Why does Islam accept that one man can marry up to four women? Why polygamy is condoned in Islam? Isn’t polygamy a kind of oppression against women? This is a common question asked by non Muslims. This article shall highlight the concept of polygamy in Islam and answer this common question.
As was stated before when talking about equality between men and women, Islam takes into consideration the different nature between men and women. What distinguishes Islam is that it is a realistic religion, it doesn’t deal just with emotions but it gives practical solutions to the problems in life. When we look at polygamy, we find that despite it causes the wife to feel jealous on her husband and it may be difficult for her to accept it, we can see from the other side that polygamy solves many problems in the society. Polygamy has been common in the Old Testament among most of the prophets. This shall be shown later, and nowhere in the New Testament did it say that it is not ok to marry more than one wife except for the bishop and the deacon.
We find in Western countries that polygamy is illegal, while fornication and adultery are legal. The ultimate result for these laws is that people are generally driven towards the easy route, which is fornication as they shall not have any responsibilities and at the same time they shall fulfill their desire. We common see in the sex before marriage how a woman shall be affected if the man leaves her before marriage.
Polygamy gives a solution to the man if he is not satisfied with his wife for any reason, which may lead him to commit adultery. Here he has another option, where he shall not leave his wife but he shall marry another wife whom he shall be totally responsible for and he shall spend on her as his first wife. This shall reduce infidelities and adultery in the society, and at the same time this shall let the man look at his wives not as a property whom he shall commit adultery with for some time and then leave them without any responsibility, but as his wives and family who have their full rights and he is responsible for them.
Polygamy also gives another solution if the wife is infertile. If a man is keen on having a child, he can marry another woman whom he shall have a child from. One of these examples was what happened between Abraham (Peace be upon him) and Agar. Polygamy also helps poor and single women, who also need to have a husband who protects them and fulfills their desires.
Polygamy: Privilege or Responsibility?
Polygamy is not just a privilege a man has, but actually it increases his responsibilities. Instead of having one family and spending on one house, he now has 2 or 3 or 4 families and houses of whom he is responsible for taking care and spending on them. If he can’t fulfill this responsibility, then he shouldn’t marry more than what he can accommodate. That’s why not all men can marry more than a wife. Allah says in the Quran:
And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice]. (Holy Quran 4:3)
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ says:
When a man has two wives and he is inclined to one of them, he will come on the Day of resurrection with a side hanging down. (Abi Dawood)
Why Shouldn’t a Woman more than one Man?
But if a man is allowed to marry up to four women, why women are not allowed to marry up to four men? This is due to the difference in nature between a man and a woman. The fact is that a woman gets pregnant, has menstrual cycle and faces many psychological changes that make her unable to be fair among more than one man. This is not case of a man as he doesn’t pass through these changes. The other point is that men usually tend to be polygamists by nature unlike women. Women usually tend to feel satisfied if they have a husband and don’t have the desire to look at other men, and her desire usually declines much more than men especially after having children, while a man could be seduced much easier than a woman. The woman’s responsibilities against the children are much more than a man’s, that’s why she would need to care for children from different men which may be difficult for her to move from a house to another.
Polygamy in the Bible
Actually, there is no place in the Bible where it tells men not to marry more than one wife, on the contrary, we find that it was told in the Bible that some prophets had more than one wife, for example Abraham had Sarah and Hajar, then after Sarah died, he had Keturah and other concubines as mentioned in Genesis 25:1-6, Jacob had 2 wives 2 handmaids:
Genesis 32:22 And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two handmaids, and his eleven children, and passed over the ford of the Jabbok.
And unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his first-born was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; 3 and his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; 4 and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; 5 and the sixth, Ithream, of Eglah, David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron. (2 Samuel 3:2-5)
Other than Michal (2 Sa 6:23), Batheshba (2 Sa 11:26) and Abishag the Shunammite (1Ki 1:3) plus more than 10 concubines:
And the king went forth, and all his household after him. And the king left ten women, that were concubines, to keep the house. (2Samuel 15:16)
Also Solomon had 1000 women 700 concubines and 300 wives, as in 1Ki 11:1-11, and what the Bible condemned wasn’t having more than one woman, but that these women were disbelievers so they drove him (We Muslims totally reject that blasphemy that Solomon worshipped idols, he is innocent from this)
Actually the Old Testament clearly condones polygamy:
If a man have two wives, the one beloved, and the other hated, and they have borne him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the first-born son be hers that was hated; (Deuteronomy 21:15)
and I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added unto thee such and such things. (2Samuel 12:8)
So in conclusion, Islam is a realistic religion that deals with the problems of people and hence gives solutions. Islam doesn’t treat people as angels or ideal people, but God created man and knows his nature. So He is the one who knows what fits man, that’s why God doesn’t bear man what he can’t do.