1. Articles
  2. Refuting Misconceptions
  3. Polygyny in Islam & the Other Religions-By Jamal Mohammad Al-Zaki

Polygyny in Islam & the Other Religions-By Jamal Mohammad Al-Zaki

Under category : Refuting Misconceptions
44951 2008/07/02 2024/07/14
Article translated to : العربية Français Deutsch Español


refuting the doubts about polygyny in islam

the enemies of islam, the ill-hearted people and like have challenged the verses of the holy quran regarding the issue of polygyny as in the following verse: allah the almighty said: { marry such women as is good to you, two, three, four, (literally: in twos and threes and fours) }(1). the enemies of islam said that the holy quran has disregarded the woman, neglected her rights and returned her back to the traditions of the pre-islamic era.


before going through polygyny in islam and its purposes, we should answer this important question: is it islam which invented the polygyny? or was it available before islam? it is established, from the historical point of view, that polygyny is an old phenomenon known by the humanity since the old ages in all communities before islam:


torah & judaism : torah has permitted the jew to marry more than one woman and has not even put a limit for the number of wives; however, the talmud limited the number to four wives only under one condition that the husband should be able to support them. talmud stated: the husband may not marry more than four wives, as jacob – peace be upon him – did, unless the husband has sworn to do that in the first marriage. so, polygyny here is permissible if the husband would be able to support his wives. (2).


the book of genesis (sifr at-takueen) : jacob, peace upon him, has married: "(31) lee'a .. (24) rahil .. (25) one of rahil's slave girls … (26) and one of lee'a’s slave girls.." (3) therefore, he had four wives in the same time: two sisters i.e. lee'a and rahil, and their two slave girls.


the book of numbers (sifr al-adad) : dawood – peace be upon him, had several wives and many slave girls and his son sulaiman, - peace be upon him – had also the same: "as for sulaiman – peace be upon him – he had more than one thousand wives”. but the polygyny was abrogated under the civil laws stipulated by the jewish scholars and was adopted by the jewish assemblies; thereafter, it acquired the legal capacity. article 54 of the legal provisions of the israelis stipulated: "the man may not have more than one wife, and he should swear the oath not to marry again upon entering the contract" (6) therefore, the prohibition was not stipulated in torah, but from making the oath.


polygyny in the bible & christianity : at the beginning, christianity has sanctioned the polygyny as in judaism and the priests did not object on the same until the seventeenth century in which the prohibition began and was finally prescribed in 1750 under the pretext that monogamy will promote their rank – i.e. the rank of the priests – and that they will be devoted to the propagation so that the problems of women will not distract them from taking care of the church and its followers.


the prohibition took place gradually. first, it was prohibited on the priests only. thereafter, the church applied the religious rituals only on the first marriage of the people other than the priests; therefore, if the christian man wished to marry the second wife no religious rituals will be applied thereon. after that, monogamy was prescribed but it was allowed to have slave girls (7); however, this was also prevented in 970 a.d. under the order to patriarch ibram al-sorbani (8).


in that way the prohibition took place under the man-made laws and not the divine ones.. then, they began propagating for the celibacy which was found in christianity only and not in the other religions. they considered celibacy as a sign for the goodness of the soul and a reason to reach sacredness and rise in the ranks of believe or the ranks of the church. they considered the lust as a vice so the priests should not have this vice!! one of the justifications mentioned by "polis" in his propagation for celibacy was: (32) i want you to live without concerns. the one who does not marry will always be concerned in the affairs of the god (33) his goal is to please the god, but the one who married is concerned in the worldly matters and his goal is to please his wife (34) therefore, his concern is divided; moreover, the unmarried woman and the single one are concerned about the affairs of the god and their goal is to be sacred in body and soul" (9).


accordingly, they have perverted the wordings from their contexts; thus, their thoughts were destructive and their principles were wrong and cannot be agreeable by the sound minds and the pure natures. how can the progeny be found, or how the human beings multiply without a legal marriage? where is the love, mercy and the peace of mind? how to extinguish the instinctive lust which was put down in us by allah the almighty who guided us to the right way to discharge it? how can we find the marital home which is the fortified castle preventing from adultery and taking mates (girl friend/boy friend)? where shall the instinctive motherly passion go? where shall the instinctive fatherly passion go?...


polygyny in islam :

allah the almighty has legislated marriage for human beings - : { and allah has made for you of yourselves spouses }(10) - for honoring them, completing his blessings on them, purifying their hearts and bodies from the abomination, adultery and corruption and helping them in keeping their chastity, virtue, love, mercy, integrity and stability. marriage is the ever strong, deep, permanent and sincere relation between man and woman. this relation accommodates the reactions exchanged between man and woman, each according to his function; allah the almighty said: { he is the one who created you of one self, and made of it its spouse that he might serenely dwell with her }(11). this is the vision of islam to the truth of the human beings and their martial function. it is a comprehensive and true vision (12).


islam did not prescribe on people celibacy or monasticism: "allah the almighty has given us the true religion instead of the monasticism" (13). islam legislated marriage as a way to purity, chastity, and virtue; therefore, the prophet – peace be upon him – said: "he who wants to meet allah the almighty with purity and virtue he should marry freewomen" (14). the prophet – peace be upon him – also said "marriage is of my sunna – way of life – and everyone not applying my sunna will not be my follower; so, marry to enlarge your numbers (for the sake of allah and building the earth)" (15). he – peace be upon him – said also "any capable person should marry because marriage will protect his eyes from the prohibited glances and will protect his private parts from the prohibited actions…" (16). islam has also allowed "polygyny" if necessary and here are the grounds of polygyny:

first : islam did not invent the polygyny. polygyny was well-known and widely-spread in all communities. arab people in the pre-islamic era were practicing polygyny widely without paying any attention to any considerations.


second : islam has come in order to organize the affairs of people; therefore, it has interfered in order to organize the matter of the non-restricted polygyny, prevent the damages thereof, arrange it, and make it in conformity with the public welfare: allah the almighty said: { and, in case you fear that you will not act equitably towards the orphans, then marry such women as is good to you, two, three, four, (literally: in twos and threes and fours) }(17). after revealing this verse, the prophet – peace be upon him – ordered the persons who were having more than four wives to keep four only and release the others. al bukharai narrated in his book "al-adab al-mufrad" that the companion ghailan – may allah be pleased with him – has embraced islam and was having ten wives, so the prophet – peace be upon him – told him "choose four of them only" (18). abu dawood narrated that omairah alasadi said: i embraced islam and was having eight wives, so i informed the prophet – peace be upon him – about this, he said: "choose four of them only" (19). moreover, al-shafie narrated in his book –al-musnad-   that nawful bin mo'awiah al dulaimi said: i embraced islam and was having five wives but the prophet – peace be upon him – told me: "choose four of them and release the other" therefore, i released the oldest of them as she was sterile since sixty years (20). so, before islam, polygyny was not restricted and was not having any limits or conditions but after islam polygyny was restricted with four wives only.


third : islam did not leave polygyny to the fancy of the men, but it has restricted polygyny with "justice"; otherwise, this option – polygyny - will not apply. islam mentioned two kinds of justice:


1-: obligatory justice : it means the justice in treatment, maintenance, intimacy and all the other external aspects of justice in a way not to deprive any of the wives from such things and not to prefer any of them more than others as stipulated in the following verse: { in case you fear that you will not do justice, then one (only) } (21). the prophet – peace be upon him – said "any person having two wives and does not treat them equally & justly, then he will come at the day of judgment with his body not straight" (22). muslim narrated that abdullah bin amr bin al-aas stated that the prophet – peace be upon him – said: "the believers who are just in their judgments, just in treating their families and just in governing their people will sit down on bright platforms to the right of allah the almighty whose both hands are right" (23).


2-: justice in emotion : the justice in emotions and affection is something falling beyond the control of people and it is not required from them. this kind is mentioned in this verse: { and you will never be able to do justice between (your) wives, (literally: women) even if you are (so) eager; yet do not incline away completely (literally: incline away all inclining) (from one), so that you leave her (behind) as if she were suspended }(24).


however, this kind does not mean to wrong any wife. if the heart liked one wife more than the other, then there should be other space in the heart to accommodate the other in a way not to incline away completely from one of them and leave the other behind as if she were suspended or not married. lady aisha – may allah be pleased with her – the wife of the prophet – peace be upon him- was having a special position in the heart of the prophet – peace be upon him – who was giving her a special love, yet the prophet – peace be upon him – said: "o my lord, i am treating my wives justly in the external sense which i can control, o my lord do not blame me for the internal sense (the heart) which is under your control not mine".(25).


therefore, the later verse does not prohibit the polygyny mentioned in the former verse, because the justice required under the first verse is the material one while the justice mentioned in the second verse is not to incline away completely from any of his wives because the emotions of the heart are not under the control of the man but under the control of allah the almighty who turns them as he wants; therefore, the prophet – peace be upon him – said "o my lord who turns the hearts as he wants, make my heart firmed on your religion". accordingly, if any person was not sure of achieving the just treatment in the external sense he should not marry more than one wife because allah the almighty said { in case you fear that you will not do justice, then one (only);(that means marry one only) }. the purpose of that is to avoid injustice and unfairness, allah the almighty said { that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice }.


fourth : the purposes of polygyny, subject to the regulations thereof, are the following (but allah the almighty knows best the purposes thereof):


1- the purpose of polygyny is not the satisfaction of the animal lusts or going from one woman to another, but it is a necessary solution for several problems. islam is focusing on finding the right solutions to all problems and it did not left any problems without prescribing the right solution thereto.


2- if we suppose that we have two systems – as mentioned by dr. mahmoud amarah – one of them allowing polygyny, prohibiting all the other forbidden relations between the two sexes and imposing a severe punishment on those who transgress the honor and commit adultery, while the other system prohibiting polygyny, allowing the forbidden relations between the two sexes and does not punish the transgressors in this regard… therefore, if polygyny was to be allowed, then the first system is more suitable because it respects the humanity of the woman, her rights and children. (27)


3- islam is looking to the society – the individual and society – from the point of view of giving the priority to the welfare of society rather than the welfare of the individual in order to avoid the blights and achieve the benefits for all. on the light of this, we can say that there are seven cases necessitate polygyny: special cases related to the divorced woman, widowed woman, spinster, sterile woman in addition to special cases related to the man, war conditions and laws of allah the almighty in the universe. (28)


the special cases of woman

- the divorced woman, widowed woman and the spinsters are all confronting the ghost of deprivation because few numbers of people are interested in marrying them; therefore, they are living in suppression and conflict with the natural instincts; accordingly, they are in front of two options:

either to approach the ways of seduction and deviation from morals, or to be wives for married men; being the second, third or the fourth wife. therefore, the polygyny is the most suitable, effective and sole solution to keep woman away from corruption and deviation and maintain their dignity and honor.


- the sterile woman and the natural desire of the husband to have children: in this case, the husband has two options: either to divorce her in order to marry another one for the purpose of having children or to marry another one without divorcing the first one.


the second option is surely the reasonable and effective solution which prevents divorce and keeps the dignity of the sterile wife. not only this, the sterile wife will find sociability and intimacy in the children of the other wife; therefore she can compensate sterility" (29) { thus allah creates whatever he decides } (30).


as for the special cases of the man

- some men have strong desire and they cannot control their desires and one woman will not be enough, either because the weakness of her body in a way which cannot be treated or because of her old age.. then, should he suppress his desire and prevent his instinctive activity? or should he have the permission to commit adultery with any woman? isn't it better to permit him to have another wife in addition to the first one?.. the third solution is the most reasonable and straightforward solution to meet the requirements of the instinct and preserve the islamic morals and it is the most effective way to protect the dignity and the company of the first wife.


- there are other cases in which the number of women exceeded the number of men – as in the case of wars and diseases. it is a case of clear social disorder; so, how can the legislator confront this matter and find a solution for the welfare of the man and the woman and for the whole human beings? there is only one solution out of three:


the first solution:

each man will marry one woman but the other one or two women – according to the percentage – will remain deprived along their life from having a husband, marital house, child or family.


the second solution:

each man will marry one woman as a wife and doing illegal relations with other women without having any marital house. the children coming out of such adultery will suffer total loss.


the third solution:

each man will marry more than one woman and make them experience the marital life, having a real house, a family and children; this will release the man from vices, sins and offenses and will protect the society from the disorder, losing the parentage and the dirty of vices & offenses.


what is the most effective and suitable solution for the human beings? what is the most suitable solution to the manhood of the man and the womanhood of the woman? (31).


the answer:

there is no need to think too much. the third solution is the right one. this solution will not only satisfy women willfully and freely, but will also make them request and encourage it. the women in germany requested polygyny because of the death of the youth in the world war and their desire to protect themselves from approaching the adultery and to save their children from the illegality. therefore, the international youth conference in munich , germany has recommended the polygyny as a solution to the large number of women and less number of men after the second world war. (32).



by organizing the matter of polygyny and making it conditional on "justice", islam did not impose it on the woman and did not oblige her to accept it. the woman – whether married before or not – has the full freedom to reject or accept anyone wishing to marry her. the guardian is not entitled to oblige her to anything not desired by her. the prophet – peace be upon him – said: "marriage will not be valid except after taking the explicit approval, if the woman is not virgin, and after taking the implicit approval, if the woman is virgin" (33).


once, a girl complained to the prophet – peace be upon him – because her father obliged her to marry her cousin in spite of her will. that girl said to aisha – may allah be pleased with her: my father obliged me to marry my cousin in spite of my will. aisha – may allah be pleased with her – said: sit down until the prophet – peace be upon him – comes. then she told the prophet – peace be upon him – who in turn invited her father and authorized her to choose what she wants, but she said: "o prophet of allah, i have accepted the action of my father, but i just wanted to teach women this matter" (34).



islam has allowed polygyny – as mentioned before – as a solution for several problems and made it conditional on achieving "justice". the islamic sharia allowed marriage to handle several emergency cases and to solve several social problems in order to protect the whole society. however, polygyny is not widely-spread in a way to disturb women or motivate the ill-hearted people to challenge the holy quran.


some non-muslim just people thought deeply in the matter and came up with the same positive points of polygyny. etienne dinet – in his book "mohammad the prophet of allah – said: "the theory of monogamy adopted by the christianity involved several disadvantages and resulted in three serious & dangerous consequences on society; prostitution, spinsters and the illegal sons. these social diseases and bad morals were not known in the countries which applied the islamic sharia completely, but these things – the above mentioned three consequences – entered and spread therein after contacting the western urban culture" (35).


here is also an english female writer – london truth newspapers – stated: my heart is torn out of sorrow for the women, who have no husbands, but my sorrow is useless even if all people did like me; there is no solution for this tragic problem except by allowing the man to marry more than one woman. by this, this blight will go away and our daughters will have marital homes. the most dangerous catastrophe is to oblige the european man to marry one woman only…" (36).


therefore, the society which closes the door in front of the woman and prevent her from having a legal relationship – under the pretext of liberty and giving the rights – will lead her to the way of vices and lusts and will make her a toy for everyone. where are then the rights they are calling for? where is the dignity of the woman? allah the almighty was right by saying: { and bring them their rewards with beneficence, as (women) in wedlock, other than in fornication or taking mates to themselves } but it seems that the west is saying: { drive out the followers of lut from your city: these are indeed men who want to be clean and pure } (37)




(1)                 an-nisa 3

(2)                 woman position in judaism, christianity & islam, al-liwa' ahmad abdul wahhab, page 150, ministry of endowments. talmud: it is the second book which jewish allege that it includes the oral teachings of moses – peace be upon him – and consider it as more important than the torah itself.

(3)                 (the book of genesis 35:23-26)

(4)                 (the book of the numbers 3:30 ).

(5)                 (al-qozat "the judges"8:3-31) about: woman in judaism, christianity & islam by zaki abu adha, page 284-286.

(6)                 woman position in the judaist religion by mr. mohammad ashor, page 11. his reference is: the israeli religious thinking by dr. hasan dada.

(7)                 marrying slave girl: taking one of the slave girls as a wife without making a marriage contract, just like a right due from the slave girl toward her lord.

(8)                 reference:   woman in judaism, christianity & islam by zaki abu adha, page 291-293.

(9)                 (cornith 7: 32 -34) about: woman in judaism, christianity & islam by zaki abu adha, page 304.

(10)             an-nahl 72

(11)             al-araf 189

(12)             reference: the woman in the holy quran, by sayed qotb, prepared by ikasha abdul mannan, page 19.

(13)             narrated by al-baihaqi from the tradition of saad bin abi waqqas.

(14)             narrated by ibn majah in marriage book, tradition no. 1862.

(15)             narrated by ibn majah in marriage book, tradition no. 1846.

(16)             narrated by an-nassai, tradition no. 2242, and ahmad in his "musnad" (1/58).

(17)             an-nissa 3

(18)             narrated by al-bukhari in his book "al-adab almufrad", tradition no. 256. narrated also by ibn majah in marriage book, and also narrated by ahmad in his "musnad" (2/13, 14).

(19)             narrated by abu dawood, tradition no. 2241, and narrated also by ibn majah 1952.

(20)             narrated by al-shafe'i in "marriage book" volume 2/19.

(21)             al-nissa 3

(22)             narrated by: al nassa'i – tradition no. 3942, al tirmithi – tradition no. 1141, ibn majah – tradition no. 1969, al-darami – tradition no. 2206, and ahmad, tradition 8363, 9740.

Previous article Next article
Supporting Prophet Muhammad websiteIt's a beautiful day