Polygamy: A Right No More

Polygamy: A Right No More

Historically, Arabs were known to take on an unlimited number of wives, a right given to them by society. Polygamy is when a man takes several wives. Islam placed a limit on the right to polygamy, allowing a man to have a maximum of four wives on the condition that he must treat them justly.

As laid down in Surah 4 verse 3 of the Quran:

“…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].”

If we look into the reasons for polygamy in 2016, one will find different arguments as to why polygamy should be allowed, apart from it being an unfettered right given to men under religion.

Scholars in favor of polygamy state that the number of women in the world exceeds that of men, the reason for this surplus is because men die due to wars, violent crimes, or just the basic argument that women outlive men. Even though these points are valid the question remains, should polygamy still be allowed?

On an interpretation of Surah 4 verse 3, it appears that polygamy was only intended if the husband could treat all of his wives justly and equally. A wealthy man might be able to give all of his wives equal material possessions, such as a house, clothes, cars etc. However it must be noted that only the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was capable of providing equal feelings and emotion for all of his wives. This is the underline restriction that is present in Surah 4 verse 3. The verse does not only talk about being equal in physical possessions but also to be equal in emotional feelings of love and affection between all wives. Today, most husbands will not be able to assess whether they are able to give equal feelings of love and affection to all their wives. Therefore, to stay in line with the teachings of the Quran it may be best to avoid polygamy completely.

In 2002, a study by Durham University was conducted to see the impact, if any, on children of polygamous unions. The researchers found that children of these unions were at a greater risk of experiencing marital conflict, family violence, family disruptions, marital distress, particularly that related to high levels of unhappiness of women in polygamous unions, absence of the father and financial stress. It seems, these days polygamy is more of a threat for the upbringing of a child as it creates a hostile environment for the children and so polygamous unions in today’s world should be avoided. Socially, children can be teased or even abused for having a father who takes more than one wife.

In the subcontinent and the Middle East, polygamy is often a sign of power and riches. It is used to reduce the worth of women. However, people are considered backward if they have more than one wife. These views have developed over time, and as a consequence of how men have used polygamy as a tool for coercion. This is why removing polygamy may be the best option. Tunisia is the only country where an absolute bar has been placed on the husband’s right to polygamy. Tunisia has banned polygamy entirely making it a criminal offence to take a second wife. This model is one that all countries should follow but this may not be possible due to the social and religious bonds we have attached to polygamy. To start off, laws can be introduced to ban polygamy as a general rule. These laws can lay down special circumstances, or give the courts some special powers, through which polygamy can be permissible. Polygamy should be avoided as a general rule and regulated by law overall.

Polygamy was never meant to be the enemy of the modern day woman, it was not a means of reducing the status of a woman. The concept itself has become so distorted that it is no longer fulfilling the purpose it set out to achieve; limiting men from mistreating women. The limit was not just on the number of wives, but on the ability to take more than one wife and the emphasis on just and equal treatment is a prerequisite in doing so. We have turned polygamy into a right that has no rules or regulations, this is not what was set out in Surah 4, verse 3. The importance of equal treatment cannot be ignored and if we are to follow it as it is stated in the Quran, then polygamy is not achievable in today’s world. Emotions or affection cannot be quantified and so a man may never know if he was treating all his wives equally. It is essential to introduce laws to ban polygamy, as the negative effects on children, women and society have become more visible today. Polygamy may be a right given to men under religion but it cannot exist until the conditions of equality are met, so in today’s world this right is not workable anymore.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which he might be associated.

Aksom Zaheer

Author: Aksom Zaheer

The writer is an LLB student of the University of London International Programmes at Pakistan College of Law and is an intern at CourtingTheLaw. He has keen interest in music and plays various instruments.