In Islam, monogamy is preferred over polygamy. The only time the Qur’an allows polygamy is in reference to compassion toward orphans, not sexual gratification in extreme cases of war and intense poverty. The permission to practice polygamy came after the Battle of Uhud in 625 AD, during which many men were killed and left behind orphans and widows. Surviving men were encouraged to care for these children by marrying widows. Moreover, the Qur’an actually restricted the number of wives men were allowed to marry to four, which was unthinkable in ancient Arabia. As such, Islamic jurisprudence has regulated and restricted polygamy by mandating conditions and certain legal restraints that could amount to discouragement and even prohibition of the practice.
“And 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 only one, or [a captive] that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.” ( 4:3)
“And you will never be able to be equal [in feeling] between wives, even if you should strive [to do so]. So do not incline completely [toward one] and leave another hanging. And if you amend [your affairs] and fear Allah- then indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful.” (4:129)
“God has not made for any man two hearts” (33:40)
Despite rulings set by jurists, many men in developing countries practice polygamy unjustly. Some women are often forced to accept their husbands marrying additional wives, subjecting them to unfair treatment and discrimination. The Qur’an does not allow polygamy to be a solution to economic troubles, a wife’s infertility, or the need to fulfill sexual desires.
In fact, the Qur’an actually limited the number of wives men could marry to four; otherwise, men would marry an unlimited number of women without their consent in ancient Arabia. In essence, polygamy was a last resort of social justice to care for orphaned children.
Today, given that conditions have changed since the Battle of Uhud in 625 AD, polygamy is an outdated practice. Whatever laws enacted and subjected upon women today stem from patriarchal and unjust interpretations of the Qur’an. In 2008, Shahla Ezazi University conducted a survey showing 96% of Iranian women do not approve of allowing a man to take another wife.5 Given this discontent amongst women, many steps have already been taken to address this issue: in Tunisia, polygamy is not tolerated, and, in Morocco, polygamy is subject to a judge’s authorization and to strict legal conditions.4 More women are rising up to correct patriarchal interpretations of Islam and encourage healthy, monogamous relationships.
At WISE we work towards reinterpreting Islamic sources without the patriarchal lens, so to expand women’s agency and rights. We understand the societal and moral contexts, in which the holy texts were revealed. As such, we strongly dissuade men from polygamy, as it creates friction within the relationship. If there are no harmed orphans or widows that are currently under threat, such as in the time of the Prophet, there is no precedent for polygamy.
Mozn Hassan, Shirin Ebadi, Aisha H.L. Al-Adawiya