Why is a man allowed to have more than one wife in Islam?
Why is polygamy allowed in Islam?
1. Definition of Polygamy
Polygamy means a system of marriage whereby one person has more than one spouse. Polygamy can be of two types. One is polygyny where a man marries more than one woman, and the other is polyandry, where a woman marries more than one man. In Islam, limited polygyny is permitted; whereas polyandry is completely prohibited. Now coming to the original question, why is a man allowed to have more than one wife?
2. Qur’an is the only religious scripture that says,
“marry only one”.
The Qur’an 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.
Polygyny is permitted in Judaism. According to Talmudic law, Abraham had three wives, and Solomon had hundreds of wives. The practice of polygyny 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.
(*Interesting Note:- As per the 1975 census of India Hindus are more polygynous than Muslims. The report of the ‘Committee of The Status of Woman in Islam’, published in 1975 mentions on page numbers 66 and 67 that the percentage of polygamous marriages between the years 1951 and 1961was 5.06% among the Hindus and only 4.31% among the Muslims. According to Indian law only Muslim men are permitted to have more than one wife. It is illegal for any non-Muslim in India to have more than one wife. Despite it being illegal, Hindus have more multiple wives as compared to Muslims. Earlier, there was no restriction even on Hindu men with respect to the number of wives allowed. It was only in 1954, when the Hindu Marriage Act was passed that it became illegal for a Hindu to have more than one wife. At present it is the Indian Law that restricts a Hindu man from having more than one wife and not the Hindu scriptures.)
Let us now analyze why Islam allows a man to have more than one wife.
3. Qur’an permits limited polygamy
As I mentioned earlier, Qur’an is the only religious book on the face of the earth that says ‘marry only one’. The context of this phrase is the following verse from Surah Nisa of the Glorious Qur’an:
“....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....” [An-Nisa 4:3]
Before the Qur’an was revealed, there was no upper limit for polygyny and many men had scores of wives, some even hundreds. Islam put an upper limit of four wives. Islam gives a man permission to marry two, three or four women, only on the condition that he deals justly with them. In the same chapter i.e. Surah Nisa verse 129 says:
“……Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women…...” [An-Nisa 4:129]
Therefore polygyny is not a rule but an exception. Many people are under the misconception that it is compulsory for a Muslim man to have more than one wife. Broadly, Islam has five categories of Do’s and Don’ts:
(i) ‘Fard’ i.e. compulsory or obligatory
(ii) ‘Mustahab’ i.e. recommended or encouraged
(iii) ‘Mubah’ i.e. permissible or allowed
(iv) ‘Makruh’ i.e. not recommended or discouraged
(v) ‘Haraam’ i.e. prohibited or forbidden
Polygyny falls in the middle category of things that are permissible. It cannot be said that a Muslim who has two, three or four wives is a better Muslim as compared to a Muslim who has only one wife.
4. Average life span of females is more than that of males
By nature males and females are born in approximately the same ratio. A female child has more immunity than a male child. A female child can fight the germs and diseases better than the male child. For this reason, during the pediatric age itself there are more deaths among males as compared to the females.
During wars, there are more men killed as compared to women. More men die due to accidents and diseases than women. The average life span of females is more than that of males, and at any given time one finds more widows in the world than widowers.
5. India has more male population than female due to female
Feticide and infanticide.
India is one of the few countries, along with the other neighbouring countries, in which the female population is less than the male population. The reason lies in the high rate of female infanticide in India, and the fact that more than one million female fetuses are aborted every year in this country, after they are identified as females. If this evil practice is stopped, then India too will have more females as compared to males.
6. World female population is more than male population
In the USA, women outnumber men by 7.8 million. New York alone has one million more females as compared to the number of males, and of the male population of New York one-third are gays i.e sodomites. The U.S.A as a whole has more than twenty-five million gays. This means that these people do not wish to marry women. Great Britain has four million more females as compared to males. Germany has five million more females as compared to males. Russia has nine million more females than males. God alone knows how many million more females there are in the whole world as compared to males.
7. Restricting each and every man to have only one wife is not practical
Even if every man got married to one woman, there would still be more than thirty million females in U.S.A who would not be able to get husbands (considering that America has twenty five million gays). There would be more than four million females in Great Britain, 5 million females in Germany and nine million females in Russia alone who would not be able to find a husband.
Suppose my sister happens to be one of the unmarried women living in USA, or suppose your sister happens to be one of the unmarried women in USA. The only two options remaining for her are that she either marries a man who already has a wife or becomes 'public property'. There is no other option. All those who are modest will opt for the first.
Most women would not like to share their husband with other women. But in Islam when the situation deems it really necessary Muslim women in due faith could bear a small personal loss to prevent a greater loss of letting other Muslim sisters becoming 'public properties'.
8. Marring a married man preferable to becoming 'public property'
In Western society, it is common for a man to have mistresses and/or multiple extra-marital affairs, in which case, the woman leads a disgraceful, unprotected life. The same society, however, cannot accept a man having more than one wife, in which women retain their honourable, dignified position in society and lead a protected life.
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.
There are several other reasons, why Islam has permitted limited polygamy, but it is mainly to protect the modesty of women.
If a man is allowed to have more than one wife, then why does Islam prohibit a woman from having more than one husband?
A lot of people, including some Muslims, question the logic of allowing Muslim men to have more than one spouse while denying the same ‘right’ to women. Let me first state emphatically, that the foundation of an Islamic society is justice and equity. Allah has created men and women as equal, but with different capabilities and different responsibilities. Men and women are different, physiologically and psychologically. Their roles and responsibilities are different. Men and women are equal in Islam, but not identical.
Surah Nisa’ Chapter 4 verses 22 to 24 gives the list of women with whom Muslim men can not marry. It is further mentioned in Surah Nisa’ Chapter 4 verse 24 “Also (prohibited are) women already married...”
All this is connected primarily to faith in Allah. All religions are agreed that it is not permissible for a woman to have intercourse with anyone except her husband. Among these religions are those which are undoubtedly of heavenly origin, such as Islam and the original versions of Judaism and Christianity. Belief in Allah dictates submission to His rulings and laws, for Allah is All-Wise and All-Knowing, He knows what is in the best interests of mankind. So we may understand the wisdom behind the ruling of sharee’ah, or we may not be able to grasp it.
Answering above question of having more than one wife the prominent scholar Dr.Zakir Naik (President of Islamic research foundation, India) states:
Before the Qur'an was
revealed, there was no upper limit for polygyny and many men had scores
of wives, some even hundreds. Islam put an upper limit of four wives.
Islam gives a man permission to marry two, three or four women, only on
the condition that he deals justly with them.
a) Fard i.e. compulsory or obligatory
b) Mustahab i.e. recommended or encouraged
c) Mubah i.e. permissible or allowed
d) Makruh i.e. not recommended or discouraged
e) Haraam i.e. prohibited or forbidden
Can a man marry a second wife in order to punish his first wife for her disobedience and failure to fulfill her duties towards him?
Islam provides a system which regulates family life as well as the life of the community as a whole. In every respect of its legislation and in its regulation of relations between various groups and individuals in society, Islam maintains justice, fair treatment and a balance between rights and responsibilities. In this way it provides a solid basis for a strong, closely knit community. Within the family, Islam has established certain rules and distributed responsibilities to each of the two partners, adding commensurate rights which should be observed and fulfilled by both of them. A woman should obey her husband as long as he does not tell her to do something which is unlawful, from the Islamic point of view.
In return, she is to be treated with respect and kindness and to be well looked after so that she has no worries about her own or her children's needs. Because the woman is the weaker partner in the family relationship, Islam places strong emphasis on the importance of being fair to women, and not to abuse them in any way. The Prophet describes those who are kind and good to their wives as the best of people. He says : "The best among you are those who are best to your households; I am the best among you to my house-hold."
This is a clear statement which encourages every kindness toward one's wife and children. Such a kindness is certainly a measure of good character. It is also the gauge for a happy family life. There is no doubt that by the way a man treats his wife and the care and kindness he shows her, he sets the pattern of life in the family home. If he is kind, good and caring, mutual affection and happiness will be well established. If he is quarrelsome, unkind and dictatorial, his life at home will be beset with problems.
Everyone of us requires certain qualities in his or her life partner. It is no exaggeration to say that none of us finds in the other the ideal partner that he or she has imagined before marriage. There is always need to compromise. That need continues with us through life and the more ready we are to make such compromises, the happier we become. It is perhaps with an eye to this need that one of the final commandments of the Prophet was concerned with the treatment of wives and women generally. On his deathbed, the Prophet continued to remind the followers of three areas as needing continuous attention.
The first concerns man's relationship with Allah while the other two are concerned with human relations, concentrating on the need to protect the rights of two vulnerable groups in society, namely, women and slaves. He said repeatedly : "Attend to your prayers. Do not ask those whom your right hands possess to accomplish for you what they cannot do. Fear Allah in your treatment of women."
With such emphasis on the rights of women and the need to extend to them the proper and kind treatment they expect and deserve, every Muslim must do his best to ensure that in his treatment of his wife and the rest of his household, he provides an example to be followed by others. We all know that Islamic society is compassionate and caring. These characteristics start in the family home and with every member of the family extending them to the others, according to each one's responsibilities and duties.
On the basis of the foregoing principles, we look at the question posed by our reader. It is well known that Islam allows a man to marry up to four wives at any one time. Furthermore, Islam allows divorce. In each of these two cases of polygamy, there are rights which belong to the husband and each of his wives. A man may marry a second wife for any one or a number of reasons. These, however, do not include punishing his first wife for her non-fulfillment of her duties towards him. She may be disobedient and totally undutiful. Her behaviour may leave much to be desired.
The proper way to correct such a situation is not by marrying a second wife. It is true that such a marriage may jolt her violently and she may correct her attitude towards her husband. But then, that is not the primary consideration in such an equation. We have to begin with the second wife who is being used as a means of punishment or retaliation in a situation in which she remains not involved up to the point of her marriage. When she accepts to marry her husband, she may be totally unaware of his intentions and the general situation which exists in his home and the relationship between him and his first wife. On the other hand, she may be given a highly false impression of that situation.
What will happen next is, in most cases, a continuing rivalry, fed up by jealousy, between the two women, until one is finally able to win a special position of favour with the husband who may, in turn, suffer as a result of this rivalry. In such a situation, the making of a good family home is totally lacking. The real sufferers, at the end of the day, are the children of either one or both of the two women.
If the second marriage is intended as punishment for the first wife, is it not appropriate to ask : what happens if the punishment works and the first wife becomes obedient, loving and caring? Will the husband in this case divorce the second wife, as the role which she was brought in to play has been fulfilled?
If the answer is in the affirmative and that a divorce will take place, then the whole affair is absurd. It involves an exploitation of a human being, the second wife, to remedy a situation which is neither of her making nor of her concern. Nor has she been told that her role will be over when the punishment proves to be effective. Moreover, by that time, children may have been born to the second wife and they have rights to claim against their father.
If the answer to the above question is that no divorce will take place and the second marriage is permanent, as every marriage should be, then the husband is guilty of playing games with the interests of the family as a whole. This is something which Islam does not accept at all. Islam views marriage very seriously and emphasizes that all rights of all partners must be honoured and strictly observed.
To sum up, the second marriage while retaining the first wife is allowed in Islam for any of the good reasons for which such a concession has been allowed us by Allah. The duties of husband and wife must be fulfilled, as they are commensurate with their rights. A wife obeys her husband and looks after her. Both care for each other and respect and honor each other. A second marriage contracted with the aim of punishing the first wife for her lack of observance of her duties towards her husband cannot be approved because it involves unfairness to others. Moreover, it betrays an unacceptable attitude to marriage as a whole, which Islam views very seriously.
Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )
When the legislation of polygamy was approved, it sought to curtail that practice in Arabia, but Muslims these days have come to abuse this facility, sticking to its letter and ignoring the spirit. Could you please explain what the Islamic authorities should do to guide people back to the proper observance of this facility?
Polygamy or as you put it having several wives, is a provision and not the law in Islam. Many of us tend to think always of what the government or the authorities should do in order to rectify a faulty practice. In a case like this, where a man marries more than one wife, the onus is on that person to abide by Islamic legislation and implement what Allah requires of him in [deciding to have more than one wife and] his treatment of his wives.
No human authority, local or national, can ensure that the proper Islamic standards are maintained in every home and by every person. Islam relies in its implementation mainly on the individual and his conscience. It tries to cultivate a keen sense of duty, motivated by a real feeling that Allah watches us all the time, and that He is aware of our actions and the intentions behind them.
In normal circumstances one should marry another one for following two reasons.
1) When a wife is barren and cannot bear children, but they wish for children, but they wish for children. It is better for the man to have a second wife rather than divorce the first, but the first wife may divorce the man.
2) If the wife is chronically ill and she is unable to carry out her normal marital and household duties, then the husband may marry an additional wife and so help restore the family balance.
When a woman learns of her husband intending a second marriage, is it permissible for her to tell him that he may not bring his second wife in her home and that he must provide a second accommodation for her. Can she say that even when her husband has only a small house provided to him by the company and he has only a limited income which may not be sufficient to keep two houses?
Every married woman is entitled to have a decent home of the standard to which women in her social status are accustomed. If she agrees to marry a man of limited income, she implicitly consents to have a home of the standard her husband can afford. Whatever may be the family circumstances, her right to a decent home is undeniable. This is part of something greater to which she is also entitled by right, namely, a family atmosphere based on care, affection and compassion. In short, a homely life. It is well known that Islam allows a man to marry up to four wives at a time. When a man intends to marry a second wife, it is not obligatory that he should seek or obtain his first wife's consent. But she remains entitled to all her rights and privileges. The second wife also enjoys similar rights. Both of them are entitled to equal standard. He cannot, say, give one of them a detached two-story villa with a garden and accommodate the other in a small apartment in a large block of flats.
If he does that, then he is guilty of unfair and unequal treatment. When we consider this very carefully, we realize that it is the duty of any man who intends to marry a second wife to make sure that he can support both of them on an equal basis. The Qur'anic instruction is very clear:
"....If you fear that you may not treat them equally, then limit yourself to one (wife)...." [An-Nisa 4:3]
It may so happen that a married man finds himself deep in love with another woman and she consents to be his wife, knowing that he is of limited means. He should reflect, however, that marriage is not a temporary arrangement. He must never overlook his duties toward his first wife, or indeed the second. The first question he should ask himself is whether he would be able to maintain two homes.
It is not lawful for a man who has married two women to force them to live in the same house, whether it is big or small, unless both of them agree to that arrangement without coercion. This is due to the fact that in such circumstances it is only natural for them to harbor feelings of jealousy and hostility toward each other. Each of them will be always on the watch, trying to discover any sign of favouritism which her husband shows toward his other wife. That will inevitably lead to endless quarrels and the atmosphere in the family home will be unhealthy for the upbringing of the children.
Moreover, why should a wife be exposed to such a situation which enhances ill-feelings. On the basis of this, it is perfectly legitimate for the first wife to tell her husband when he embarks on a second marriage that he must not at any time enforce on her the burden of sharing her home with his second wife. If she makes that clear to him and he nevertheless tries to impose it, then this constitutes a basis for the nullification of the marriage, if she so desires. She will be entitled to all her rights.
Having said that, I realize that not every woman who finds herself in such a situation would like to have her marriage nullified. A wife may still be young and she may have young children who need to have both their parents around. She may have no feasible alternative. If she gets her marriage nullified, she may face the problem of being separated from her children. Many a woman would sacrifice her happiness in order to stay with her children. Therefore, it is only right that a woman is given the freedom of choice with regard to the type of home she may have when her husbands marries a second or a third wife.
As I have already said, a man may not force his two wives to share one house without their consent. If both of them agree to such sharing, they are forgoing part of their right and this must be on the basis of free choice. A husband may arrange for both his wives to have separate rooms in one house only if such is the nature of housing people in the same social status as his wives have. If, for example, a man's wife comes from a family which shares her home with another family, then such a shared accommodation is the type of her equals. He may, then, ask her to have separate rooms in a house which she shares with his other wife.
When we consider all this, we find that in the case the (lady) reader cites, the husband will be ill-advised to marry a second wife. His company is unlikely to give him a second home for the second wife. Therefore, he will have to rent a flat for her which will constitute a heavy financial burden and will take a considerable portion of his income. If he is thinking of getting both his wives to share his small accommodation, he is depriving both of them of their rights. As we have said, he cannot do that unless both of them freely consent.
What we have also to consider is that Islam allows polygamy only as a solution to social problems. When a man is happy with his family life with his first wife, he should not think of marrying again. His own happiness is at stake. Having said that, it is perhaps valid to say that a man does not normally think of a second marriage, if he is happy with his first wife. When a woman finds herself threatened with the prospect of having to share her husband with another woman, she should examine her situation very carefully and think whether her husband is motivated to take such a step by the lack of happiness in the family home. Perhaps she may do something about that to ensure that everyone of her family is leading a happy life.
Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )