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Polygamy In Islam

Polygamy means a system of marriage whereby one person has more than one spouse. It can be divided into 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.

Polygamy, once, was a way of life until the Quran was revealed 1400 years ago. By the time it was revealed, the Quran put down the first limitations against polygamy. Polygamy is permitted in the Quran but under strictly observed circumstances and any abuse if this divine permission incurs severe retribution. Allah S.W.T said in His Holy Book:
"If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry 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 (marry) only one…" (An-Nisa’:3)

From this verse a number of facts are evident:1) That polygamy is neither mandatory, nor encouraged, but merely permitted, 2) That the permission to practice polygamy is not associated with mere satisfaction of. Rather, it is associated with compassion towards widows and orphans, a matter that is confirmed by the atmosphere in which the verse was revealed. 3) That even in such a situation, the permission is far more restricted than the normal practice which existed among the Arabs and other peoples at that time when many married as many as ten or more wives. 4) That dealing justly with one’s wives is an obligation. This applies to housing, food, clothing, kind treatment…etc., for which the husband is fully responsible.

This verse, when combined with another verse in the same chapter, shows some discouragement of such plural marriages. The other verse plainly states: "You are never able to be fair and just between women even if it is your ardent desire…" (An-Nisa’:129)

The requirement of justice rules out the fantasy that man can "own as many as he pleases." It also rules out the concept of a "secondary wife", for all wives have exactly the same status and are entitled to identical rights and claims over their husband. It also implies, according to the Islamic Law, that should the husband fail to provide enough support for any of his wives, she can go to court and ask for a divorce.

Those above Quranic verses clearly shown the remainder made by Allah for those who had the intention of having more than one wife. These Quranic limitations against polygamy point out the possibility of abusing Allah’s law. Therefore, unless we are absolutely sure that Allah’s law will not be abused, we had better resist our lust and stay away from polygamy.

There are several conditions should be met before a Muslim male could marry other females. Those conditions are financial ability, physical and emotional ability, equal treatment of the wives, the approval from the prospective female to this kind of marriage, the wives are among those who are not prohibited for him to marry either it permanently or temporary and last the number of wives is limited to up to four in one time. A few basic criteria must be observed in contemplating polygamy:
1. It must alleviate pain and suffering and not cause any pain or suffering.
2. If you have a young family, it is almost certain that polygamy is an abuse.
3. Polygamy to substitute a younger wife is an abuse of God's law (4:19).
The western society at large had misunderstood the real meaning and purposes of polygamy in Islam. Polygamy in their eyes is only having a large number of glamorous young girls (harem) for the purpose to serve and please the man. It was a misunderstood conception.

Islam permitted polygamy due to its divine purposes. World female population is more than male population. The average life span of females is more than that of males. The obvious example of this occurs in times of war, when there are inevitably a large number of widows and orphans left without companionship, love, money and protection.

If it is still maintained under these circumstances that a man may marry only one wife, other females will be deprived from having a family that includes a husband, a companion for life, children and a father for the children. Thus, polygamy protects the interest of women and children in society. It also helps to prevent the spread of diseases like Herpes and AIDS that occur due to the extra-marital affairs.

The compromise therefore is for women under these circumstances to face that if given the alternative many of them would rather share a husband than have none at all. And there is no doubt that it is easier to share a husband when it is an established and publicly recognized practice than when it is carried on secretly along with attempts to deceive the first wife.

Therefore, polygyny in Islam 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 a wife. It cannot be said that if a Muslim has two, three or four wives is considered as a better Muslim than those who had only one. It is permissible but not an obligation.


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