Polygamy in Islamic Law

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Muhammad and Polygamy

According to traditional sources, Muhammad practiced polygamy. Besides the numerous concubines, he married fifteen women and consummated his marriages with thirteen.[1] According to Tabari he was also accused of being a "womanizer".[2] He was also attributed the sexual prowess of many men:

Narrated Qatada: Anas bin Malik said, "The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number." I asked Anas, "Had the Prophet the strength for it?" Anas replied, "We used to say that the Prophet was given the strength of thirty (men)." And Sa'id said on the authority of Qatada that Anas had told him about nine wives only (not eleven).

Reasons for Muhammad's Marriages

Islamic scholarship gives the care of widows and poor woman as a societal reason for polygynous marriages. Yet Many of Muhammad's wives were not poor or widows. In fact, one of his wives (Muhammad's cousin, Zainab bint Jash) was originally the wife of his step-son Zaid bin Haritha. As was the case with Safiyah bint Huyayy, the traditional sources indicate that many of his marriages were the results of Muhammad's desire, not compassion for widows or poor women. This is nowhere more evident than in his numerous divorces, which numbered six in total. For example; he divorced ‘Amrah bint Yazid on their wedding night,[3] due to her suffering from leprosy.[4][5][6][7] He also divorced a women named Ghaziyyah bint Jabir when he realized that she was 'old'.[8] Yet Muhammad refused to allow Ali bin Abu Talib (the husband of his daughter Fatima) to take even a second wife because "what hurts her, hurts me."[9][10] This seems to indicate that at least for his own daughter he thought that polygyny hurt women, but would not take this fact into account with regard to his own marriages.

Polygamy Permitted in Islam

Regardless of it not being acceptable for the husband of Muhammad's daughter, Islam traditionally allows a man to marry up to four wives at any one time:

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.

Islam also does not traditionally require that the man have the permission of his first wife before marrying a second:

It is not obligatory for the husband, when he wishes to marry another, to get his first wife's acceptance, but it is a noble trait of character and good relations for him to appease her by whatever decreases the pain which woman naturally feel in such situations. This may be achieved by smiling,greeting her warmly and speaking kindly to her, and by whatever money you can afford,if her acceptance requires it

The Acceptance of the first Wife is not a Condition for the one who wishes to marry another
FatwaIslam, Permanent Committee for Research and Verdicts: Fatawa Islamiyah Darussalam Vol: 5 No. 353

Islamic Defense of Polygamy

Muslim scholars often claim that the reason why Allah allowed men to marry four wives is that men are killed in battle, thus resulting in women being in more numbers more than men. They also claim that the practice of polygyny curbs adultery, thus leading to more and happier marriages and fewer divorces. Yet these claims are not supported by the facts:

World Population shows a surplus of men

Here's a breakdown of the world population according to CIA Statistics

World Population age group 15-64 years: 65.2% (male 2,152,066,888/female 2,100,334,722)[11]

This means there are 51,732,100 extra males in the world at marriageable age. Even the worst war in history did not kill off enough males to make polygamy justified. In WW2, 24 million "military" died, leaving still another 26 million spare men.[12]

GENERAL POPULATION: women and men casualties: 1,986,370,000 (probably mostly women)
Military casualties: 24,456,700

Allah creates more males than females

The ratio of births is 105 males to 100 females, so this does not seem to be the case.

Polygamy often leads to divorce

According to Somayya Jabarti of Arab News, Saudi Arabia has the second-highest divorce-rate in the world. Abdullah Al-Fawzan, a professor and sociologist at King Saud University in Riyadh, states that polygamy is responsible for up to 55 percent of divorces. He added that the loss of trust, sincerity, compassion and cooperation were also factors in the failure of marriages.[13] The Maldives, an Islamic country with a 100% Muslim population,[14] also has the highest divorce rate in the world, with 10.97 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants per year.[15]

See Also

  • Polygamy - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Polygamy

External Links


  1. al-Tabari vol.9 p.126-127
  2. "....Layla’s people said, "’What a bad thing you have done! You are a self-respecting woman, but the Prophet is a womanizer. Seek an annulment from him.’ She went back to the Prophet and asked him to revoke the marriage and he complied with [her request]...." - al Tabari vol.9 p.139
  3. Al-Tabari, Vol. 9, p. 139; Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, pp. 187-188.
  4. Ibn Ishaq, cited in Guillaume, A. (1960). New Light on the Life of Muhammad, p. 55. Manchester: Manchester University Press
  5. Ibn Hisham note 918 (here he has apparently confused her with Asma bint Al-Numan).
  6. Bewley/Saad 8:100-101.
  7. Women in Islam, By Anne Sofie Roald - Page 221 [Quoted: Najla Hamadeh, Page 335-6]
  8. al-Tabari vol.9 p.139
  9. Sahih Bukhari 7:62:157
  10. "An indication of their special relationship is found in the fact that Ali never married another woman as long as Fatima was alive. Sunni sources explain this curiosity in a tradition in which Ali asks for Abu Jahl's daughter in marriage, but the Prophet does not allow him to marry her because it would upset Fatimah." - "The Image of Fatima in Classical Muslim Thought," Denise L. Soufi, PhD dissertation, Princeton, 1997, p. 51-52
  11. Global Population Statistics - CIA.gov
  12. WW2 Casualties - Wikipedia.org
  13. Somayya Jabarti - Alarming Divorce Rate ‘Must Be Addressed Urgently’ - Arab News, October 24, 2003
  14. The Maldives is the only country after Saudi Arabia that claims to have a 100 percent Muslim population. As per its constitution, only a Muslim can be a citizen of the country. Propagating any faith other than Islam, importing/publicly carrying literature that contradicts Islam or translation into the Dhivehi language of such books and writings, displaying in public any symbols or slogans belonging to any religion other than Islam, or creating interest in such articles are all against the law and are punishable with imprisonment, fines or banishment.
  15. Highest divorce rate - Guinness World Records, accessed January 5, 2013