Polygyny – Provision or Privilege

Written By: Rabia Nazir

The fast-pacing world is not only shaping thinking patterns of masses; the relationship forms and choices are also moving from ‘traditional’ to ‘tailored’. Non-believing researchers often question that why a religion like Islam which strongly supports the rights of women accepts ‘polygamy’. Islam allows ‘polygyny’ to be more specific; implying that a man can have multiple spouses. A woman is not allowed to have more than one husband at a given time; logical enough because of the impossibility of the identification of off-springs born to the mother with many husbands.

Historian would agree with me on this that ‘polygyny’ was not something introduced by Islam. It had been present in various shapes among different cultures and religions from pre-Islamic times. Such polygynic relationships were driven by numerous motives including passion, power, and pleasure etc. There was also not any limit on the number of partners (including either legitimate or illegitimate) a man can have1, 2.

Yes, polygyny is allowed in Islam but only under ‘special circumstances’. Our beloved Prophet (Peace be upon him) had at least 13 wives according to testified sources. We should also appreciate here that Prophet (peace be upon him) remained married to Hazrat Khadeeja (may Allah be pleased with her) only from the age of 25 to 50 years during the time of his prime youth whereas there was a culture of polygyny among Arabs in the society at that time. Anyone who has read Quran and life of Prophet (peace be upon him) closely and thoroughly knows that the purpose of these marriages was either strategic (to establish family ties with close companions particularly newly converted tribes) or social (looking after the widows/divorcees) 3, 4. Islam allows polygyny as a provision to accommodate the women who have no family members to support them and are not in position to support them otherwise. The conditional nature of polygyny in Islam can be clearly understood from the following verse of Surah Al-Nisa:

‘Marry woman of your choice in twos’ threes’ or fours’ but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly, (with them), then only one’ [4:3]

If a man decides to have more than one wife for a good reason; he should be able to do justice among the wives in terms of financial support, time, and attention. Understanding the human nature, it has already been said in Glorious Quran:

 ‘It is very difficult to be just and fair between women’. [4:129]

Polygyny has been misunderstood by majority of people in our society in a way that it looks like a privilege given to men for enjoying relationships with many spouses. Islamic polygyny is never about satisfying lust or sexual needs. In case of polygyny, all wives are given equal status and there shouldn’t be a ‘favourite wife’ or ‘sweet-heart’. For this reason, the Messenger of God asked God’s pardon for any unintentional leanings. He would make this prayer:

‘‘I may have unintentionally shown more love to one of them than the others and this would have been injustice. So, O Lord, I take refuge in Your grace for those things which are beyond my power.’’5

I have seen ‘forced marriages’ as the most common motive for ‘a second marriage’. We all come across cases in newspapers and on television where people in forced marriages later become involved in cheating, leaving parents/families/children, and even murders sometimes. In many cases, second marriage is done secretly without the permission or the knowledge of the first wife. What we forget that our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) has greatly emphasized that the ‘wedding contract/Nikah’ should be performed and announced publicly. Therefore, a ‘secret second marriage’ is a false practice on the account of polygyny6. I believe that these things would happen to a lesser extent if parents should consider and accept their children’s choice of life-partner regardless of sect, cast, and social status.

Some people also decide to marry second time if they remain childless from first marriage or for the desire of having a son. I’m not an Islamic scholar to comment on this that if it is justified or not. However, the thing which worries me is that our Pakistani dramas are still preaching these ideas to viewers that it is women’s choice/fault that she could not bear a male child. I can’t digest that how on earth is it possible that a woman can decide if she wants to bear a girl or a boy…………

I deeply regret when I see people justifying their unreasonable choices in the name of Islam without bothering to understand the philosophy behind the provision of polygyny. OK! I do understand that you want to do some social work by marrying some women out there but then why not marry widows/divorcees with children, or the orphans, or the needy with no family, or an averaged looking poor girl, or someone disabled by a road accident? Why is it taken as a privilege token to marry only younger and good-looking girls? I ll leave you to think about it!


  1. George Elliott Howard, ‘The Project Gutenberg E-Book of A History of Matrimonial Institutions’, [2015].
  2. George Monger, ‘Marriage customs of the world: from henna to honeymoons’, [2004].
  3. Sayyid Ali Ashgar Razwy, ‘Khadijatul Kubra, A Short Story of Her Life


  1. Rachel Jones, ‘Polygyny in Islam’, Macalester Islam Journal, [2006].
  2. Tirmidhi, ‘Nikah’, 41.
  3. Mohammad Fadel, ‘Islamic marriage, temporary marriage, secret marriage and polygamous marriage




Published by meerekarwan

The origins of Meer-e-Karwan can be traced back to a rainy evening in 2017, over a cup of chai, in a small tea house of Oxford. Disillusioned and saddened by the lack of adequate awareness, meaningful discussions and often, the dismissal of the voices of marginalised groups – a group of friends decided to create a social platform to combat this and provide a platform to teach, learn and engage with individuals and communities. A pledge was made. No topic will remain taboo and no voice will be quietened. The phrase meer-e-karwan in Urdu alludes to a leader of a procession, a tribe of likeminded individuals, who set about a journey with a common goal. No matter where you are in your journey and what your goal is, we invite you to join the karwan.

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