Is it not a sign of privilege that men are allowed to marry more than one woman?

The Details of the Question

- The Quran mentions that men can marry 4 women. The reason for it is explained as the fact that a man is not allowed to have a sexual intercourse with his wife when she is in menstruation. In other words, it is the thought that a man can marry more than a woman to prevent him from committing adultery.
- Does this explanation not show that men are creatures that cannot prevent their animal desires and that they have no ideas except sexuality in their unwise minds?
- There are men who spend years in prison. How do they stay there without sex?
- Similarly, a woman cannot have a sexual intercourse when she is in menstruation. However, the woman waits.
- Is it not a sign of privilege that men are allowed to marry more than one woman? Does Allah distinguish between His slaves?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

It will be useful to mention some points that will shed light on the issue of polygamy in Islam:

a) First of all, it is necessary to state the following: Islam did not start polygamy; it imposed certain restrictions on a system that adopted marriage with an unlimited number of women.

b) Marrying more than one woman is not a “command” for all believers, but a “permission” given related to some cases.

c) Men who marry more than one (up to four) woman are charged with the duty of “treating their wives justly”. Otherwise, they are warned against the penalty of Allah.

- The following is stated in a verse:

“If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye 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.” (an-Nisa, 4/3)

- The Prophet states the following:

“If a man has two wives and favors one of them over the other, he will come on the Day of Resurrection with one of his sides paralyzed.” (Ibn Majah, Nikah, 47)

d) It is clear what kind of difficulties women who are in need of care and who are left unattended and the society in which they live can have in cases of wars, etc. when men are killed in great numbers. To whom can a woman who needs to earn her living somehow apply and what difficulties will she encounter in such cases? The best example of it occurred in Germany after the Second World War. There were five or six women per man. And for this reason, the German authorities began to advocate polygamy openly.

e) The main purpose of marriage is to continue human race. There is no doubt that the most important wisdom behind Allah’s creation of humans is HUMAN reproduction. It is quite reasonable that this reproduction is based on a certain law/principle. Nobody in the world is allowed to produce goods in someone else’s factory without permission. If marriage, which is the way of reproduction of humans, is made with more than one woman, this population increase will be even more. Human history adopted polygamy for such reasons long before Islam.

f) However, a woman has the freedom to marry and to choose a spouse in Islam. She might not marry a polygamous man. In addition, there may always be a need for polygamy in the worldly life due to health, social reasons, wars and other secondary reasons. 

g) “Although marrying up to four women is compatible with nature, reason and wisdom, shari’ah did not increase it from one to four; on the contrary, shari’ah reduced it from eight-night to four.”

“Besides, shari’ah imposed such conditions related to the number of wives that there is no harm in acting accordingly. Even if it is evil at some points, it is the lesser evil. The lesser evil is relative justice. Unfortunately, it is impossible for everything to be absolutely good in the world.” (see Münazarat, p. 82)

“It is clear that everyone wants lots of children. There is no nation or government that does not support an increase in population. In fact, God’s Most Noble Messenger (Upon whom be blessings and peace) said: تَنَاكَحُوا تَكَاثَرُوا فَاِنِّى اُبَاهِى بِكُمُ اْلاُمَمَ (Bayhaqi, 7/81) That is, ‘Marry and increase, for at the Last Day I shall take pride in your large numbers.’” (see Lem’alar, p. 198)

As a matter of fact, in the laws of ancient Persia, China and Brahmins, and in the laws of Hammurabi in Babylon, polygamy was accepted. In Roman law, there was living together without being married. (see Mahmut Es’ad, Tarih-i İlm-i Hukuk, İstanbul 1331/1912, pp. 75, 97, 139, 141, 149, 165, 173, 175)

Permission to marry more than one woman might become a social need

The issue of polygamy has been severely criticized in the Western world; it has been said that it eliminates the equality of men and women, hinders the rights and freedom of women, harms the modern lifestyle and that it is a remnant of backwardness and primitivism; the same views have been repeated by some circles in Islamic countries too.

However, some Western thinkers made contrary statements and stated that polygamy should be legitimized and that it was an exemplary system in terms of social, moral and economic aspects. They accused those who criticized polygamy of hypocrisy by stating that there was actual polygamy committed illegitimately in the West. German philosopher Schopenhauer and French physician and psychologist Gustave Le Bon have interesting views regarding the issue. (See Nizamu Taaddudiz-Zawjat fil-Islam, Cairo 1985, p. 217 ff.)

It is not appropriate to view the issue from only one viewpoint

It seems that most of those who criticize the attitude of the religion of Islam, which recommends marriage with one woman in principle, about polygamy do not know enough about the decree regarding the issue and think that the permission given depending on some conditions is a religious command and necessity. It is not appropriate for the critics who tolerate extramarital relationships to consider the issue only in terms of women’s rights.

In fact, it cannot be said that the practice of polygamy is against all women. In terms of individuals, there are women who suffer from polygamy, and there are also individuals and societies that benefit from it, including the woman herself.

Polygamy has not been so common

In case of having a relationship with more than one woman, which is much more common than it is thought in societies, if the issue is not made legal, the second woman suffers in terms of various rights, social pressure and similar aspects; the first woman also suffers from various problems of being the wife of a man who resorts to illegitimate ways. In addition, the family institution and society will have various problems due to the children to be born out of such relationships.

Polygamy should be regarded as a permission of Islam that can be used under certain conditions and limitations, a solution that provides balance in the society and solves some problems, and a kind of “social insurance”.

In fact, the dominance of monogamy in Muslim societies for a long time, the fact that at most 10% of men tend to polygamy and that they generally regard two women enough prove it.

On the other hand, this practice continues, though to a certain extent, in the Islamic countries where polygamy is prohibited by law, and efforts are made to eliminate the grievances caused by this de facto situation with legal measures. It seems more appropriate for the social phenomenon and structure of Muslim societies to register and legalize polygamy, which is mainly based on religious permission and bilateral consent, instead of preventing it by legal regulations.

Offers contrary to nature cannot be made on behalf of equality

Among those who approach the issue of polygamy in terms of gender equality, there are also those who say that the right given to men was not given to women. It is unthinkable for Islam to have a positive view related to the practice of polyandry, which no human being whose nature is intact can accept. This practice, which is extremely objectionable in terms of not only male-female relations but also legal rules that regulate family and social relations such as lineage, alimony and inheritance, has not been supported throughout history except for the limited practice in some Eskimo, Indian and African tribes.


To sum up, Islam does not address only one society and only one period of time. Islam is a universal religion. In times of war, the number of women in countries might be much higher than the number of men. It might become a necessity for a man to marry more than one woman in order to protect women, prevent them from being raped, provide them sustenance and avoid fornication. Therefore, polygamy is allowed according to necessity.

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