Polygamy in Islam
Prof. Dr. Mahmoud Hamdy Zaqzouq
Dr. Kamal Boraiqa Abdelsalam Hassan
Al-Azhar Magazine (Dhu al-Hijjah, 1441 A.H. July, 2020.)
1- Islam was by no means the first religion to permit polygamy, nor did Islam introduce it. On the contrary, Islam was the first religion to organize marriage and to limit the number of wives according to strict stipulations. In the pre-Islamic era, polygamy was practiced not only by the Arabs but also by many other nations all over the world. The abolition of unjust and brutal customs practiced for generations by issuing one command is impossible. Islam took this into consideration and made a series of laws by which it was able to enforce a gradual abolition of this practice, it hitherto has unlimited the number of wives that men were allowed to marry.
2- Islam limited the number of wives to four: “… you may marry whichever [other] women seem good to you, two, three, or four." (An-Nisa`: 3) There was, however, an important condition which had to be considered before marrying more than one wife, namely treating the wives equally. The Prophet warned men against not treating wives equally by saying that he who has two wives and does not treat them equally will pay dearly for this sin on the Day of Judgment.
3- The following Qur'anic verse states that treating one's wives equally is a very difficult matter and that however conscientiously a person tries to do so he willnever be able to treat them equally: "You are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire” (An-Nisa`: 129).
Thus since equal treatment of wives is impossible, however hard a person tries, a man should marry only one wife and this is stated in the following Qur'anic verse: “But if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them) then only one” (An-Nisa`: 3) It is to be noted that this religious law was enforced more than fourteen centuries ago.
It is evident from the aforementioned facts that Islam neither introduced nor enforced polygamy, since it was a deeply rooted system which had existed long time before the advent of Islam. Islam dealt with the matter in a practical manner without causing a violent reaction among the community. This indicates that in Islam monogamy is the rule and polygamy is the exception. Islam permitted this exception in certain cases such as during and after battles in which many men were killed leaving widows and orphans without any means of support. Consequently, marriage to such women is a virtue for it not only provides them with a decent life but also prevents them from falling into sin.
If a woman is afflicted with a chronic disease which makes her unable to perform her marital obligations or if she is barren, the husband under these circumstances is permitted to marry another wife who will be entitled to the rights of the first wife. The Faith of Islam has permitted the exception of polygamy for the aforementioned justifiable reasons in order to prevent the possibility of sinful relationships and the disturbing consequences that ensue, whereas such illicit relationships are not condemned in the western world.