Writing: The polygamy



              According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, polygamy is a marriage in which a spouse of either sex may have more than one mate at the same time. Polygamy term comes also from a Greek term which translated is going to mean "often married".  Polygamy is a social practice that is not well tolerated in most countries and it's being kept against the law. This term is going to refer most of the time to a type of marriage where there is going to be more than one spouse, but most of the time this is going to mean more than one wife. This practice has been criticized a lot by the modern society and especially by Christianity. However at the same time Islam prone a wise practice of polygamy in the Holly Quran. The Surat 4:3 explains the conditions and context under which polygamy was allowed far from any misinterpretation. 

         Islam is criticized for allowing polygamy, the West views polygamy as relatively retrograde and impoverished practice.  Feminists consider it a violation of women’s rights and derisive to women.  A crucial point that needs to be understood is that for Muslims, standards of morality are not set by prevalent Western thought, but by divine revelation. Let’s explain few facts in the Holly Quran before any judgmental conclusions of polygamy in Islam.

           “And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between   them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may  not deviate from the right course. “(Quran 4:3)

          Most of Muslim scholars such in Saheeh Al-Bukhari agreed about the characters of restriction and fairness of polygamy in Islam. The first part of Surat (Quran 4:3) represents a permission of polygamy followed by restriction. The Quran limited the maximum number of wives to four. Islam did not introduce polygamy.  Among all Eastern nations of antiquity, polygamy was a recognized institution.  Among the Hindus, polygamy prevailed from the earliest times.  There was, as among the ancient Babylonians, Assyrians, and Persians, no restriction as to the number of wives a man might have.  Some of the verses from the Old Testament allow polygamy without restriction:

                 In Exodus 21:10, a man can marry an infinite amount of women without any limits to how many he can marry.

There is not a single verse from the New Testament that prohibits polygamy. Jesus peace be upon him did honor the laws of the Old Testament, and did order his followers (the Christians as we call them) to follow the laws of the Old Testament.

Jesus said: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law (the Old Testament) or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke or a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law (the Old Testament) until everything is accomplished.  (Matthew 5:17-18)"

              The second part of Surat (Quran 4:3) treats the question of fairness in marriage. Islam reformed the institution of polygamy by requiring equal treatment to all wives.  The Muslim is not permitted to differentiate between his wives in regards to sustenance and expenditures, time, and other obligations of husbands.  Islam does not allow a man to marry another woman if he will not be fair in his treatment. Also, marriage and polygamy in Islam is a matter of mutual consent.  No one can force a woman to marry a married man.  Islam simply permits polygamy; it neither forces nor requires it.  Besides, a woman may stipulate that her husband must not marry any other woman as a second wife in her prenuptial contract. Despite the critics formulate by Christianity toward Islam, the status of women rights remain ambiguous in the Old Testament.

           To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." (NIV, Genesis 3:16-19)

It is not clear in what sense the husband was to rule over his wife, and this been the subject of much debate.

     Finally, to understand the purpose of the Surat (Quran 4:3) we have to come back to the historical context. During the time of the Prophet (SAW), it was appropriate to take on more than one wife because the wartime conditions during this period left many women widowed and even more orphaned—marriage was seen as an act of charity that helped save and support these women .However, The Quran limited the maximum number of wives to four and those who had more than four wives at the time of embracing Islam were required to divorce the extra wives. 

     God used direct instructions to guide every Muslims in (Quran 4:3), contrarily to most of the Surats in the Holly Quran when God addressed his instructions to the prophet Mohamed (SAW). The purpose of this particular Surat is to bring the attention of all Muslims that the message was not addressed to the prophet only but to all his followers. It’s the character timeless of the Surat that makes it such important. It’s also came to implement restriction and equity to the foundation of successful society beginning with the basic unit describe as the institution of marriage.     



  • Dr. Jumah al-Kholy, ‘Ta’addud al-Zawjaat wa Hikmatuhu fil Islam,’ (Multiple Marriages In Islam & It’s Wisdom), Journal of the Islamic University of Medina, vol. 46, 222-231.
  • John L. Esposito, Islam - The Straight Path (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1992), 80.
  • Kamal Ahmad 'Awn, Al Mar'ah fi al Islam (Tanta: Sha'raw Press, 1955)
  • Saheeh Muslim, #2754, and Saheeh Al-Bukhari, #5999.
  • The Holy Quran. Al-Madinah, Saudi Arabia: King Fahd Holy Quran Printing Complex, 1981











1-     Thesis: practice of polygamy in the Holly Quran 4:3. the Surat explain the conditions and context under which polygamy was allowed

2-     the Holly Quran 4:3 part 1

A-Islam interpretation for allowing polygamy

B- Christianity interpretation

3-     the Holly Quran 4:3 part 2

A-   Islam interpretation of equity in polygamy

B-    Christianity interpretation

4-     Historical context of polygamy

5-     Conclusion