Islam and Polygamy
1. One of the common myths is to associate polygamy with Islam as if it were introduced by Islam or is the norm according to its teachings. While no text in the Qur’an or Sunnah states that either monogamy or polygamy is the norm, demographic data indicates that monogamy is the norm and polygamy is the exception. In almost all countries and on the global level the numbers of men and women are almost even, with women’s numbers slightly more than men.
As such, it is a practical impossibility to regard polygamy as the norm since it assumes a demographic structure of at least two thirds females, and one third males (or 80 percent females and 20 percent males if four wives per male is the norm!). No Islamic “norm” is based on an impossible assumption.
2. Like many peoples and religions, however, Islam did not out law polygamy but regulated it and restricted it. It is neither required nor encouraged, but simply permitted and not outlawed. Edward Westermarck gives numerous examples of the sanctioning of polygamy among Jews, Christians, and others.
3. The only passage in the Qur’an (4:3) which explicitly mentioned polygamy and restricted its practice in terms of the number of wives permitted and the requirement of justice between them was revealed after the Battle of Uhud in which dozens of Muslims were martyred leaving behind widows and orphans. This seems to indicate that the intent of its continued permissibility is to deal with individual and collective contingencies that may arise from time to time (i.e., imbalances between the number of males and females created by wars). This provides a moral, practical, and humane solution to the problems of widows and orphans who are likely to be more vulnerable in the absence of a husband/father figure to look after their needs: financial, companions, proper rearing, and other needs.
If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans marry women of your choice two or three or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them) then only one … (Qur’an 4:3)
4. All parties involved have options: to reject marriage proposals as in the case of a proposed second wife or to seek divorce or khula (divestiture) as in the case of a present wife who cannot accept to live with a polygamous husband.

While the Qur’an allowed polygamy, it did not allow polyandry (multiple husbands of the same woman). Anthropologically speaking, polyandry is quite rare. Its practice raises thorny problems related to the lineal identity of children, and incompatibility of polyandry with feminine nature.

All mandates of the religion of Islam are from God, the Wise, and thus one deduces that all things which are permitted are due to the fact that their benefit to the self and society outweighs their harms. When one analyzes the reasons and results of the allowance of polygamy, it will be found that indeed the rulings of the religion of Islam are truly those which suit all times and places, as their source is God Almighty, the Wise and the Knowledgeable.
As the Quran indicates (4:3), the issue of polygamy in Islam is understood in the light of community obligations towards orphans and widows. Islam, as a universal religion that is suitable for all times and places, can not ignore these compelling obligations.
Islamic polygamy addresses the social problems of prostitution and extramarital affairs common in the West. Instead of cheating – infidelity is one of the top reasons for divorce in the West – Islam allows a man to marry more than one wife, with full recognition of the rights of all of them. The basic principle in Islam is that men are held responsible for their behavior towards women just as women are responsible for their behavior towards men.

The number of women in the world exceeds that of men. The surplus is a result of men dying in wars, violent crimes, and women outliving men.

– According to Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy of women in US is 77.9 years, while for men it is only 70.3

The upsurge in homosexuality further increases the problem. Bertrand Russell wrote, “And in all countries where there is an excess of women, it is an obvious injustice that those women who, by arithmetical necessity, must remain unmarried should be wholly debarred from sexual experience.” Polygamy, then, is the only responsible solution for this predicament.

We can get the following percentage according to The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. 17, pp. 34, 270, 244

Country Male Population (%) Female Population (%)
Russia 46.1 53.9
UK 48.6 51.5
USA 48.8 51.2
Brazil 49.7 50.27
Let us take the US as an example. Why are extramarital affairs so widespread? “What makes this state of affairs possible, of course, is a supply of willing women. Most are single, both because of the growing numbers of unmarried women (there are 34 million in the United States today) and because single women generally have more free time and energy than do their married counterparts. Consider these statistics: One out of every five women today has no potential mate because there are simply not enough single men to go around.
A 25-year-old single woman faces a serious undersupply of available men to start with, and the situation gets worse the older a woman gets. Divorced men are much more likely than divorced women to remarry (and they tend to marry younger women), so that there are more than twice as many single women as there are single men in their 40s. Indeed, a woman who divorces at 35 today is likely to remain single for the rest of her life. Caught in a demographic bind while seeking greater autonomy, more and more single women are opting for involvement with married men.”

– ( Laurel Richardson “Another World; More and More Single Women Are Opting for Affairs with Married Men, and the Trend Is Diminishing Feminist Progress,” Psychology Today, vol. 20, February 1986.)


In addition, surplus of women who are not financially maintained by a husband is a cause of increased prostitution in the society. For example, Germany has 0.96 males/females. Under Germany’s welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including being a prostitute in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit! A 1994 study found that 16% of 18-59 year old men in a US survey group had paid for sex (Gagnon, Laumann, and Kolata 1994)

– Clare Chapman, ‘If you don’t take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits,’ The Telegraph, 30 Jan. 2005


Furthermore, the problem of the unbalanced sex ratios can worsen during times of war. The WWII war-bride phenomenon is a case in point. After WWII there were 7,300,000 more women than men in Germany alone (3.3 million of them were widows). There were 100 men aged 20 to 30 for every 167 women in that age group. Many of these women needed a man not only as a companion but also as a provider for the household in a time of unprecedented misery and hardship. The soldiers in the victorious Allied Armies exploited these women’s vulnerability. Many young girls and widows had liaisons with members of the occupying forces.