Polygamy is considered one of the most sensitive issues in Islam. For ages some fanatics used polygamy as a proof against Islam without even trying to read about how Islam dealt with this issue and what limitations did Islam put for it.
Adding to that is the irresponsible attitude of some Muslims who either deliberately or due to ignorance misused this right hence giving fanatics what they thought to be the chance to attack Islam.
To describe the case let us first understand what is Polygamy. It is in fact the right of a man to marry more than one woman simultaneously.
Let us first organize our thinking and discuss the issue accurately.
First : Polygamy in other religions:
The Quran is the only religious book, on the face of this earth, that contains the phrase ‘marry only one’. There is no other religious book that instructs men to have only one wife. In none of the other religious scriptures, whether it be the Vedas, the Ramayan, the Mahabharat, the Geeta, the Talmud or the Bible does one find a restriction on the number of wives. According to these scriptures one can marry as many as one wishes. It was only later, that the Hindu priests and the Christian Church restricted the number of wives to one.
Many Hindu religious personalities, according to their scriptures, had multiple wives. King Dashrat, the father of Rama, had more than one wife. Krishna had several wives.
In earlier times, Christian men were permitted as many wives as they wished, since the Bible puts no restriction on the number of wives. It was only a few centuries ago that the Church restricted the number of wives to one.
Polygamy is permitted in Judaism. According to Talmudic law, Abraham had two wives, and Solomon had hundreds of wives. King Solomon (peace be upon him) is said to have had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. David (Dawood) had ninety-nine and Jacob (Yacub, peace be upon them both) had four. Advice given by some Jewish wise men state that no man should marry more than four wives.
The practice of polygamy continued till Rabbi Gershom ben Yehudah (960 C.E to 1030 C.E) issued an edict against it. The Jewish Sephardic communities living in Muslim countries continued the practice till as late as 1950, until an Act of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel extended the ban on marrying more than one wife.
As recently as the seventeenth century, polygamy was practiced and accepted by the Christian Church. The Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) has allowed and practiced polygamy in the United States. Actually there are three kinds of polygamy practiced in Western societies:
(1) Serial polygamy, that is, marriage, divorce, marriage, divorce, and so on any number of times.
(2) A man married to one woman but having and supporting one or more mistresses.
(3) An unmarried man having a number of mistresses.
Islam discourages the first and forbids the other two.
Second : Why did Islam allow Polygamy
Wars cause the number of women to greatly exceed the number of men. The continuous battles against the Muslims were very costly in terms of Muslim men's lives. The women had to be taken care of one way or another. For this reason, Allah Almighty had revealed the Noble Verse 4:3 to Muhammad, peace be upon him, to solve the social problems that the Muslims were facing. That is why at the very beginning of the Noble Verse (from surah Al-Nisaa:3) we see Allah Almighty setting a conditional clause for Orphans “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, 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..”
This Noble Verse came down for the purpose of protecting the Orphans and to increase the number of the Muslims by allowing the men to marry multiple wives (preferably from the grown Orphans at that time), up to four wives only. The purpose was absolutely not for man's sexual pleasure nor privilege, nor was it to support man's personal ego. It was revealed to solve a major social problem to prevent major sins such as illegal sex and prostitution.
In a monogamous (where man is allowed to marry only one woman) society these women, left without husbands or support, resort to prostitution, illicit relationships with married men resulting in illegitimate children with no responsibility on the part of the father.
The truth of the matter is that monogamy protects men, allowing them to "play around" without responsibility. Easy birth control and easy legal abortion has opened the door of illicit sex to a woman and she has been lured into the so-called sexual revolution. But she is still the one who suffers the trauma of abortion and the side effects of the birth control methods. Taking aside the plagues of venereal disease, herpes and AIDS, the male continues to enjoy himself free of worry. Men are the ones protected by monogamy while women continue to be victims of men's desires.
Polygamy is very much opposed by the male dominated society because it would force men to face up to responsibility and fidelity. It would force them to take responsibility for their polygamous inclinations and would protect and provide for women and children.
Also we have to consider the facts that states that the world female population is more than male population. This is a fact in many countries today. Thus the only two options before a woman who cannot find a husband is to marry a married man or to become public property. Islam prefers giving women the honourable position by permitting the first option and disallowing the second.
Although not preferred in Islam, Polygamy has some benefits such as it sometimes minimizes divorce as men are given the option to marry other women of their choice without divorcing their present wives (who may be somehow either for medical or physiological causes incapable of performing her responsibilities as a wife) . This subsequently, prevents the occurrence of psychological problems among children of broken families.
Furthermore, polygamy gives the opportunity for more unmarried women to be married, considering the fact that women exceed men in number. This in turn eliminates fornication and prostitution, thus greatly reducing the number of children born out of wedlock. Unfortunately, children born out of wedlock are being harassed in the same way as their mothers are being look down by the society. In polygamy, children are recognized as legal offspring of their fathers just as their mothers are respected as legally married women.
Allowing Polygamy enabled Islam to face the drift of lots of men towards multiple mistresses. To assure this Islam forced a penalty of throwing stones at a person (man or woman) who commit adultery till death if they are married. By that Islam forced men to face their responsibilities and stopped them from running behind their own desires disregarding women and children rights.
In fact Islam fought multiple sexual relations of a man by forcing him not to be able to have any sexual relation except through marriage. Let me here remind you of the wives right in Islam which includes FULL Financial Support even if the wife is richer than the husband. Meaning that you can marry more than one woman (maximum 4 in Islam) who you have to be fully responsible for them and they all have the rights previously mentioned in the section :(Wives Rights in Islam).
Third : Did Islam encourage Polygamy
Besides full responsibility (financial ..etc.), Islam placed an additional very difficult condition on men who marry more than one woman which is to be fair between all of them. Preferring a woman over the other is not accepted the holy Quran says : “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, 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..” (Surah Al-Nisa :3). In a later verse the Quran says : “And you have it not in your power to do justice between wives, even though you may wish (it), but be not disinclined (from one) with total disinclination, so that you leave her as it were in suspense; and if you effect a reconciliation and guard (against evil), then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (Surah Al-Nisa :129). So either you be fair among your wives or marry only one. The only thing that is allowed here is if the husband is emotionally more inclined to one than the other (as he can not control his feelings) but even in this case emotional inclination does not give him the right to deprive any one of any of her rights.
The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said, "The man who had two wives and was inclined towards one of them will come on the Day of Judgment bent to one side". [ Transmitted by Abu Dawud - his own wording - (3133), Al Termithy (1141), A-Nisa'i, 7/63, Ibn Majah (1969), Al-Doramy p.539, and Ahmad, 2/347, 471. All on the authority of Abu Huraira.]
Taking the example of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, is instructive. He was married to one woman, Khadijah, for twenty-five years. It was only after her death when he had reached the age of fifty that he entered into other marriages to promote friendships, create alliances or to be an example of some lesson to the community; also to show the Muslims how to treat their spouses under different conditions of life as will be explained later.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was given inspiration from Allah about how to deal with multiple marriages and the difficulties encountered therein. It is not an easy matter for a man to handle two wives, two families, and two households and still be just between the two. No man of reasonable intelligence would enter into this situation without a great deal of thought and very compelling reasons (other than sexual).
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, directed Muslims to get married or observe patience until one gets married. 'Abdullah b. Mas'ud reported Allah's messenger as saying, "Young man, those of you who can support a wife should marry, for it keeps you from looking at strange women and preserves you from immorality; but those who cannot should devote themselves to fasting, for it is a means of suppressing sexual desire." (Bukhari and Muslim)
Fourth : The rights of the wife if she knows that her husband married another woman
There is a famous hadith (saying of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him) in Al-Bukhari where prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, refused that Ali Ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, would marry another woman beside Fatima, may Allah be please with her, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said :"I will not allow Ali Ibn Abi Talib and I repeat I will not allow Ali to marry another woman except if he divorces my daughter. She is part of me and what harms her harms me" (Al-Bukhari, al-Jami' al-Sahih, p 453, book 67, chapter 109).
So the noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, did not deny Ali’s right to marry another woman but he told him that he would have to divorce his daughter first. Of course Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, chose the Prophet’s daughter and did not even consider marrying another woman as long as Fatima, may Allah be pleased with her, was alive.
In Islam there is no distinction no nobility over commoners, no black over white, no rich over poor. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him said : “Verily the people before you were destroyed because they would dismiss the punishment of noble person who stole, and if a weak person stole, they would carry out the punishment. I swear by Allah, if Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad stole, I would have cut her hand”.
Precious as she is to her father, Fatimah the daughter of the noble Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, the rules of Islam were applied without discrimination between Muslims. From that story we can conclude that it is the right of the woman to ask for a divorce if she knew that her husband intends to marry another woman.
Fifth : Why women are not allowed to perform polygamy
This is of course a naive question however we will answer it. When a man has sexual relation with more than one woman then sure he is the father of the children they can carry because of this relation. On the other hand when multiple men have sexual relations with the same woman then you can not tell exactly who the father is.
You may answer that now you can know the father by DNA tests we can easily answer: and how many human on earth can perform this test..?? and what would the people do in the centuries before the knowledge of the DNA tests.. Can a religion tell women go ahead and have as much sexual relations as you want and wait for the twentieth century to tell you who the real father is…of course not, especially when you know that Islam, the religion of God, was sent to all people (rich, poor, ignorant, educated ..etc.) and for all ages.
Also recent studies proved that a woman having multiple sexual relations in a short period of time (like prostitutes) are more subjected to lethal diseases such as cancer and other genital diseases.
Sixth : Prophet Muhammad’s multiple marriages
If Islam does not encourage Polygamy then What were the reasons for the Prophet's marriages?
1. The Prophet Muhammad was twenty-five years old when he married Khadija, his first wife, who was forty years old i.e. fifteen older and had been married twice. She remained his wife for twenty-eight years until she died and he did not marry any other woman during this period of his life. He was always faithful to her memory, so much so that this loyalty provoked jealousy among some of his wives in later years.
2. The Prophet's nature, character, and way of life before and after his prophethood are absolute proof that he was neither lustful nor sensuous. How could a man who was more than fifty years old suddenly change and become a slave to lust, when he had had every opportunity as a young man to follow his desires, in common with the other young men of his tribe knowing that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was from a very famous and noble family in Quraish and lots of women would be honoured to marry him. On the contrary, Muhammad was well known for his virtue, and his only wife who was a virgin was 'Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr, while most of his wives were widows whom he married for humane reasons or in order to enforce a religious observance or ruling and not for any sensuous desire on his part.
Now let’s discuss every marriage to know the cause behind it
(1) As regards his marriage to Sawda, daughter of Zam'a, may Allah be pleased with her, (his first wife after Khadija, may Allah be pleased with her) who was the widow of one of his companions, he was more than fifty years old at the time, and she was neither beautiful, wealthy, nor of noble descent. He married her in order to care of and support the family of his companion, who had suffered torture and death for his faith in God.
(2) His marriage to 'Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr. Abu-Bakr was the closest of the companions to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, consequently the tribe of Quraish was not at all surprised when the knew of the marriage. Aisha was said to be 9 years old at that time, that is why some people use this marriage to attack our noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. Before judging you have to consider the following points first:
a- It was not strange at that time such a marriage the proves of this are numerous such as:
b- Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, lived for years after the Noble Prophet’s death. Throughout these years she taught Muslims a lot about the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. She is one of the four people who reported more than 2000 hadiths (sayings of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him). For years famous companions would ask Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her on Islamic issues especially those concerning the household and the relation between the man and his wife.
c- The Noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, did not have any sexual relation with Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her until she reached the age of puberty.
d- The relation between the Noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and his wife Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, is really something anyone would enjoy reading about. How he would play with her, race her, joke with her, protect her in short truly love her. On the other hand her jealousy, how she could never be at odds with him, She narrated that ones the Noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, told her that he could know when she was angry with him, when she was not angry she would swear with “The God of Muhammad” while when she was angry she would swear with “The God of Ibraham”. She answered “yes, oh Prophet of Allah I can only desert your name”. When it was time for our Noble Prophet to die, he died in her arms…he was sweating heavily, she would wipe his face with his hands because his hands are better than hers.
In the Translation of sahih Bikhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 177: Narrated 'Aisha: Abu Bakr (her father) admonished me and poked me with his hands in the flank, and nothing stopped me from moving at that time except the position of Allah's Apostle whose head was on my thigh.
A pure love relation…how can anyone but respect and honour this relation and even wish he can someday have a relation that is half as pure and genuine.
(3) Hafsa, daughter of 'Omar, at later dates were in order to strengthen the ties between himself and his companions Omar, may Allah be pleased with him, like Abu Bakr,am Allah be pleased with him.
(4) As regards Um Salama, she was the widow of a martyr who had been mortally wounded in the battle of Uhud. She was an old woman, and when the Prophet proposed marriage to her she tried to excuse herself from accepting because of her age, but the Prophet consoled her and married her for humane reasons.
(5) The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, married Ramlah, daughter of Abu Sufyan (Is lam’s biggest enemy at that time before he embraced Islam), who had emigrated to Abyssinia with her husband who had renounced Islam, become a Christian, and had abandoned her, leaving her without any maintenance. The Prophet sent a message to Al-Najashi, who ruled Abyssinia requesting Ramlah's return to her homeland to deliver her from the estrangement which she felt in a foreign land and to deliver her from the persecution of her own pagan family in Mecca, had she been forced to return to them. The Prophet also hoped that by this marriage her influential father in Mecca might be induced to embrace Islam. It is worthy saying here that Abu Sofian was pleased with this marriage.
(6) The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, married Jawayriyya, daughter of Al-Harith, who was among the captives captured at the battle of Bani Al-Mustalaq. Her father was the chief and master of his tribe, and the Prophet married her in order to liberate her from captivity, and he requested the Muslims to liberate their captives and set them free. By that attitude the whole tribe embraced Islam which was what the Noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was hoping.
(7) The Prophet married Safiyya who was the daughter of the chief of the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza. She was allowed to choose between returning to her people or being set free by marrying the Prophet and she preferred to marry the Prophet to returning to her tribe(Al-Aqqad, Abbas, True Facts about Islam and the Falsehood of its Opponents, Cairo, 1957, p. 192. during that period to prohibit any marriage between a man and his adopted son's divorced wife. The Prophet was ordered by God to marry Zaynab in order to abolish this ruling which was totally unnecessary. The following Qur'anic verse established this ruling: "... Then when Zayd had dissolved his marriage with her, with the necessary formality, We joined her in marriage to you: in order that in the future there may be no difficulty in the matter of marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary formality their marriage with them and God's Command must be fulfilled". [33/37].).
By this marriage a major rule in Islam was enforced which is that a Muslim man can marry a Christian or Jew woman if she accepts.
(8) The Prophet's marriage to his cousin Zaynab, daughter of Jahsh, was in order to establish a religious ruling. She had been married to Zayd Ibn Haritha, the Prophet's adopted son. Their marriage did not last long and she was divorced. It was the custom of the Arabs that an adopted son is treated just like a biological son. Islam refused this. In Islam an adopted son does not have the rights of a biological son..To enforce this rule Allah commanded The Noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, to marry Zaynab, may Allah be pleased with her, the ex-wife of his adopted son. The story of the marriage was summarized in the Quranic Verse :
“It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path. Behold! Thou didst say to one who had received the grace of Allah and thy favour: "Retain thou (in wedlock) thy wife, and fear Allah." But thou didst hide in thy heart that which Allah was about to make manifest: thou didst fear the people, but it is more fitting that thou shouldst fear Allah. Then when Zaid had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary (formality), We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the Believers in (the matter of) marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them. And Allah's command must be fulfilled. “ (Surah Al-Ahzab:36,37)
(9) The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, married Zainab daughter of Khuzayma who was again the widow of a martyr.
(10) Maymuna, may Allah be pleased with her, she yearned to marry the Prophet. She went to her sister, Umm al Fadl to talk to her about that and she, in turn, spoke to her husband, al-Abbas. Al-Abbas immediately went to the Messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, with Maymuna's offer of marriage to him and her proposal was accepted. Allah Almighty sent the following verse about this: “Any believing woman who dedicates herself to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her, that is only for thee and not for the believers.” (Al-Ahzab:50)
(11) Maria Al-Qibtya (or Marya the Christian) who was a slave offered by the king of Egypt to the Noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. She was the mother of the Prophet’s son “Ibraham”, may Allah be pleased with him. The Noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was so happy when he was borne to the extent that he carried him and went to every house of his companions to show them his son. “Ibraham”, may Allah be pleased with him died in the age of 2. Marya, may Allah be pleased with her, was the only wife beside Khadija, may Allah be pleased with her, who had kids from the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. In honor of Maria and her son Ibrahim, Abu Dharr reported Allah's Messenger, may peace be upon him, as saying: “You would soon conquer Egypt and that is a land which is known (as the land of al-qirat). So when you conquer it, treat its inhabitants well. For there lies upon you the responsibility because of blood-tie or relationship of marriage (with them).”