Polygamy: Norm or Exception?


I had previously understood that polygamy is allowed in Islam. Recently, however, I was informed that Islam is in fact against polygamy, yet still there are some that say polygamy is the right of man and is the norm and not the exception. What is your opinion on this matter?


In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

Dear brother in Islam, we would like to thank you for your question and the great confidence you place in us. May Allah reward you abundantly for your interest in knowing the teachings of Islam!

As regards the issue you raised, the European Council for Fatwa and Research issued the following Fatwa:

“There is a consensus amongst Muslims, historically and currently, that polygamy is permissible, and that it is not allowed for a Muslim to have more than four wives at any one time. Further, that if a Muslim has two or more wives he should practice equality of provision and abode amongst them. For Allah Almighty says: “…marry women of your choice two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them) then only one or (a captive) that your right hands possess. That will be more suitable to prevent you from doing injustice.” (An-Nisa’: 3)

We know of no clear evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah, which encourages the Muslim to either keep to one wife, or to polygamy. However, it has been narrated that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Whosoever had two wives and treats one of them more favorably than the other will come on the Day of Judgment bent to one side.” (Reported by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, An-Nasa’i and Ibn Majah) This hadith warns against polygamy should the man not be able to practice equality amongst his wives.”


Why Polygamy Is Allowed in Islam?


Respected scholars, as-salamu `alaykum. In Islam, it is said that men and women are given equal status and rights. But I do feel that women have not received equal status and rights as that of men. Islam permits polygamy for men. At times of need polygamy is permitted. Can it be accepted by women? But sometimes a man has no need to remarry and still he remarries another woman in spite of the unwillingness of his wife, for he is attracted towards the other woman’s beauty. Is this permitted in Islam, as the wife might be hurt a lot? I also have seen many women hurt for their husband’s remarrying when there is no need. Islam teaches men to be kind, polite towards their wives and also not to hurt them. But does Islam permit men to hurt their wives when it is the case of polygamy? Did Allah create man in a way that he cannot be loyal to his only wife? Jazakum Allahu khayran.


Wa`alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

Dear sister in Islam, we would like to thank you for the great confidence you place in us, and we implore Allah Almighty to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.

There is an age-old consensus among Muslims that concludes that polygamy is permissible. The condition which Islam lays down for permitting a man to have more than one wife is that he has confidence on his part that he will be able to deal equitably with his wives in the matter of providing food, housing, clothing, and expenses, and that he will also be able to divide his time between them. Any man who doubts that he will be able to fulfill all these obligations with justice and equality would be prohibited by Allah Almighty from marrying more than one woman. Further, a Muslim is prohibited to abuse this right. For Muslims living in non-Muslim lands, polygamy may not be practiced if it is illegal in a person’s country of residence. So a Muslim living in those countries has to abide by such laws and not to violate them as long as he resides in that country.

In his response to your question, Sheikh Muhammad Nur Abdullah, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and member of the Fiqh Council of North America, states the following:

The relationship between a husband and wife is based on ma`roof or kindness, compassion, and mercy. Both husband and wife are supposed to work at pleasing each other and dealing kindly towards each other.When it comes to the rights of both men and women in Islam, we should believe that Almighty Allah is the JUST and the WISE. So He only gives people what is good for them and only demands what is for their interest and common good. The problem is that we sometimes look very selfishly and try to have all the good for ourselves without looking at the society at large.As for polygamy, it is allowed in Islam. It is to be used for the purposes for which it is permitted and not to be abused in any case. It is true that Allah permits the man to marry four wives, but if we think in neutral terms and try to investigate the benefit of that without thinking only of our own interests, we will find the wisdom and significance of polygamy.For example, if a wife puts herself in the shoes of a widow who does not have anyone to care for or look after her, and thinks sincerely of a solution to her problem, she will find that she would love to be a second wife rather than to stay as a widow and continue to suffer the problems in raising children and having the same life as her peers do. So there is always wisdom behind polygamy.

As for hurting the feelings of the first wife, I personally believe that a husband should discuss this issue with his wife and they should both reach a reasonable agreement. If the wife finds herself unable to accept her husband taking another wife, she has every right to demand divorce and to get her rights fully and separate in kindness. But if she thinks reasonably and not emotionally and weighs the pros and cons of being divorced or of being a cowife, she would be able to reach a better conclusion to save her family life and marriage.

This does not mean men are allowed to abuse the practice of polygamy. It is only allowed for whoever is able to treat all wives equally and fairly. If he cannot be just and fair, it would be forbidden to take another wife.


Polygamy – Pt 11 (End)

2- The right of the person in authority to prevent what is allowed

As to the claim that the person in authority has the right to prevent some of what is allowed, we have the following to say: what the Law has given to the person in authority is the right to limit some of what is permitted for a weighty interest at some times, or in some cases, or for certain people. He should not generally or utterly prevent it forever because that would be like forbidding, which is only Allah’s right, denied by the Qur’an to the People of the Book. “They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah by obeying them in things which they made lawful or unlawful according to their own desires without being ordered by Allah”. [Surah 9:31] The Hadith came to interpret the verse, “They allowed for them and forbade them and thus followed them”. [ Transmitted by Al-Termithy on the authority of Adeyy ibn Hatim in the interpretation sections (3095) and by lbn Jarir in his interpretation section (16631). Al-Termithy said this Hadith is ghareeb (i.e., it has only one transmitter), but in the section about Hudhaifa, it is mauqf (i.e., it was narrated by the Companions, not by the Prophet [blessings and peace be upon him]) and transmitted by Al-Tabary (16634).] To limit what is allowed is like preventing the slaughter of animals on certain days to lessen their consumption, as happened at the time of `Umar, may Allah be pleased with him; or like preventing excess cultivation of a certain crop so cultivation space will not encroach upon the space attributed to growing grains and other nutritious crops that are staple foods for the people. It is also similar to preventing the highest ranks of military officers or diplomats from marrying foreigners for fear of leaking state secrets through women to the enemies. It is also like preventing men from marrying a Christian or a Jew out of fear that it would affect Muslim women, especially in the communities that have small Islamic minorities and limited Muslim expatriates. But to come to something allowed by Allah in His Book and mentioned by His Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), established in the state, such as divorce or polygamy, and to prevent it utterly and forever is considered something different from limiting what is allowed according to the examples given. The meaning of You will never be able to do perfect justice between wives. [Surah 4:129] As to the illustration from the Glorious Qur’an, it is wholly rejected. It is a corruption of the order of words and carries within it an accusation against the Prophet Mohammed (greetings and peace be upon him) and his companions (may Allah be pleased with them), implying they did not understand the Qur’an, or maybe that they did but intentionally deviated from its precept. The verse quoted to illustrate the point also gives an answer if the meaning is perused; Almighty Allah has allowed polygamy on the condition of fairness, then highlights the fairness needed in the same chapter when He says: ” 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 (by giving her more of your time and provision) so as to leave the other hanging (i.e. neither divorced nor married)”. [Surah 4:129] This verse indicates that complete and absolute justice between women is impossible due to the nature of the human being because complete justice requires equity between them in everything, even in the inclination of the heart and in sexual desire, and that cannot be controlled by the man. He may love one more than the other, incline towards one more than another. Hearts are controlled and turned by Allah in the way He likes. Therefore, the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) used to say after dividing between his women the apparent affairs of maintenance, clothing and spending nights, “Allah, that is my division as it is in my power to do so. So not blame me for what You have and I have not”. [ Transmitted by Abu Dawud (2134), Al-Termithy (1140), Ibn Majah (1971) Al-Doramy Book of Marriage p.154; and Ahmad 61144 on the authority of – isha] He meant the heart’s inclination. It is this inclination in which one cannot be fair that Allah has pardoned, as the Almighty does not rebuke man for something beyond his ability when it is not in his power to do it. Therefore the noble verse says: “You will never be able to do pefect justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire, so do not incline too much to one of them (by giving her more of your time and provision) so as to leave the other suspended (i.e. neither divorced nor married)”. [Surah 4:129] What is understood from this verse is that some inclination, which is the emotional inclination, is forgivable. The amazing thing is that some Arab countries adopt the forbiddance of polygamy, though in their legislation they do not forbid adultery, except in certain cases when one is forced (rape), or in the case of the woman’s marital infidelity if the husband does not drop the charge. Adultery is described by Allah as a great sin: “And come not near to the unlawful sexual intercourse. Verily, it is a fahshah (a great sin), and an evil way”. [Surah 17:32] I came to know through the great Imam Sheikh `Abd Al Haleem Mahmud, may Allah have mercy on his soul, that a Muslim living in an African-Arab country which had laws against polygamy secretly married another wife through a legitimate conventional contract, abiding by all its conditions except that it was not authenticated. This is because the country’s established law refused to authenticate or admit it and considered such a marriage a crime for which he would have to be punished. The man used to frequent the house of his (second) wife, so the police watched him and came to assume that she was his wife and that he had committed an offence against the law. One night they waited for him, arrested him at his wife’s place and took him to court accusing him of marrying a second wife. The man was clever and asked those interrogating him, “But who told you she is my wife? She is not a wife. She is a mistress whom I took as a companion and I call on from time to time ” The interrogators were taken aback and told the man very politely, “We are awfully sorry for the misunderstanding. We thought she was a wife and did not know she was a companion.” Thereupon, they released him because, to them, to have the illicit company of a woman as a mistress to commit adultery with is considered within the framework of personal freedom protected by the law.

This article Polygamy (Pt. 1 – pt. 11) was extracted from the book “The Status of Women in Islam” by Prof. Dr. Yusof Al-Qaradawy.


Polygamy – Pt 10

1- Islamic Law does not allow something whose evil outweighs its good

The claim that polygamy has caused social and familial corruption and detriment is an open fallacy; Islamic Law cannot permit something which will do harm; likewise, it does not forbid something of benefit. This is expressed in the Qur’an in the most eloquent and comprehensive phrases with the description of the Messenger (blessings and peace be upon him), and addressing the people of the Book (i.e., the Jews and Christians). “He commands them for Al-Ma’ruf (i.e. islamic Monotheism and all that Islam has ordained); and forbids them from Al-Munkar (i.e.disbelief polytheism of all kinds, and all that Islam has forbidden); he allows them as lawful At-Tayyibat [(all i.e. good and lawful) as regards things deeds, beliefs, persons, foods etc] , and prohibits them as unlawful Al-Khabaith (all i.e. evil and unlawful as regards things, deeds, beliefs, persons, foods etc.), he releases them from their heavy burdens (of Allah’s Covenant), and from the fetters (bindings) that were upon them. [Surah 7: 157] All that is permitted by Islamic Law has pure benefit or benefits which outweigh harm. All that is forbidden by Islamic Law must have pure harm or the harms must outweigh the benefits. This is clear in what is said in the Qur’an about alcohol and gambling: Say, “In them is great sin, and (some) benefit for men, but the sin of them is greater than their benefit”. [Surah 7:219] This is also what Islamic Law has provided for in polygamy, as it balances interests and corrupting matters, benefits and harms. It permits what the individual needs and is able to do as long as he is sure of his fairness, and is not afraid of being unjust or having a greater inclination towards one of them: “but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one”. [Surah 4:3] It may be in the interest of the first wife to be the sole one on the throne of marriage without any rivals, and she sees that she will be harmed by the presence of another wife; but it is also in the interest of the husband to marry another to protect him from illicit relationships or bring him an awaited-for child, etc.; moreover it may also be in the interest of the second wife to have someone take care of her. To have half a husband, to live under his protection and be in his charge may be better than living as a spinster, widow or divorcee, in deprivation. It is also in the interest of society to protect its men and women by legitimate marriage-in which each of them bears the responsibility for himself or herself and the spouse and for what Allah may give them of children-that is, instead of promiscuity, allowing the multiplicity of mistresses, which is immoral and inhuman, and in which each has the pleasure of a companion without any responsibility for what follows, even if a child is born of that illicit relationship. In turn, the child is then considered a wild plant without a father to belong to, or a family to give him love and compassion or a heredity to cherish. Which harms should be avoided then? On the other hand, Islamic Law has reserved the first wife’s right to equity between herself and the second wife concerning maintenance, housing, clothing and staying at her place. That is the equity put as a condition for polygamy. It is true that some husbands do not observe the justice commanded by Allah, but the misapplication does not mean the basic principle should be cancelled; otherwise the whole of Islamic Law and all other laws would be abolished. Adherence of the law should be enforced.  

Polygamy – Pt 9

The basis on which those who call for rejection of

polygamy rely


Such advocates have succeeded in some Arab and Islamic countries, and laws have been issued forbidding what God has ordained and made lawful, thus allowing the laws of the West. There are still others who call for these changes in other countries. The incredible thing in this case is they want to justify their system of polygamy in the name of Islamic Law and have proofs in the form of jurisprudence. They have objected it is the right of the person in authority to prevent what is allowed when it is in the interest of the people, or to avoid harm. Such a pretext is unacceptable by Islamic Law. Some have even gone so far as to attempt, in a rude and audacious way, to use the Qur’an to justify their claims. The Qur’an has put a condition for the man who marries more than one to be sure of his fair treatment of the two (or more) wives, and whoever is afraid of not being fair should keep only one. Allah says: “And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphan-girls, then many (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”. [Surah 4:3] This is the Qur’an’s condition for polygamy-fairness. However, the Quran, they claim, has clarified in another verse in the same Surah that the conditioned fairness is not possible, in the verse: “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 (by giving her more of your time and provision)”. [Surah 4:129] Therefore, it is claimed, this verse has negated the previous one. In fact, all the evidence which is being used is false and cannot stand sound criticism. Each will be discussed.  

Polygamy – Pt 8

The call of westernized people to forbid polygamy

Unfortunately, some people calling for Westernisation in our Arab and Islamic countries have made use of what has happened because of the Muslims who transgress; they raise their voices asking for polygamy to be abolished completely. Day and night the disadvantages of polygamy are reiterated while silence is kept about the disadvantages of adultery and fornication, which is, unfortunately, allowed by local laws which rule over Muslim states nowadays. The mass media, especially films and serials, have played a serious role in spreading repulsive feelings toward polygamy, among women in particular, so that some of them would tolerate the husband when he commits adultery but not when he marries another.

Polygamy -Pt 7

The abuse of the license of polygamy

We do not deny that many Muslims have abused the license of polygamy as decreed by Allah in the same way they have abused the license of divorce, as explained earlier. The failure is not in the Law itself but in the application due to misunderstanding, ill manners, or lack of the teachings of the religion. We have seen some men marry more than one when the man is not certain of his fairness, which is a condition set by Allah for marrying another. Some of them marry more than one when they are unable to sustain both nor, in addition, what follows the marriage, i.e. children and responsibilities. Some men are able to sustain more but are unable to protect them. Frequently, the abuse of this right leads to harmful consequences for the family as a result of pampering the new wife and treating the old one unfairly. He could totally end his inclination towards her until she is left hanging in the air, so to speak, neither married nor divorced. This frequently leads to envy among children who belong to one father because he is not fair to them in their rights, nor does he treat them equally in moral and financial dealings.  Whatever the transgression of some people in that realm, it will never reach the evil to which the Westerners have lowered themselves by considering the moral polygamy a crime while allowing the immoral promiscuity. (However, polygamy is longer a problem in most Muslim societies, as marriage to one woman has now become a great problem.)

Polygamy – Pt 6

The Western system of promiscuity is immoral and inhuman

How different the Islamic system is from the actual promiscuity in the life of the Western society! One Western writer insisted that no one on his death-bed could confess to the priest that he had not had intercourse with a woman (other than his wife) at least once in his life-time. This promiscuity of the West is without a law; moreover, it occurs while the law stands by. It does not happen in the name of wives, but in the name of friendships and mistresses. It is not limited to only four, but is unlimited. It is not announced in order to be celebrated by the family, but happens secretly without anyone knowing about it. In addition, it does not commit the doer to any financial responsibility towards the women he has intercourse with. Suffice it for him to tarnish their honour and then leave them to scandal and poverty and to endure the troubles of pregnancy and delivery. Besides, he is not committed to recognise the children begotten as the outcome of the intercourse. They are considered illegitimate, bearing the stigma of being bastard children as long as they live. It is a legal promiscuity, but it is not called “polygamy”. It is void of any moral behaviour, awakening of sensibility or human feeling. It is a promiscuity directed by lust and selfishness which flees from any responsibility. Which of the two systems then is closer to morality, more allaying to lust, more honourable to women, more denotative of progress and more righteous to humanity?   [ See Women Between Jurisprudence and Law (Al-Mara’ah baina al-Fiquh wal-Qann) by Dr Mustafa El-Sibai. See also The Liberation of Woman in the Period of the Messenger (Tahrir al-Mara’ah fe Asr Al-Resalah) by Abd Al-Haleem Abu Shaqqah, fifth part.]

Polygamy – Pt 5

Polygamy as a moral, human system

The system of polygamy according to Islamic Law is a moral, human system. It is moral because it does not allow man to have intercourse with any woman he wishes, at any time he likes. He is not allowed to have intercourse with more than three women in addition to his (first) wife, and he cannot do that secretly, but must proceed with a contract and announce it, even among a limited audience. The people in charge of the woman should know about this lawful intercourse and agree to it or at least should not object to it. It should be registered-according to the modern system-in a specialised court for marriage contracts. It is desirable to have a special dinner for the occasion in which the man invites his friends. Dufoof (hand drums) may be played to express utmost joy and hospitality.

It is human because through it a man lessens the burdens of the community by sheltering a woman who has no husband and transforms her to a chosen, protected wife. It is also human because he justifies his sexual intercourse based on a legal marriage for which the bridegroom provides a dower, furniture and expenses. Also of social benefit is the establishment of a social unit (family) capable of producing working progeny. It is also human because he is not only responsible for the woman with whom he has intercourse, but he is responsible when she suffers from the troubles of pregnancy. He does not leave her to bear it alone, but he bears a part of it by paying for her sustenance and expenses during her pregnancy and for her delivery. It is also that he recognizes the children begotten through sexual intercourse and presents them to the society as the fruits of a noble and honourable love, which are cherished by him and will be by the society in the future.

Dr Mustafa El-Siba’i, may Allah have mercy on him, said of the system of polygamy, “Man distributes and lessens his lust to a certain extent, but he multiplies his burdens, troubles and responsibilities to an unlimited extent.” Certainty, it is a moral system protecting morals, and it is a human system honouring mankind.

Polygamy – Pt 4

Fairness is a condition of polygamy

As for the condition set forth by Islam for polygamy, it is the self-confidence of the Muslim to be fair in his treatment to his two wives in food, drink, clothing, housing and sustenance. If one is not sure of his ability to fulfil such duties equitably and fairly, he is forbidden to marry more than one wife. Allah says: ” But if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one”. [Surah 4:3] The Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) said, “Whoever has two wives and is more inclined towards one of them, he will come on the Day of Judgement dragging one of his sides while it is drooping”. [ Transmitted by Abu Dawud – his own wording (3133), Al-Termithy (1141), Al-Nisa’i, 7/63, Ibn Majah (1969), Al-Doramy p.539, and Ahmad, 2/347, 471. All on the authority of Abu Huraira.] The inclination which the Hadith warns us of takes place when he overlooks her rights and not when he merely inclines in feelings toward her, which is part of the equity that is not possible and which is forgiven by Allah. The Almighty says: ” 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 (by giving her more of your time and provision)”. [Surah 4:129] For this reason, the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) used to divide equitably between his wives and say, “Allah, that is my division as it is in my power to do so. Do not blame me for what You have and I have not. [ Transmitted by Abu Dawud (2134), Al-Termithy (1140), Ibn Majah (1971), Al-Doramy Book of Marriage p.540, and Ahmad 6/144 on the authority of isha.] By what he had not got , he meant feelings and inclination towards one of them in particular. Whenever he used to travel, he turned to drawing lots; the one whose arrow appeared would accompany him. He resorted to that in order to avoid jealousy and to satisfy them all. Islam is the last word of Allah by which all His messages are concluded (sealed). Therefore, it came with a general and eternal Law to embrace all nations, all ages and all people. Islam has not made laws for the urban while overlooking the rural, nor for the cold regions and not the hot ones, or vice versa; nor for a certain age while ignoring the rest of the ages and the other generations. Islam appreciates the importance of individuals as well as communities. A man could have a strong desire to have children but find him self married to a wife who is childless because of infertility or illness, or any other reason. Would it not be more respectable and better for her if he married another to realise his wish while at the same time keeping the first and ensuring her rights? Some men are more sexual and lusty, but one could be married to a wife who has little desire for men, or who is ill or has a long period of menstruation or whatever. She does not satisfy the desire of his instinct nor fill his lustful eyes that seek other women. Would he not be allowed to marry another in a lawful manner instead of seeking another as a mistress, or instead of divorcing the first one? In addition, the number of eligible women for marriage might be more than the men able to marry, especially after wars that deplete the best of men and youth. It might be in the interest of the society and the women themselves who would prefer being second wives than living as spinsters all their lives, deprived of married life and what it has of quietude, love and protection, deprived of the bliss of the motherhood their instincts call for. There are only three ways for these surplus women:

1 – to spend their whole life feeling the bitterness of deprivation of married life and of motherhood, which is a severe punishment for them as they did not commit any crime.

2- or give them some freedom to follow their instincts and accept the means of pleasure with corrupt men who, after satisfying their desires, cast them away when their bloom and youth are gone. This is in addition to what might happen afterwards of begetting illegitimate children, increasing the number of fatherless children deprived of physical and psychological rights who become unproductive citizens and tools of destruction and corruption.

3- or to allow them each to marry a married man who is able to sustain and protect her, confident of his fairness as Allah Almighty has commanded.

Doubtless, this last alternative is the ideal, fair solution and a curing balm. That is what Islam has decreed: “And who is better in judgement than Allah for a people who have firm Faith”. [Surah 5:50]