Islam and the Quran

Polygamy In the Quran and In the Modern-Day

The Almighty God narrates the lives of several prophets in divine books beginning with Adam (PBUH). God created Eve, Adam’s only spouse together with him. Humankind would increase in number and spread around from them. Literally, it could be considered as the most crucial era when polygamy of Adam would accelerate reaching this aim, but God granted only one wife to him. This is the first information ever about a human family, and the first man ever is monogamous.
Prophet Noah (PBUH), who remained with a limited number of people in the land after the flood also remained monogamous.
Prophet Abraham (PBUH) was monogamous until he was wedded to Hagar by his own wife Sarah, who could not bear children until then.
From these stories, we can easily infer that “monogamy is the norm” for humans.

The issue of polygamy, which rather must be called “limited polygyny”[1], has been an argument used against Islam. Those who attempt to defame Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) always draw attention to his polygamous lifetime which lasted almost 10 years but they never mention his first monogamous marriage with Khadija (RA) that lasted 25 years during the youngest period of his married life, between the ages 25 and 50. His multiple marriages, though, had special reasons for each of his wives. Please read the article below for further information about his marriages:

It should be said that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) neither invented polygamy -because it had existed for centuries before his arrival- nor did God abolish it through the revelation of the Quran. The Quran has modified this custom and regulated it in the most appropriate way along with many other regulations about marriage, divorce, and the rights of women. Before the revelation of the Quran, men could have an unlimited number of wives, but the Quran prescribed a maximum limit so no man is allowed to marry more than four wives. Those who had more than four wives when they embraced Islam were forced to separate from those who exceeded that number. Thus, a man named Ghaylan ibn Aslamah had ten wives, and the Prophet (PBUH) ordered him to divorce six of them. Nawfal ibn Mu`awiyah had five, and the Prophet (PBUH) demanded that he separate from one of them.
Although monogamy is the recommended lifestyle in the Quran, polygamy is not prohibited either because it has been and still may be an appropriate solution to some social issues during the course of time. The verse relevant to “limited polygyny” in the Quran is:

“If you fear that you might not be able to act rightfully towards the orphans, then marry from among other women you like, two, three, or four. If you fear that you can not maintain justice, marry only one woman or marry a captive woman.  This way, it is less likely that you do wrong.” (an-Nisa 4:3)

When the verse is evaluated in its historical context, people say: “polygamy used to suggest a solution to the social problem that arose with a large number of orphans who lost their parents due to the wars and fights that took place in a certain period of Islamic history, yet it is not applicable in this day and age”. However, restricting any permission or prohibition of the Quran to a certain period of history is not acceptable according to the Quran. This is because God has sent His divine book to warn all the people it reaches to, as well as the very first people at the era of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):

“(Oh, Muhammad!) Say: ‘What thing is the firmest as a testimony?’ Say: ‘God is a Witness for both me and you. This Quran has been sent down to me so that I may warn you with it, and anyone it may reach. Do you bear witness that there are other deities along with God?’ Say: ‘I don’t bear such witness!’ Say: ‘He is God Alone, and I am far from whatever you associate (with Him)’.” (al-An’am 6:19)

So, we could not claim that this Quranic verse is not valid anymore even if it weren’t for wars and orphans in this age. Yet, there are still wars and orphans but social problems are not limited to the issue of orphans. This Quranic verse speaks of a single social problem as an example and offers the appropriate solution to end this problem. Since the Holy Quran is the Book of God, which provides appropriate solutions in all places and at all times, it can be said that the limited polygyny is not only about dealing with the problems of orphans. Because there are and there can always be problems and needs which may resort to polygamy as a solution. Wars or epidemics which may cause decrease in the number of males are two examples of it.


Before mentioning the conditions of polygamy, we must know that according to the Quran men are responsible, therefore authorized for the issues regarding the safety and economic welfare of the family (4:34). All the expenses for the separate dwelling, food, and clothing of women, as well as the needs of children, are to be paid by the husband as his obligatory duty. If he divorces his wife while she nurses her baby, he needs to keep on his duty until the baby is weaned (2:233). A man who wants to marry a second woman must have accepted almost twice the financial burden of his current load, as well as twice the responsibilities that polygyny will bring as listed below.

A husband must exert effort to get along with his wife in the best possible way even if he does not love her. He can neither put pressure on his wife to carry on the marriage against her will nor can he treat her unkindly:
“Oh, you who believe and trust (in God)! It is not lawful for you to coercively (hold them in your wedding bond to) inherit from women nor to treat them harshly in order to take back some of (the Mehr) which you have given to them unless it is unmistakably clear that they committed fornication. Get along with your women in compliance with the norms of the Quran (ma’ruf). If you dislike them, (know that) God may create much good even in something you dislike.” (an-Nisa 4:19)

If he wants to divorce, he must divorce his wife in a kindly manner. If he wants to remain married, and his wife also wants that, he can remain married only in a kindly manner (2:231).



1- Justice:
Absolute justice with regard to the time devoted to each of the wives and justice with regard to the expenses devoted to the families of the husband is required to properly implement limited polygyny. Islam does not allow a wife or her children to be considered inferior to other wives and children. Islam has made equity between women compulsory, whether in food, shelter, clothing, lodging, or anything material, without differentiation between a rich woman and a poor woman, and between a noblewoman and a woman of modest origins. However, if a man were to fear inequity and the impossibility of fulfilling his duty of justice, then polygamy would be unlawful.  This is because the Holy Quran says:
“But if you are afraid of being unfair [to them], marry one wife. “ (an-Nisa 4:3)
This command is a reminder to men that monogamy is the recommended lifestyle unless the man can assure justice among wives. 

Justice is the greatest moral virtue. Prescribing the condition of justice and equal treatment means that the polygamous husband is required to possess the highest moral qualities, and given that the man’s feelings towards not all his wives are usually the same, observing justice and refraining from unequal treatment is one of the most difficult duties:
“You will never manage to maintain (absolute) justice among women no matter how much you desire (to do so), yet do not completely incline towards one of them so you leave another in suspense. If you come to terms and refrain from doing wrong, (know that) God is forgiving and the Beneficent.” (An-Nisa 4: 129)

This is confirmed by the hadith of Aisha (RA): “The Prophet (PBUH) shared equitably (between his wives) and did justice; he said: “O God, this is my commitment to You in what is in my power, so do not reproach me with what You can and what I cannot.”

So, the required equity is substantial equity, not equity in affection and love, for no one is capable of that.

2- Announcement of the new marriage:
No marriage can be performed secretly. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said:
There is no marriage without a supervisor (wali) and two reliable witnesses. A marriage performed without these is void. If they couldn’t agree, the authorized officials are the supervisor.”  [2]

According to a narration by Muhammad Hatib al-Jumahi: The Prophet (p.b.u.h.) said, “The distinction between what is lawful and what is unlawful is playing the tambourine at a wedding and announcing it.” (Tirmidhi, Nikah, 6; Ibn Majah, Nikah, 20; Nasai, Nikah, 72)

Aisha narrated that The Messenger of Allah (p.b.u.h.) said, “Announce the weddings, conduct them in crowded places such as mosques, and play the tambourines to announce them”. (Tirmidhi, Nikah, 6)

The announcement of the marriage allows everyone to know that the woman is under the protection of her husband and that they have started married life together.
According to this principle, a man who wants to get married to a second wife cannot hide this from his first wife. Yet, he does not have to get permission from her.

3- Mehr:
Legal Share of Bride (Mehr) is given to the bride by the groom upon marriage. It is not a condition for the marriage to be valid, but the right of Mehr arises as a natural result of the marriage for the bride. It is like an insurance for the woman because the man cannot take back anything from it if he divorces his wife:
“If you desire to replace one wife with another, even though you had given heaps (of Mehr) to the one (you leave), do not take back anything of it. Will you take it by slandering and committing a manifest sin?” (an-Nisa 4:20)

4- Registration of the marriage by the official authorities:
Registration of the marriage guarantees the rights of the woman – and her children to be born- and at the same time constitutes justice for the second wife. In this way, the second wife, as well as the first one, reserves her rights regarding inheritance if her husband dies.

These four conditions are very important for the man who wants to marry a woman other than his first wife. He must establish these conditions so that his behavior regarding polygamy is within the limits prescribed by God. Otherwise, he must remember that “only one wife is better” (4:3).


In all of these cases, if the first wife does not accede to the man’s decision, she always holds the right to divorce her husband in a single-sided way according to the Quran, although traditional jurisprudence does not allow it. The single-sided divorce by women was a practice conducted during the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Companions. However, women were deprived of this right after them. Here are the details:


In this day and age, sexual relations outside marriage have unfortunately become widespread. It is promoted as a freedom, but its consequences always bind women.
Unfortunately, single or married men may have temporary relations with more than one single or married woman. In such cases, men enjoy all the merriments of living with a woman without undertaking any responsibility toward them. In case of having a child from a woman outside marriage, men may even reject the baby and leave the mother alone with the heavy responsibility of taking care of a child during the rest of her life. Although DNA tests serve a purpose to prove the father and get some payment from him, those test results cannot force men to give their time, love, and affection to the baby. They can neither give a happy family life to the child.
According to current monogamous laws, if a married man cheats on his wife with another woman for a lifetime, the first wife either overlooks this or divorces him to preserve her dignity. What if she still loves him and wants to be with her husband? Her chances to get close to him once more depend upon the man’s conscience. If she divorces, the happiness of the second woman is not guaranteed either because she may be relegated to the ex-wife’s situation after some time.
We must notice that in this era, a man may live with an unlimited number of women without getting married. He may have several children although he is not legally responsible for any of their burdens. That is a happily-ever-after polygamous life for men, imposing all the burden on women! It is clear that men can already live polygamous lives now, and this had never been easier for them before. The legitimacy of polygamy could give women the opportunity to demand marriage and the assurance of their marital rights, such as sustenance, sexual rights, paternal duties of a man, etc.  So, we understand that allowing limited polygyny can suggest a solution to some problems that cause suffering for both spouses or spouses-to-be in the modern-day, too.


As we mentioned, limited polygyny is the less favorable choice compared to monogamy. It is not favored but it cannot be prohibited, either.
Yet, to be able to establish a healthy family structure in society, the legitimization of limited polygyny would never suffice. If we consider the commands or prohibitions of God like bricks of a building, we can tell that living in a building with missing bricks would cause various inconveniences. Depending on the sizes and locations of missing bricks, the reliability and strength of the building would diminish to a great extent.  Therefore, all of God’s orders must take their places in law as an inviolable body of laws. Although limited polygyny may be used as a resort, its legitimization alone -without the legitimization of other social rulings of God- can also cause disasters in several families. It could easily be misused to exploit women. If the rights and responsibilities of spouses are not established or fornication is not prohibited by law, or if marriage, divorce, and Mehr (the legal share of the bride) are not registered by authorities as they should be, we can have problems in marital issues anytime, as we also do today.

A man who knows his responsibilities toward a wife, and understands the burden which polygyny would load on his shoulders would rather prefer monogamy, just as God recommends unless there is an extraordinary condition with his marriage which he cannot solve even by divorce. This is indeed the case, and most Muslim men are monogamous in the world.

In conclusion, we must say that “the Qur’an promotes monogamy as the norm but also keeps polygamy with strict conditions as a solution for problems that may arise in any period of life”.

[1] The practice or condition of having more than one wife at one time ( with a maximum limit, which is 4 according to the Quran.
[2] Abu Dawood, Nikah/Marriage, 20; Tirmidhi, Nikah/Marriage, 14; Ibn Majah, Nikah/Marriage, 15; Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 6/66

We thank Edlira LLUKACAJ for her contributions to this article. 


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