One of the most beautiful laws of Islam is in regards to the guardianship and treatment of women. One cannot truly love and worship Allah (swt) without agreeing with the rights of the female, and more specifically, the rights of the wives.
Islam allows the practice of “polygyny”, not necessarily “polygamy”. The two terms are easily confused. Polygamy is most often understood to be a practice that allows any male or female to be married to an unlimited number of spouses at the same time. Polygyny specifically allows only the male to have more than one wife at the same time, as we find to be the case within the laws of Islam.
Another confusion we find in the modern world is the belief that the laws of polygyny are no longer valid or important. This line of thought is an absolute blemish on our perfect religion. No law in Islam was revealed for only one specific time. The laws of Allah (swt) are for the past, present, and future. They are constant. What changes is the Dunya’s perception (Shaytaan’s influence) of what is it good and bad, necessary and evil. The laws of polygyny were revealed at a time when corruptness and severe mistreatment of women ruled Arabia. The women of Arabia had zero rights and were certainly not given any respect. A man could marry as many wives as he wanted and treat them in any way he desired. Women were considered disposable property. Can you imagine?
And so, The Responsive – The Guardian – released the women from this pain with the laws of polygyny: laws that benefit everyone involved.
First and foremost, a man must treat his wives as equals and limit the number of wives to no more than four, no matter the financial situation or popularity of the husband.
“And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, than 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 or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline (to injustice.)”
Allah also warns the man against recklessness and lack of justice between the wives.
“The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Whoever has two wives and favors one of them over the other, he will come on the Day of Resurrection with one of his sides leaning.”
(Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, saheeh by al-Albaani, in saheeh al-Targheeb wa’l-Tarheeb – no. 1949)
Second, a man cannot obtain other wives if he has no ability to provide for them.
“And let those who find not the financial means for marriage keep themselves chaste, until Allah enriches them of his bounty.”
Third, a man has not right to use multiple wives as a way to brag within the community, as Islam strictly prohibits extravagance of any kind.
“O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.”
Polygyny is not about a man obtaining excessive sexual gratification, and it’s not about women using their rights to manipulate their giving husband. Everyone has a role, and every role as a reason.
In response to a non-believer’s doubts about the benefits of polygyny to anyone other than the husband, Sheik Yusuf Estes said:
“Islam is very much about ‘the rights’. The rights for the husband, yes, but the rights for the women as well as the rights for the children that are a product of their relationship in marriage. Therefore, the child has the right to know who his father is, and how would he know if the woman had more than one husband? And the wife has the right to be maintained properly. How will she know she’s going to be provided for? (She can say) ‘Hey, I can look over here and see that this man provides very well for his existing wife, therefore he would have to treat me in the same way.”
The act of polygyny is all about choice and balances; therefore, polygyny in Islam is permissible, not a requirement. In fact, the majority of Muslim men worldwide do not choose the path of polygyny. This type of marriage is an incredibly daunting task to do within strict accordance of Allah’s law.
The world is much different now in comparison to Arabia during the time these laws were revealed, so it’s easy to understand why so many Muslims have fallen into the trap of believing that polygyny is a dirty and archaic practice. It’s important for us to remember there is perfection in every law Allah (swt) gives to us and great wisdom in the lifestyle of our Prophet (pbuh). Jealousy is a very real and uncomfortable experience for any woman in any marital situation, and one might assume that this amplifies in a polygynous marriage. The truth from Allah (swt) is that while it’s possible for a man to treat multiple wives equally within the laws of marriage, it is not always possible for a man to romantically love all of his wives the same, for this is a matter of the heart. Scholars agree this is the meaning behind this ayat:
“You will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even if it’s your ardent desire.”
And what wisdom does Islam give to the wives experiencing jealousy?
“Jihad is ordained for you, though you dislike it, and may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you…”
Lust and heart filled eyes is never the best reason to marry, and it will never be what makes a marriage substantial and long-lasting. Sometimes widows and divorcees need a husband, a provider. Sometimes children need a father, a guardian. Modern society tells us that marriage based on lust is the best way to go, but everyday we watch these marriages fizzle out in divorce and unlawful infidelity.
Join together with your husband or wife for the reason Allah (swt) tells you to, and love in all aspects (emotional and physical) will fall comfortably into place.
If polygyny seems to be too much of challenge for you, avoid it. By all means, never insult it neither with the judgements you make on those who practice nor with your own actions if you practice polygyny incorrectly or in an abusive manner.
As one Muslim sister told me,
“Well, Allah did make men with more sexual prowess than women. Most women couldn’t physically handle a different man in 4 nights. Most sisters in my community have this complaint as do I. We polled among us and we prefer sex maybe once a week at most, but we also have other obligations beside just catering to our husband, so it would be different for women with no children. I have heard of women with sexual prowess that matched a man’s, but I have never met a woman like that in my entire life, even in my jahiliyah. Of my peers here, more than once a week and it’s not enjoyable, but just another chore. Also, most of the same sisters complain about sex being over before they realize any gratification, too. I only heard one sister complain about not enough sex, but she admitted her real issue was that he took another wife. So, I guess there are really so many variables”
Polygyny is a beautiful alternative to otherwise damper marital situations. It offers a solution for a man who is married to a barren or sickly wife and desires children, yet does not want to part from this wife. Polygyny protects women from the type of suffering that can occur from being without a husband, such as with the widowed and divorced. It also protects women from the humiliation that can occur when a husband prefers infidelity over legal marriage. Polygyny guarantees more women to enjoy the security and happiness found in marriage, as we know there are at all times in history (modern and ancient) more women in the world than men. It protects both husband and wife from placing themselves in potentially haraam situations.
Alhamdulillah for the good men and good women who love Allah (swt) so much that they find ease in comfort in this way of life He has offered to us.