Plural Marriage in Islam
(This is a section taken from an article of Shaikh Al-Fawzān elsewhere on this site)
The saying of the Prophet (salallaahu `alaihi wassallam): “It is not permitted to be married to a woman and her paternal aunt at the same time – nor a woman and her maternal aunt.” This proves that it is permitted for a man to marry other than these relatives of his wife that are forbidden for him, such as an unrelated woman. He is allowed to marry two, three or four women due to the saying of Allāh:
فَانكِحُوا مَا طَابَ لَكُم مِّنَ النِّسَاءِ مَثْنَىٰ وَثُلَاثَ وَرُبَاعَ ۖ فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا فَوَاحِدَةً
“..marry other 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..” An-Nisaa: 3
So a man is able to marry a free single woman (if she agrees), and it is allowed for him to marry up to four. The benefits of polygamy are numerous both for the husband and his wives – and these benefits are not concealed from the person who has true insight, because if a man was restricted to just one woman whilst there are numerous women in a society, then many woman will be deprived of husbands.
It is known that in society (generally speaking) there are more women than men so these woman are deprived of marriage and they remain single and celibate resulting in harm and difficulty upon them.
A woman is in need of being looked after (and in need of companionship) and having someone over her in authority, and taking care of her. So the fact that a man marries up to four woman and is in authority over them, looking after them, then that is a sharing of responsibility in order to prevent (unhealthy) celibacy, and prevent a society of single women deprived of a loving and caring marriage.
And in reality, in this there is a greater benefit for women than there is for men. That is because the men have to take on the responsibility of maintenance and care over the women, whilst the women are looked after. So the woman is in an advantageous position because she is maintained, cared for, and is given a dwelling to live in as well as the fulfilment of passions. So this is to her advantage and benefit also, so she does not remain single, deprived of a (loving, caring and responsible) husband.
Additionally, men are more prone to diseases and illnesses than women; men are exposed to war and battle, and to dangers. Many men die in battles, wars and natural disasters – many, many numbers of men pass away in this manner. So women are left behind, single and no longer married. So plural marriage alleviates this difficulty in society without doubt.
Also, women are prone by nature to the monthly cycle (menstruation), child birth and post-natal bleeding. So during those times a man is deprived from intimate marital relations if he only has one wife, especially if he is young and has strong desires. So if he was to marry more than one woman then those difficulties would go away.
It is likewise known that when a woman reaches her menopause usually in her 50’s, then her sexual desires fade. As for a man, then his desires do not fade away and his sexual strength and preparedness for women remains into old age. So it is not correct that he remains for the rest of his life being forbidden from having more children, and forbidden from enjoyment of intimacy. If he was deprived that would oppose wisdom and oppose the benefits that Allaah has granted for his servants. The wisdoms behind plural marriage for men are indeed numerous.
The Prophets of God (may God’s peace be upon all of them) would marry numerous wives and engage in polygamy. The Prophet Sulaymaan (Solomon) and other Prophets had numerous wives as is known (in both Biblical and Quranic scripture)*. This is not specific to just Islamic texts. However from the inventions the Christians made to the Religion of God was their forbidding polygynous marriages – and that was not from the Laws of God – they changed the Law. So the Christian has only one wife. So in these types of societies they have no real problem and do not mind a man (even a married man) having girlfriends and partners and living with whomever they please in a manner that is prohibited by God. So they will allow this whilst prohibiting plural marriages!
[Fornication and adultery is preferable to the polygamy legislated by God in the revealed scriptures. It is unfortunate that promiscuous sexual behaviour and infidelity have become normal practices in many societies whilst plural Islamic marriage for men is outlawed, seen as barbaric and demeaning to women. The question begs: Which practice gives women their true rights, gives them the respect they deserve and gives them the ability to make a choice? In an Islamic polygynous marriage, a women is provided for, honoured, shielded from harm, sheltered, her children are considered legitimate and given full rights of kinship, lineage and inheritance – she and her children are fully fledged equal members of the family.
In adulterous and promiscuous relationships, women are treated like sexual objects having no rights over the man who uses them and discards them. He is not called to account, and hides his mistress from his wife, his mother and family. She is treated like a shameful creature who must be hidden away only of use for sexual gratification – whilst the wife is deceived into thinking that her husband is loyal and loving! The ‘mistress’ is not cared for, protected or provided for. Any children born from an adulterous relationship are quite often shunned having no rights. How can this be considered as superior and more “liberating” for a woman than the Islamic model?]
Those who speak ill of plural marriages (polygyny) are affected by the modern day Christian ideology (which itself is not the way of the Prophets as mentioned in biblical scriptures). So some Muslims speak with the arguments of the Christians claiming that polygyny is oppressive towards women. This is not the case in reality at all! It is not unjust upon women. Rather there is in it justice for women and goodness. If a man transgresses against any of his wives then he is reprimanded for his transgressions. Allaah, the Majestic and Most High, has obligated justice:
“And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then 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..” An-Nisaa 4:3
The the plural marriage is allowed only for the one who can establish and maintain justice between his wives. As for the one who is not able to maintain the required justice then he is prohibited from plural marriage so that he is prevented from oppression, transgression and tyranny.
* Note: Later the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) maligned this noble Prophet of God and altered the scriptures, accusing Prophet Solomon of evil and transgression. They accused him of debauchery, fornication and even idolatry and apostasy. And this is a doctrinal difference between the Muslims and the People of the Book:
The Bible states: 1 Kings 11 New International Version (NIV):
11. 1 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. 2 They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. 3 He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 5 He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.
7 On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites.8 He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.
9 The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. 11 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.
Matthew Henry in his commentary stated:
This chapter begins with as melancholy a “but” as almost any we find in all the Bible. Hitherto we have read nothing of Solomon but what was great and good; but the lustre both of his goodness and of his greatness is here sullied and eclipsed, and his sun sets under a cloud. I. The glory of his piety is stained by his departure from God and his duty, in his latter days, marrying strange wives and worshipping strange gods, 1 Kgs. 11:4-8. II. The glory of his prosperity is stained by God’s displeasure against him and the fruits of that displeasure…
This is a sad story, and very surprising, of Solomon’s defection and degeneracy.
I. Let us enquire into the occasions and particulars of it. Shall Solomon fall, that was the beauty of Israel, and so great a blessing of his generation? Yes, it is too true, and the scripture is faithful in relating it, and repeating it, and referring to it long after, Neh. 13:26. There was no king like Solomon who was beloved of his God, yet even him did outlandish women cause to sin. There is the summary of his apostasy; it was the woman that deceived him, and was first in the transgression…
Islamic literature completely contradicts this denigrating account of the Prophet Solomon (Sulaymaan). In fact the Qur’aan goes to great lengths in exonerating the Prophet Sulaimaan from any wrongdoing and relays his great piety and love of Allaah:
“They (the wrongdoers) followed what the devils gave out falsely of the magic in the lifetime of Sulaiman (Solomon). Sulaiman did not disbelieve, but it was the devils who disbelieved…” Qur’aan 2:102
“Indeed, We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], as We revealed to Noah and the prophets after him. And we revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, the Descendants, Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the book of Psalms.” Qur’aan 4:163
“And Noah, We guided before; and among his descendants, David and Solomonand Job and Joseph and Moses and Aaron. Thus do We reward the doers of good.” Qur’aan 6:84
“And We gave understanding of the case to Solomon, and to each [of them] We gave judgement and knowledge.” 21:79
“And to Solomon We subjected the wind, blowing forcefully, proceeding by his command toward the land which We had blessed. And We are ever, of all things, Knowing.” Qur’aan 21:81
“And We had certainly given to David and Solomon knowledge, and they said, “Praise [is due] to Allah , who has favored us over many of His believing servants.”” Qur’aan 27:15
“Said one who had knowledge from the Scripture, “I will bring it (the throne of the Queen of Sheba) to you before your glance returns to you.” And when Solomon saw it placed before him, he said, “This is from the favor of my Lord to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful. And whoever is grateful – his gratitude is only for [the benefit of] himself. And whoever is ungrateful – then indeed, my Lord is Free of need and Generous.”” Qur’aan 27:40
“And to Dawud, We gave Sulaiman (for a son). How excellent a slave he was ever oft-returning in repentance to us.” Qur’aan 38.30
The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said,
“Solomon the son of David said, ‘Tonight I will sleep with seventy wives each of whom will conceive a child who will be a knight fighting for Allah’s Cause.’ His companion said, ‘If Allah wills.’ But Solomon did not say so out of forgetfulness; therefore none of those women got pregnant except one who gave birth to a half child.”
The Prophet (ﷺ) further said, “If the Prophet (ﷺ) Solomon had said it (i.e. ‘If Allah wills’) he would have begotten children who would have fought in God’s Cause.”
Shuaib and Ibn Abi Az-Zinad said, “Ninety women is more correct (than seventy).” Reported Sahih al-Bukhari 3424
This hadeeth proves that Allaah did not rebuke him for his wives. Upon the sending of the Prophet Muhammad, men were restricted in the number of wives to four.