Wisdom behind Polygyny

Why Muslims find the subject of polygyny distasteful?

Allah (سبحانهُ وتعالى) has already instructed Muslims in no uncertain terms not to make unlawful that which He has made lawful. Thus, it is not fitting that those who choose to follow the Prophet's (ﷺ) Sunnah be condemned for availing themselves of an option given to them by Allah (سبحانهُ وتعالى). Polygyny is not a decadent or indecent relationship but a valid part of the marriage system in Islam. Allah (سبحانهُ وتعالى) has said:

"...marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice]." [1]

One must note that man is first told to marry two, three or four women, then he is advised to marry only one if he cannot deal justly with more than one. This does not mean that Islam encourages all men to marry at least two women, but that such an option is undoubtedly permissible for those who can fulfill its conditions. The verse also sets the upper limit of four in a society in which an unlimited amount of simultaneous marriages were allowed. Thus a man must be able and willing to divide his time and wealth in an equitable fashion before he is allowed to have more than one wife. Conversely, if he is unable to feed, clothe and house all his wives justly, then, according to this Qur'anic command, he should not marry more than one. The point is that the permissibility of polygyny has been exemplified in the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) who was allowed by Allah to marry nine women during the same time period. It is true that many of the marriages were for socio-political purposes like encouraging the marriage of widows, breaking certain taboos and linking clans; however, the Prophet (ﷺ) still married those who pleased him and turned down those who did not.

Nevertheless, many Muslims today find the subject of polygyny distasteful and insist on considering plural marriage demeaning to women. This is primarily because the roles of men and women in western society, at least, have become severely distorted. Women openly compete with men for the same jobs; men sue their wives for support payments; women's clothing styles include suits and ties; men's clothing styles include bracelets, necklaces, ear rings and long hair, and both sexes wear interchangeable clothing under the title "unisex". The female has lost her natural position of protection in western society and is thus obliged to fight for equality with the male. Under such circumstances, it is not surprising to find western women and their eastern counterparts vehemently opposed to polygyny. Very few women in liberated western society consider obedience to their men a necessity for smooth married life. In fact, obedience to one's husband is not even considered a positive characteristic worthy of development in a woman. Even fewer modern women are willing to admit that differences exist between men and women; that God made allowances for man's role as leader, provider and protector. Western women deny these things in spire of the fact that the same differences are communicated in insidious ways in western society, itself. Women are sexually harassed when at work to keep their positions of power (there has yet to be a female president of the United States) and most of the lower paid menial occupations which involve service (waitresses, cashiers, etc.) continue to be filled by women in spite of new roles which women are said to be assuming in the West. However, Islam teaches us that Allah created everything in pairs, the male and the female, and assigned for them roles accordingly. Allah (سبحانهُ وتعالى) tells us in the Qur'an:

"Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard (of their chastity and honour)..." [2]

"And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquillity in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought." [3]

Islam has defined the male role as that of provider and protector; whereas, the female has been given a supportive and dependent role which naturally involves a certain amount of submission and obedience to the male. The outlook of Islam towards the roles of males and females is thus in complete contrast to that of twentieth century western society. The position of women in the West today may appear progressive from the standpoint of voting rights, property rights and educational opportunities, but from the standpoint of the family, their position has degenerated alarmingly. The expulsion of women from their natural roles within the family is part of the symptoms of a declining culture. The fact that western culture and society is dying has been proclaimed on the covers of Newsweek and Time magazines. The incidence of illegitimate birth has risen rapidly in the West during the last few years and teenage pregnancies have become a norm. Stories of wife swapping, child abuse and various sexual diseases like herpes and A.I.D.S linked to sexual promiscuity should lead any sane person to question the sexual mores of western society and the problems of enforced monogamy.


Polygamy in Islam - By Dr. Bilal Philips


[1] (Noble Qur'an 4:3)

[2] (Noble Qur'an 4:34)

[3] (Noble Qur'an 30:21)

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