Polygamy | Polygamy in Islam Meaning and History


What is Polygamy

Polygamy is the practice of having more than one marital partner. It is illegal in most of Europe, South America, Australia, Russia, and the United States, and is mostly practiced in Africa and the Middle East. The Holy Quran states that a man may take up to four wives. In Muslim countries, polygamy is practiced in Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Iran. In North Africa, it is practiced in Egypt, Sudan, and Algeria. Read more about this topic at www.miskshops.com
The ideal marriage in Islam is monogamous marriage. Restricted polygamy is a provision permitted by Islam only under exceptional cases, and with certain strict criteria as well.
Most Muslim men are monogamous in their marriage relationships; those who have more than one wife are very few, maybe less than 0.1 % of the Muslim world.

Polygamy in history

The history of polygamy dates back to a long time ago, as it has been practiced by multiple cultures from all around the globe for many centuries. The Hebrew community had partly embraced polygamy. There are signs that suggest that it had occurred in China as well. Polygamy had also existed briefly in the Native Americas, the West African continent, Polynesia, India, and Ancient Greece. This practice was generally recognized worldwide until the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church had enforced the rules of having only one partner. It was also commonly recognized for the last two thousand years in Sub-Saharan Africa too. However, in the Jewish Torah, only men were allowed to practice polygamy. If a woman had more than one husband, people may accuse her of adultery.
In the United States, polygamy was permitted back in the early years of the existence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (which was then known as LDS Church). However, all this stopped back in the year 1890 when Willford Woodruff was the chancellor. But officially it was the year 1899 that the founders of this church started to be kicked out for being polygamous. This way there were a few distinct and new sects that split from the LDS Church and continue to practice polygamy even though the polygamous relationships have now begun to be an unlawful practice in the USA.
Many sacred men from the Bible had many wives. Abraham had Sarah and Hajar. Abraham was first blessed with a son through Hajar, whom he called Ishmael, and then he was blessed with another son through Sarah, whom he named Isaac.

Polygamy in Islam


First of all, Islam limited the number of wives that a man can have at the same time to four wives. Secondly, Islam imposed strict conditions on the person who wants to marry a second wife. He should be able to take care of the family, and also be able to comply with it in terms of justice and equity. Allah SWT says:
“But if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one…” [Surah an-Nisaa 4:3]
Looking at the nature of humans, only a few people have the quality of justice and fairness. Allah SWT says:
“And you do not have the ability to do justice between the wives, even though you may wish (to do so)…” [Surah an-Nisaa 4:129]
Based on these verses, certain Muslim countries (like Iran and Egypt) restrict the provision of polygamy. The man who wishes to marry a second wife must obtain the consent of the family court and shows the need for a second wife and the capacity to take care of both wives in an acceptable manner.
Almost all western countries have banned polygamy, but adultery is still widespread in these same countries. Despite all the efforts to encourage monogamous marriages, many married men have mistresses or are engaged in affairs. This leads to increased divorce rates, broken families and children growing up without their fathers.
If a man tries to mess around, Islam will hold him accountable and bind him to the responsibility towards his second wife and her children.

 The prophet’s marriages

When he was 25 years old, Prophet Muhammad married a prominent and highly respected lady from Mecca that goes by the name Khadija bint Khuwaylid, and who was older than him in age. (According to common belief, she was fifteen years older than him, but on the basis of further study, we assume that she was only two years older). They were married for twenty-five years until she died. Two years later, the Prophet (PBUH) traveled from Mecca to Medina, where he established the first Islamic community.
The Prophet (PBUH) had only one wife during his first fifty years, and that is Lady Khadija, whom he cherished dearly and who was one of the strongest pillars of support for his cause. In the last thirteen years of his life, he married other wives.

The other wives

All the marriages of the prophet (PBUH), other than that of Lady Khadija, had a strong political or religious purpose. We can split these marriages into four groups, and some had a double intent.

Polygamy for providing protection and dignity to widows

  • Sawdah bint Zam’ah: A Muslim widow whose husband died in Abyssinia. She returned to Mecca but could not stay with her father and brother, because they both were infidels and enemies of Islam. They were against Islam so much that they could torture her to death. The Prophet (PBUH), who was a widower at that time, married her to protect her, and to forge an important alliance with his enemies.
  • Zaynab bint Khuzaymah: A widow for the second time, when her second husband Abdullah bin Jahsh died in the battle of Uhud. She was popular for her generosity, and was famous as “Ummul masakin, mother of the poor”. Now she was facing hard times herself. The Prophet (PBUH) tried to retain her prestige, so he married her in the third year Hijri. She died less than a year after her marriage.

To set the salves free

  • Juwayriyyah bint al-Harith: After the battle of Banu Mustaliq in the fifth year of Hijri, the Muslims took into slavery two hundred families from that tribe. Juwayriyyah, who was the daughter of the head of the tribe, had become a widow. The Prophet (PBUH) set her free and married her. Why? The Muslims, who had made the two hundred families of the Banu Mustaliq their slaves, discovered that through the marriage of Juwayriyyah with the Prophet, all these two hundred families were now related to the Prophet (PBUH). Out of loyalty to the Prophet, the Muslims set them free. They were so grateful, that the whole tribe of Banu Mustaliq converted to Islam. Thanks to this union, the Prophet (PBUH) was able to turn the hostile tribe into an ally.

To establish good ties for the sake of Islam

  • Aisha bint Abi Bakr: Although the marriage was in Mecca, she came to the Prophet’s house after his migration to Medina. She was his youngest wife. This marriage created an alliance with Abu Bakr so that he would be on the side of Muslims during the conflict with the idol-worshippers of Mecca.
  • Hafsah bint Omar ibn al-Khattab: She became a widow after her husband died in the Battle of Badr. The Prophet married her in the 4th year Hijri. This union helped seal the Prophet’s alliance with Omar.
  • Safiyyah bin Huyaiy ibn Akhtab: She was the daughter of the head of Banu Nadhir, a Jewish tribe of Khaybar. When her husband died in the Battle of Khaybar, she became a widow. The Muslim forced took her hostage. In the 7th year Hijri, the Prophet (PBUH) married her to preserve her noble status and to create marriage ties with her Jewish tribe.


The desire to be related to the prophet

  • Maymunah bint al-Harith: Her second husband passed away in the 7th year of Hijri. She came to the Prophet (PBUH) and gifted herself to him. She just wanted the honor of being called “the wife of the Prophet”. The Prophet (PBUH) accepted her as his wife.


To sum up everything that has been stated so far, polygamy is a practice according to which one man can marry many wives at the same time; a complicated topic in modern Islamic societies. Polygamy is a pre-Islamic tradition from Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean that has persisted in Islam. However, the Quran limited the number of wives a man may marry to four. This argue whether the restriction applies only to permanent marriages or temporary marriages as well. Many modern Islamic nations have either outlawed or regulated polygyny (Egypt, 1920; Sudan, 1929; India, 1939; Jordan, 1951; Syria, 1953; Tunisia, 1956; Morocco, 1958; Iraq, 1959; Pakistan, 1961; Turkey, 1971; and South Yemen, 1974), although many traditionalists consider a man’s right to four wives essential to the Islamic concept of marriage.

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