She should be ready to encounter another problem. It is natural for some people with bad minds to eye such a widow or a divorcee who is living all by herself and striving to help her children grow. Such people will try to exploit her in all possible ways. A woman, on one hand may be stronger than a man in some things, but generally a woman is physically not stronger than a man. She needs a companion (in form of husband) to protect her from evil eyes. Apart from that, also a thought should be given to the feelings of that woman. She also has some desires; she also needs someone to be with her; she needs someone for her physical needs; she needs someone to take care of her (emotionally, financially, physically etc). We cannot say that once a lady is divorced or a widow, she has no right to live a happy life (as was and still is the case in Hindu religion). There is a chance (however slightest) that a lady is being denied the option of re-marrying after death of her husband or after her divorce, she might opt for other hidden means to satisfy her needs. So, which status is better for a woman: An accepted & respected second wife of a man (the Qur’anic approach) Or A virtual public property (as in the modern civilized approach)? The pious ones will definitely opt for the first option.
A.2. As discussed above, we know that men and women have been created equal by Allah. They are equal, but definitely not identical. The nature is different; the responsibilities are different; the abilities are different. One of these differences is that men are more polygamous by nature. No one can help this; Allah has created the man (male) like this.
A.3. We might sometimes face situations in our lives which can be best solved by Polygamy. An example of such a situation is following: There is a married couple facing a repeated problem of wife being not able to conceive (due to reasons whatsoever); all medical treatments have been done; doctors have tried their best, but still the couple is not able to have a child. The modern world has found a solution to such cases in terms of finding out a Surrogate Mother. I have no doubts that in every manner, the man getting married to another woman and seeking Allah’s blessings in form of a child (i.e. Polygyny), is a far better option than surrogacy. Any doubts?
B. Reasons for prohibiting Polyandry:
B.1. Islam gives utmost importance to the fact that every individual should be identified by his / her father’s name.
ادْعُوهُمْ لآبَائِهِمْ هُوَ أَقْسَطُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ
“Call them by the name of their father; that is more just with Allah…”
(Aayah No. 5, Surah Al-Ahzab, Chapter No. 33, Holy Qur’an).
If a woman has more than one husband, then naturally she will have to sleep with more than one man. In such situation, if she becomes pregnant, it will be difficult to ascertain who the father of that to-be-born child is. Although some might say that modern science has made it possible to check by DNA tests about the actual father, yet tests are tests and are prone to error. It is not such a trivial issue that can be left to the jurisdiction of a laboratory.
B.2. Biologically, a woman having several husbands, will not find it possible to perform her duties as a wife. She undergoes several behavioural and psychological changes due to different phases of her menstrual cycle, which is not the case with a man.
These are some of the obvious reasons. Allah, in His Infinite Wisdom, may have many more other reasons for prohibiting Polyandry and allowing Polygyny.
Recommended approach for a Muslim:
- The approach of a Muslim male to this subject should be very cautious. It is clear that a man is allowed to marry up to four females at a time, but at the same time it should be ensured that the conditions laid down for the same are met. In no way should someone try to use it as a shield for satisfying his physical lust. Rather, this permission should be used to help widows, divorced ladies, orphan-girls etc, when we find that there is no other suitable male available for such ladies in need. Muslim brothers should ask themselves: Do they really mean to do it for Allah’s sake when they intend to marry for the second, third or fourth time; or is it just their crooked lust?
Who can be a better example to follow than our beloved Prophet (Muhammad, PBUH)?
- The approach of a Muslim female to this subject should be straightforward, normal and simple, as they would approach other issues of the religion. Allah has allowed him to do so, should be a reason enough for women to accept the fact that their husbands can marry up to four times. Questioning the legality of this act means questioning Allah. Who can dare do that? Instead, women should support their husbands to use this permission in Qur’an, in order they may go ahead and help the needy. Of course if they feel that their husbands are using it for shielding their lusty plans, then they may raise their concern and stand up to oppose it. But it should not be the case where a man wants to marry any widow or a divorcee or an orphan-girl, with a pious intention of obeying Allah and helping the needy, or in order to be blessed with a child, and then he finds stiff opposition from his existing wife. Muslim sisters should ask themselves: Who are they to prevent their husband from doing something which is allowed for them by Allah?
Lessons should be learned from the lives of Umm-ul-Mumineen.
It should be noted that in many Muslim societies, the practice of Polygamy is rare (or at least very less), because the gap between the numbers of both genders is not huge. However, it is equally worthy to note that number of extra-marital affairs in almost all parts of the world are much more and growing at a rapid pace. It is ironical that if a man marries for a second time legally with observance of all conditions, he is looked down upon; whereas, if the same man cheats on his wife and commits adultery in hiding, he is like a normal being to the society. Do we condemn Polygamy and advocate Extra-marital affairs?
And Allah knows best.
May Allah forgive me if I am wrong and guide us to the right path…Ameen.
سُبْحَانَ رَبِّكَ رَبِّ الْعِزَّةِ عَمَّا يَصِفُون َ ; وَسَلامٌ عَلَى الْمُرْسَلِينَ ; وَالْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ.