Polygamy in the Quran, Traditions, and Classical Sharia Law

In June 2015, the Supreme Court said it is constitutional that marriage should include two men or two women. How can society and lawmakers, logically or constitutionally, prevent other nonconformists like polygamists their chance at redefining marriage?

What are the pitfalls of polygamy?

This is Part 12 in the sharia series.

This series on Islamic sharia law is intended for educators, legislators, lawyers, judges, journalists, city council members, government bureaucrats, think tank fellows, TV and radio talk show hosts, and anyone else who occupies the “check points” in society. They initiate the national dialogue and shape the flow of the conversation. They are the policy and decision makers.

They have heard the critics of sharia and conclude that the critics are overstating their case (and maybe they do sometimes). They may be “Islamophobes.” Islam is a world religion that deserves respect, after all.

On the other hand, the intellectual elites may have a private, gnawing feeling of doubt. Can the critics be all wrong, all the time?

The elites have heard strange reports coming from the Islamic world and Muslim communities in the West.

For example, in the UK, the government has cleared the way for men living with their harems to receive state benefits for all their partners.

Husbands living in a “harem” with multiple wives have been cleared to claim state benefits for all their different partners. A Muslim man with four spouses – which is permitted under Islamic law – could receive £10,000 a year in income support alone. He could also be entitled to more generous housing and council tax benefit, to reflect the fact his household needs a bigger property.[1]

Polygamy literally means multiple marriages at the same time (poly- = many; gam- = marriage). Historically it has meant one man married to three or more wives.

What does the Quran and traditions and classical Islamic law say about it? What does it matter if men choose to live with more than one wife? Is polygamy beneficial or harmful to wives and society? Should it be tolerated in progressive societies?

Here is the Table of Contents


Quran 4:3

Quran 33:50-52

Quran 4:128-130



Sexual Prowess

Special Permission

Strife and Jealousy

A Domestic Plot


Permission to Stay Longer


Pain of Polygamy



Balancing Favors


Giving Up Her Turn

A New Bride

Pain of Polygamy

Divorcing Six Wives



Traditional Views

Reformist Views



In this section we let the hadith clarify what the meaning of the verses in the Quran might be.

Quran 4:3

The larger historical context of Quran 4:3 shows that Islam was waging wars on pagans, and it had to deal with orphans when their Muslim fathers were killed. The verse says that men must treat orphans fairly and men may marry up to four women:

3 If you fear that you will not deal fairly with orphan girls, you may marry whichever [other] women seem good to you, two, three, or four. If you fear that you cannot be equitable [to them], then marry only one, or your slave(s): that is more likely to make you avoid bias.[2] (Quran 4:3; cf. 4:127)

The key clauses are “you will not be able to do justice to the orphans” and “you may marry two or three or four women whom you choose.” Those clauses accomplished three things:

First, in pre-Islamic Arabia, guardian men married the orphan girls under their care, so the Quran says that they should direct their attention to women other than the orphans. That way, the head of household would not be tempted to exploit the minors and their property.

Second, in pre-Islamic days men used to marry a limitless number of women and grab the property of their orphan nephews and nieces to support their wives.

Third, in pre-Islamic days, men could marry as many women as they wanted and “treat them cruelly and unjustly” with impunity. So the Quran limits the number to four, and only if the man could keep care of them all: “But if you apprehend that you might not be able to do justice to them.”[3]

The hadith confirms this interpretation. Muhammad’s child-bride Aisha was asked what the context of 4:3 was. She explains:

“O my nephew! (This verse has been revealed in connection with) an orphan girl under the guardianship of her guardian who is attracted by her wealth and beauty and intends to marry her with a mahr [dower] less than what other women of her standard deserve. So they (such guardians) have been forbidden to marry them unless they do justice to them and give them their full mahr, and they are ordered to marry other women instead of them.”[4]

Narrated Aisha: (regarding) the verse: [4:3 is quoted] It is about the orphan girl who is in the custody of a man who is her guardian, and he intends to marry her because of her wealth, but he treats her badly and does not manage her property fairly and honestly. Such a man should marry women of his liking other than her, two or three or four[5] . . . .

Quran 33:50-52

Quran 33:50-52, revealed in about A.D. 627, five years after Muhammad arrived in Medina in 622 and five years before he died in 632, says that Muhammad may marry women who have offered themselves to him – as many as he may desire, a special privilege only for him – if he pays their bride price. He may also marry his slave girls. Verse 51 says that he may shift around his turn with his wives and receive them as he wishes. Verse 52 limits the number of his wives he had at that time, but he could marry as many slave girls as he wanted.

50 Prophet, We [Allah] have made lawful for you the wives whose bride gift you have paid, and any slaves God has assigned to you through war, and the daughters of your uncles and aunts on your father’s and mother’s sides, who migrated with you. Also any believing woman who has offered herself to the Prophet [waiving any bride-gift] and whom the Prophet wishes to wed – this is only for you [Prophet] and not the rest of the believers: We know exactly what We have made obligatory for them concerning their wives and slave-girls – so you should not be blamed: God is most forgiving, most merciful. 51 You may make any of [your women] wait and receive any of them as you wish, but you will not be at fault if you invite one whose turn you have previously set aside: this way it is more likely that they will be satisfied and will not be distressed and will all be content with what you have given them. God knows what is in your hearts: God is all knowing, forbearing. 52 You [Prophet] are not permitted to take any further wives, nor to exchange the wives you have for others, even if these attract you with their beauty. But this does not apply to your slave-girls: God is watchful over all.[6] (Quran 33:50-52).

The hadith comments on v. 51. Aisha seems to doubt that Muhammad got this revelation from Allah – or at least she notes ironically that Allah hastens to fulfill his every desire.

Narrated Hisham’s father: “Khaula bint Hakim was one of those ladies who presented themselves to the Prophet for marriage. Aisha said, ‘Doesn’t a lady feel ashamed for presenting herself to a man?’ But when the verse: ‘(O Muhammad), you may postpone (the turn of) any of them (your wives) that you please,’ (33.51) was revealed, Aisha said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! I do not see, but that your Lord hurries in pleasing you.'”[7]

Quran 4:128-130

In the final Quranic passage, a husband and wife may be alienated, and they may reach a peaceful settlement. Further, a husband may naturally favor one wife over another, and he will never be able to treat them with equal fairness, so he has the option of keeping or divorcing the undesirable wife. If they do separate, Allah will provide for both of them. Quran 4:128-130 says:

128 If a wife fears high-handedness or alienation from her husband, neither of them will be blamed if they come to a peaceful settlement, for peace is best. Although human souls are prone to selfishness, if you do good and are mindful of God, He is well aware of all that you do. 129 You will never be able to treat your wives with equal fairness, however much you may desire to do so, but do not ignore one wife altogether, leaving her suspended [between marriage and divorce]. If you make amends and remain conscious of God, He is most forgiving and merciful, 130 but if husband and wife do separate, God will provide for each out of His plenty: He is infinite in plenty, and all wise.[8] (4:128-130)

Verse 129 is important. It says that a husband will never be able to treat his wives with equal fairness. Already, the Quran recognizes the injustice built into polygamy. Nonetheless, it is still legal, so we can ask these questions from the verses: What does it mean that a husband is alienated from his wife? What kind of settlement do they reach? How does the provision add up, if they do separate?

Answering those questions, the hadith gives us the context of those three verses, particularly v. 128.

Narrated Aisha: regarding the verse, ‘If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part’… (4.128), it concerns the woman whose husband does not want to keep her with him any longer, but wants to divorce her and marry some other lady, so she says to him: ‘Keep me and do not divorce me, and then marry another woman, and you may neither spend on me, nor sleep with me.’ This is indicated by the statement of Allah: ‘There is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between them both, and (such) settlement is better” (4.128).[9]

The woman to whom Quran 4:128-130, particularly v. 128, refers is Sauda bint Zama, who was old and overweight and so gave up her turn to Aisha, Muhammad’s favorite and youthful wife. Sauda’s gesture pleased him very much, so he decided not to divorce her, but to keep her “out of His [Allah’s] plenty” or the provision the deity had given him.

Narrated Aisha: Whenever Allah’s Apostle wanted to go on a journey, he would draw lots as to which of his wives would accompany him. He would take her whose name came out. He used to fix for each of them a day and a night. But Sauda bint Zama gave up her (turn) day and night to Aisha, the wife of the Prophet in order to seek the pleasure of Allah’s Apostle (by that action).[10]

Aisha says of Sauda that she was “huge” and “fat”:

Narrated Aishah: ‘Sauda (the wife of the Prophet) went out to answer the call of nature after it was made obligatory (for all the Muslims ladies) to observe the veil. She was a fat huge lady, and everybody who knew her before could recognize her’[11] . . . .

And this hadith says Sauda was old:

Aisha… reported: “Never did I find any woman more loving to me than Sauda bint Zama. I wished I could be exactly like her who was passionate. As she became old, she had made over her day (which she had to spend) with Allah’s Messenger… to Aisha.” She said: “I have made over my day with you to Aisha. So Allah’s Messenger… allotted two days to Aisha, her own day (when it was her turn) and that of Sauda.”[12]


All of the verses and hadith in this section can be boiled down to this: the husband controls his small bevy of wives. Specifically, he can marry up to four wives. Muhammad could marry as many as he desired, though 33:52 limits this to his wives he had at the time; the number of slave girls he could marry was unlimited, theoretically.

Further, if the husband keeps the undesirable wife, he must provide for her; thus she lives in a state of emotional rejection. On the other hand, he may divorce her, thus rejecting her on the grounds of her being no longer desirable to him.


The hadith are the traditions or narrations about the words and deeds of Muhammad and his companions, outside of the Quran. The traditions are taken very seriously by Sunni Muslims, as it complements and clarifies, as we have just seen, the Quran. Please see the article titled What Is Sharia? in this series, for more information about hadith.

Sexual Prowess

This hadith claims that Muhammad used to visit nine (not eleven) wives in one night and had the strength of thirty men. This is clearly designed to demonstrate that Muhammad was sexually potent.

Narrated Qatada: Anas bin Malik said, “The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number.” I asked Anas, “Had the Prophet the strength for it?” Anas replied, “We used to say that the Prophet was given the strength of thirty (men).” And Said said on the authority of Qatada that Anas had told him about nine wives only (not eleven).[13]

Special Permission

This next one further confirms Quran 33:50, which, it should be recalled, gave Muhammad permission to marry a lot more than four wives. He had the most of all Muslim men.

“Narrated Said bin Jubair: ‘Ibn Abbas asked me, “Are you married?”’ I replied, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Marry, for the best person of this (Muslim) nation (i.e., Muhammad) of all other Muslims had the largest number of wives.’”[14]

Strife and Jealousy

But how well did polygamy work in creating peace and harmony in the household? Recall that Quran 4:129 says that a husband will never be able to treat his wives with equal fairness, and the hadith bear this statement out.

This one says that one wife was about tease another, thus causing strife.

Narrated Asma:  Some lady said, “O Allah’s Apostle! My husband has another wife, so it is sinful of me to claim that he has given me what he has not given me (in order to tease her)?” Allah’s Apostle said, “The one who pretends that he has been given what he has not been given, is just like the (false) one who wears two garments of falsehood.”[15]

Though Muhammad said the first lady should not tease the second wife, we can still wonder how well the wives observed such social niceties, as we find out in all of the next hadith.

In this one, Aisha is reported to have said that if she could prevent her husband Muhammad from visiting and favoring his other wives, she would, indicating she was jealous.

Narrated Muadha: Aisha… said, “Allah’s Messenger… used to take the permission of that wife with whom he was supposed to stay overnight if he wanted to go to one other than her, after this verse was revealed.” [33:51 is quoted] I asked Aishah, “What did you use to say (in this case)?” She said, “I used to say to him, ‘If I could deny you the permission (to go to your other wives), I would not allow your favor to be bestowed on any other person than I.'”[16]

There is more jealousy among the wives of Muhammad in the following hadith. One of them was so angry at a nice gesture from another of his wives that she broke a dish with a meal on it. Muhammad cleaned up the mess and said the rage was due to jealousy.

Narrated Anas:  While the Prophet was in the house of one of his wives, one of the mothers of the believers sent a meal in a dish. The wife at whose house the Prophet was struck the hand of the servant, causing the dish to fall and break. The Prophet gathered the broken pieces of the dish and then started collecting on them the food which had been in the dish and said, “Your mother (my wife) felt jealous.” Then he detained the servant till a (sound) dish was brought from the wife at whose house he was. He gave the sound dish to the wife whose dish had been broken and kept the broken one at the house where it had been broken.[17]

Why did Aisha narrate the next hadith? Was she jealous of Hafsa and the time Muhammad spent with her? Or was she reporting a simple fact?

Narrated Aisha: Whenever Allah’s Apostle finished his Asr prayer, he would enter upon his wives and stay with one of them. One day he went to Hafsa and stayed with her longer than usual.[18]

But Aisha’s opinion does not matter because Quran 33:51 says that Muhammad can change up the turns with his wives as he wills.

A Domestic Plot

On another matter dealing with food, Muhammad used to drink a honey mixture at one of his wife’s (Zainab’s) house so that his breath smelled. Some other of his wives (Hafsa and Aisha) decided on a ploy to get him to stop. Hafsa was the widowed daughter of Umar, the future second caliph (ruled A.D. 634-644). But he got a Quranic revelation that permitted him to drink it, regardless of what they said (Quran 66:1-4).

Narrated Ubaid bin Umar: I heard Aisha saying, “The Prophet used to stay for a long while with Zanab bint Jahsh and drink honey at her house. So Hafsa and I decided that if the Prophet came to anyone of us, she should say him, “I detect the smell of Maghafir (a nasty smelling gum) in you. Have you eaten Maghafir?’ “So the Prophet visited one of them and she said to him similarly. The Prophet said, “Never mind, I have taken some honey at the house of Zainab bint Jahsh, but I shall never drink of it anymore.” So there was revealed: ‘O Prophet! Why do you ban (for you) that which Allah has made lawful for you… If you two (wives of Prophet) turn in repentance to Allah,’ (66.1-4) addressing Aisha and Hafsa. ‘When the Prophet disclosed a matter in confidence to some of his wives’ (66.3) namely his saying: But I have taken some honey.”[19]


On a similar theme of plotting, this hadith records that Muhammad had two sets of wives, and they formed alliances against the other side. Muhammad says openly that he prefers Aisha. Divine revelation does not come to him when he is at any of his wives’ house, but only on Aisha’s bed, though of course he got revelations elsewhere too.

Narrated Urwa from Aisha: The wives of Allah’s Apostle were in two groups. One group consisted of Aisha, Hafsa, Safiyya and Sauda; and the other group consisted of Um Salama and the other wives of Allah’s Apostle. The Muslims knew that Allah’s Apostle loved Aisha, so if any of them had a gift and wished to give to Allah’s Apostle, he would delay it till Allah’s Apostle had come to Aisha’s home and then he would send his gift to Allah’s Apostle in her home. The group of Um Salama discussed the matter together and decided that Um Salama should request Allah’s Apostle to tell the people to send their gifts to him in whatever wife’s house he was… [Muhammad said,] “Do not hurt me regarding Aisha, as the divine Inspirations do not come to me on any of the beds except that of Aisha.”[20]

Um Salam repented of hurting Muhammad. But then her allies tried to get Muhammad’s daughter Fatima involved in the plot, and she approached her father about his favoritism. “‘Your wives request to treat them and the daughter of Abu Bakr on equal terms.’ Then Fatima conveyed the message to him. The Prophet said, ‘O my daughter! Don’t you love whom I love?’ She replied in the affirmative.”[21]… The domestic plot came to nothing, but it shows family strife and the other wives’ jealousy of Aisha.

Permission to Stay Longer

The next hadith says that when a husband marries a woman who has been married before or a virgin, he should stay with her a certain number of days.

Narrated Anas: It is the Prophet’s tradition that if someone marries a virgin and he has already a matron wife then he should stay for seven days with her (the virgin) and then by turns; and if someone marries a matron and he has already a virgin wife then he should stay with her (the matron) for three days, and then by turns.[22]


Hafsa used to talk back to Muhammad and made him angry all the way into the night. Her father Umar is concerned that Muhammad may divorce her. Umar says to her that Aisha is more charming and beloved of the Muhammad, so Hafsa should not be so eager to imitate Muhammad’s favorite wife and think that she is completely Aisha’s equal.

Narrated Ibn Abbas: … “Then I [Umar] proceeded after dressing myself and entered upon Hafsa and said to her, ‘Does anyone of you keep the Prophet angry till night?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘You are a ruined losing person! Don’t you fear that Allah may get angry for the anger of Allah’s Apostle and thus you will be ruined? So do not ask more from the Prophet and do not answer him back and do not give up talking to him. Ask me whatever you need and do not be tempted to imitate your neighbor (i.e., Aisha) in her manners for she is more charming than you and more beloved to the Prophet.’”[23]

In the same context Umar repeats his warning to his daughter and reported it to Muhammad, who smiled.

Narrated Ibn Abbas: that Umar entered upon Hafsa and said, “O my daughter! Do not be misled by the manners of her who is proud of her beauty because of the love of Allah’s Apostle for her.” By ‘her’ he meant Aisha. Umar added, “Then I told that to Allah’s Apostle and he smiled (on hearing that).”[24]

Pain of Polygamy

This hadith says that Muhammad refuses to give another wife to his cousin and son-in-law Ali, the future fourth caliph (ruled A.D. 657-661), because Ali’s additional marriage would hurt Muhammad’s first daughter Fatima, whom he fathered by his (deceased) first wife Khadijah. Fatima was married to Ali.

Narrated Al-Miswar bin Makhrama: I heard Allah’s Apostle who was on the pulpit, saying, “Banu [tribe] Hisham bin Al-Mughira have requested me to allow them to marry their daughter to Ali bin Abu Talib, but I don’t give permission, and will not give permission unless Ali bin Abi Talib divorces my daughter in order to marry their daughter, because Fatima is a part of my body, and I hate what she hates to see, and what hurts her, hurts me.”[25]

Thus, Muhammad’s permission for polygamy goes only so far and does not apply to his son-in-law and daughter. This implies that Muhammad understood how hurtful polygamy was.


To sum up this section, all of the hadith shows the drawbacks of polygamy: the husband’s favoritism, and among the wives hurt, teasing, jealousy, and even rage can prevail.


Jurists searched the Quran and traditions – their two main sources – to come up with rulings on polygamy. Please see the article titled, What Is Sharia? in this series, for more information about sharia.

All schools of law say or assume that polygamy is permissible, and this consensus is not surprising since the Quran is clear on the matter. So we look at various rulings on how best to live in the polygamous household.

Balancing Favors

Ibn Rushd (d. 1198), in his two-volume study of all the schools of law up to his time, The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, says that a husband must balance justice in sharing his favors between his wives.

They agreed that among the wife’s (basic) marital rights (in case of a polygamous marriage) is justice between the wives in sharing (of the husband’s favors), because of the established practice of the Prophet… who distributed his favors fairly between his wives, and also because of his words, “When a person has two wives and he feels inclined toward one of them, he will appear on the day of judgment with one of his sides inclined”. It is also established that the Prophet… when he wished to go on a journey, used to draw lots between them.[26]

Apparently Quran 4:129, which states that no man is able to treat his wives with equal fairness, must be reinterpreted to mean that the husband must try to do this.


A later commentator in Misri’s (d. 1368), The Reliance of the Traveler: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, representing the Shafi’i school of law, says that a husband with four wives must make love to each one, every fourth night, or one per night.

(Imam Ghazali:) One should make love to one’s wife every four nights, as is fairest, since the number of wives one may have is four, and one may wait this long to do so, though one should make love to her more or less than this, according to the amount she needs to remain chaste and free of want for it… since it is obligatory for a husband to enable her to keep chaste.[27]

Next, but in certain situations, the husband does not have to spend a night with them. Misri and a later scholar write:

A husband with more than one wife is not obliged to spend his nights with them in turns but may keep away from them (A: all) without sin. But he may not begin spending the night with one of them unless he chooses her by drawing lots. Whenever he spends the night with one wife, he is obliged to spend nights with the others, giving equal time to each one. When a husband intends to begin staying with his wives (A: after an intermission or absence), the wife whose lot is drawn is the first with whom he spends the night. All are included in taking turns, whether a wife in her period or postnatal bleeding, one who is ill, or one who cannot have intercourse because of a vaginal birth defect.

The minimal amount of time for one turn is a night and day, whether the day comes before or after the night; while the maximum is three days… It may not be more than three days (A: except by their leave). The basic turn of someone who makes their living by day is the night, with the day being an adjunct, while for someone who makes their living at night, such as a watchman, the basic turn is the day.

In staying the night, the husband is not obliged to have sexual intercourse with the wife, though it is recommended to have intercourse (and share all other marital enjoyments) with all one’s wives on an equal basis.[28]

Giving Up Her Turn

A wife may give up her turn, if she wishes, just as we saw in Muhammad’s household (see Hadith section, above). But she can take her turn back. Misri says:

It is permissible for one of the wives to give her turn to another wife, if the husband agrees. If one of them gives him her turn, then he may give it to whomever he wants. If the wife later chooses to take her turn back, she returns to her usual place in the order of taking turns as it stands on the day she takes it back.[29]

Further, a husband does not have full rights to go where and when he pleases in his household. This indicates some jealousy in the household, so the husband should tread lightly. Misri and a later scholar agree:

It is not permissible for a husband to enter the quarters of a wife during another wife’s turn without business there, though if he stops in during the day because of something he needs, or during the night because of something absolutely necessary (A: such as bringing her supper), then he may enter. Otherwise he may not. If he prolongs such a visit, then he is obliged to make up the turn of the wife whose turn it originally was.[30]

A New Bride

A husband may have just married someone. How does the new bride fit into the rotation, particularly right after the wedding? That depends on whether she is a virgin or a nonvirgin. Misri and a later scholar write:

If a man marries a new wife when he already has another, he interrupts the succession of turns to spend time with the new wife. If she is a virgin, then he stays with her seven days and need not make them up with the other wives. If she is a nonvirgin, then he may choose to either spend seven days with her and make up (O: to the others the number in excess of three days), or spend three days with her and not make up the time with the others. In such cases it is recommended to let the new wife choose the alternative she prefers. If the husband stays with her for seven days at her request, he must make up all seven days with the others, though if he stays seven days without her having requested it, he need only make up four with the others.[31]

Malik (d. 795), a founder of a school of law, agrees on the essentials about conjugal turns when a new wife enters the household, whether she had been married before or was a virgin:

Yahya related to me [from a long chain of transmitters] that when the Messenger of Allah . . . married Umm Salama and then spent the night with her, he said to her, “You are not being humbled in your right. If you wish, I will stay with you for seven nights and stay seven nights (each) with the others. If you wish, I will stay with you for three nights, and then visit the others in turn.” She said, “Stay three nights.” … Yahya related to me from Malik from Humayd at-Tawil that Anas ibn Malik said, “A virgin has seven nights, and a woman who has been previously married has three nights.” Malik affirmed, “That is what is done among us.” Malik said, “If a man takes another wife, he divides his time equally between them after the wedding nights. He does not count the wedding nights against the one he has just married.”[32]

Pain of Polygamy

The new woman may be young, and the husband may prefer her. The ruling comes from Imam Muhammad (d. 795), who was a student and then a colleague of Abu Hanifah. He writes of a twofold divorce pronouncement, which is not final and irrevocable, and the older wife’s final submission to the new arrangement. The entire situation demonstrates how painful polygamy can be for the other wife or wives.

Malik informed us: “Ibn Shihab informed us that Rafi ibn Khadij married a daughter of Muhammad ibn Maslarnah and that she was still with him when he married a young wife and showed preference to the young wife over her. She pleaded with him to divorce her and he divorced her once and then he gave her time until she was almost free from her iddah [waiting period] then returned to her. Later he again showed preference to the young wife over her, so she pleaded with him to divorce her and her divorced her once, then gave her time until she was almost free from her iddah then returned to her. Later he again showed preference to the young wife over her, so she pleaded with him to divorce her. He said to her, ‘Whatever you wish. There is only one [divorce] remaining to you. If you wish you can remain in spite of what you see of the preference [shown to the younger wife], and if you wish I will divorce you.’ She said, ‘No, I would rather remain in spite of the preference.”‘… Muhammad said: “There is no harm in that if the woman is contented with that, and she has the right to relinquish him if it seems the right thing to do. That is also the position of Abu Hanifah and of our fuqaha [scholars learned in jurisprudence] in general.”[33]

Divorcing Six Wives

Imam Muhammad quotes a hadith about a man during the lifetime of the prophet Muhammad who was married to ten wives before he accepted Islam, so the Islamic prophet commanded him to divorce all but four. Imam Muhammad says the same.

Malik informed us: “Ibn Shihab informed us, ‘It has reached us that the Messenger of Allah… spoke to a man from Thaqif – and he had ten wives – when the Thaqafi accepted Islam, and said to him, “Retain four of them, and separate from the rest of them”’”… Muhammad said: “We adhere to this. He must choose four of them, whichever of them he wishes, and separate from the remainder. As for Abu Hanifah, he said, ‘The marriages of the first four are valid, and the marriages of the remainder are invalid, and that is the verdict of Ibrahim an-Nakha’i.'”[34]

Recall that the Quran says the maximum number of wives a man could have was four. Muhammad was the only exception; he could have more.


It is not surprising that classical Islamic jurisprudence follows the hadith and Quran closely. Legal scholars read their sources very carefully. Polygamy produces pain in the wives who have to share their one husband. It creates an atmosphere of strife and competition and inequality.


For our purposes, a reformist calls for the reform of Islam, while a traditionalist believes Islam, revealed in the Quran and presented in the authentic hadith, is fine the way it and defends it. Usually, religious leaders are selected in this section, but sometimes a Muslim who is in the public eye or a study is included too.

Traditional Views

Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966) and Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi (d. 1979), while not representing all of Islam, interpret the Quran, traditions, and Islamic law in ways that today’s ultraconservative traditionalists can appreciate. Qutb was a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. And Maududi sought to impose sharia on his home country by his political party called Jamaat-i-Islami. In their multivolume commentaries on the Quran they everywhere say sharia must be imposed on humanity for its own good.


In Qutb’s highly readable and influential commentary on the Quran, he says that Islam and polygamy are universal and beneficial because they meet mankind where he is and provide answers for his unique needs.

Islam is a practical and positive system for human life, which is consistent with human nature and with man’s constitution, needs, requirements and changing circumstances in all areas and all generations. It is a system which deals with man as he is, and in the situation it finds him in, elevating him to heights he can never otherwise achieve, without in any way denouncing his natural desires or suppressing his nature or overlooking his practical needs. Moreover, Islam approaches man gently. It does not resort to violent or arbitrary pushing to force him to move in the direction it wants.[35]

Qutb then lays out three options for a man and society and polygamy. First, one man and one woman gets married, but this leaves other women who cannot get married because, apparently, there is a shortage of men, in Qutb’s view; second, one man gets married to one woman, but he desires other women, so he might have an affair; and third, a man marries more than one woman, so polygamy takes care of the first two problems.[36] Then he adds that another benefit of polygamy is that a wife may be infertile, so her husband marrying another woman and having a child gives the first wife the opportunity of caring for children.[37]

Qutb’s first two options, however, assumes too much that is wrong. First, it is difficult to find a society in which men outnumber women so much that there are “leftover” single women when one man gets married. Citing the male-female ratio of the entire globe is not specific enough. China, for example, which has practiced female abortions for a few decades, has a surplus of men, by the millions. But does that mean women are allowed to marry two or more men in Islam? Why wouldn’t the Quran make allowances for that problem? Qutb should have come up with specific examples where a female surplus is the norm, and take the cases one by one, culture by culture.

As for the second option, both women and men can stray, so how does polygamy resolve the woman’s sexual needs, when her husband spends only one night out of four with her? One man and his one wife need to work out their difficulties, so that neither one strays. That is real growth, but there is none when he simply jumps into another bedroom with his second, third or fourth wife, while the first wife has to be deprived.

Next, in the sad case of the infertile woman, it seems that having another wife and children in the household may at first glance solve one problem, but at bottom it produces others, piling complications on top of more complications, as the infertile wife feels inadequate and is rejected. Further, sometimes a man is sterile; it seems that Allah would have allowed the woman to marry a second husband, if that was the main purpose of polygamy. The better solution for the childless couple is adoption, not his marriage to a second wife.

Thus, polygamy does not solve any of these problems, but creates many of its own, as we saw in the hadith section, above, where Muhammad’s household was not harmonious.

As for the contradiction between 4:3 and 4:129, Qutb answers the dilemma, to his satisfaction:

Some people quote this verse [4:129] in support of their argument that Islam does not permit polygamy. What we have to remember is that God’s law does not permit something in one verse and then forbid it in another, like one who takes away with his right hand what he has given with his left. The fairness required in the earlier verse [4:3] is that which relates to treatment, financial support and other practical aspects of married life. It is when one feels unable to maintain this type of fairness that one must not marry more than one wife. What this means is that nothing should be withheld from one wife when it is allowed to another.[38]

However, what this resolution overlooks is that the Quran indeed abrogates or cancels one verse and replaces it with another and says as much (2:106, 16:101).


To resolve the inconsistency between 4:3 and 4:129, Maududi writes that it is only natural for a husband to like one wife over another or the others:

Allah made it clear that the husband cannot literally keep equality between two or more wives because they themselves cannot be equal in all respects. It is too much to demand from a husband that he should mete out equal treatment to a beautiful wife and to an ugly wife, to a young wife and to an old wife, to a healthy wife and to an invalid wife, and to a good natured wife and to an ill-natured wife. These and like things naturally make a husband more inclined towards one wife than towards the other.[39]

This means that wives are the source of a man’s inability to treat all of them equally. One is beautiful, while another is ugly. How can Allah demand super-human strength from a husband under changing circumstances in his wives? Maududi continues on the topic of unequal affection:

In such cases, the Islamic law does not demand equal treatment between them in affection and love. What it does demand is that a wife should not be neglected as to be practically reduced to the position of the woman who has no husband at all. If the husband does not divorce her for any reason or at her own request, she should at least be treated as a wife. It is true that under such circumstances the husband is naturally inclined towards a favorite wife, but he should not, so to say, keep the other in such a state of suspense as if she were not his wife.[40]

Thus, Maududi says here that the wife should not be suspended between marriage and divorce. If the husband stays with the no-longer-desirable wife, then he should treat her fairly and provide for her.

However, Maududi believes that he resolves the dilemma in 4:3 and 4:129 by leaving the Muslim polygamist in a contradiction. He cannot treat all his wives with equal fairness, but he must not lean one way.

From this verse [129] some people wrongly conclude that though the Qur’an allows more than one wife, it practically cancels this permission by asserting, “… it is not possible for you to be perfectly equitable in your treatment with all your wives”…. They forget that this is only a part of the whole instruction and the Qur’an does not stop at this but adds… “ do not lean towards one wife.”… As this Commandment takes into consideration the existence of more than one wife allowed by the Qur’an, it leaves no loophole of escape for the followers of Christian Europe from the fact that Islam does allow polygamy under certain conditions.[41]

In the end, Maududi says that no moderate Muslim should violate the clear teaching of the Quran, which allows polygamy. He says:

As regards those who consider polygamy to be an evil, they are free to oppose the Qur’an and condemn polygamy, but they have no right to ascribe their own perverted views to the Quran, for it makes this lawful in very clear language without employing any words that might be stretched in any way to imply that the Qur’an means to abolish it.[42]

Two News Reports

The New York Times reports that Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, Libya’s interim leader, took office last fall in 2011 and said polygamy is allowed in sharia and restrictions on it should be done away with.

TRIPOLI, Libya — It was just a passing reference to marriage in a leader’s soberly delivered speech, but all week it has unsettled women here as well as allies abroad . . . In his speech, Mr. Abdel-Jalil declared that a Qaddafi-era law that placed restrictions on multiple marriages, which is a tenet of Islamic law, or Sharia, would be done away with. The law, which stated that a first wife had to give permission before others were added, for instance, had kept polygamy rare here. “This law is contrary to Sharia and must be stopped,” Mr. Abdel-Jalil told the crowd, vowing that the new government would adhere more faithfully to Sharia. The next day he reiterated the point to reporters at a news conference: “Sharia allows polygamy,” he said. Mr. Abdel-Jalil is known for his piety.[43]

The storyline of the “Arab Spring” has yet to be finally written.

In one report, 42 percent say they were in a polygamous household or knew of one. A lady says she believes polygamy should be legal because it is lawful in Islam. Polygamy would solve moral ailments that plague society.

The legalization of gay marriage in six states and the continued efforts toward legalizing it in the rest of the country has opened the flood gates that have, for hundreds of years defined legal marriage in the United States as the union between one man and one woman.

As more proponents of gay marriage push bills through Congress and rally votes that support marriage as a constitutional right for all citizens regardless of sexual orientation another group that remains decidedly outside the legal confines of marriage is slowly entering the limelight . . .

. . . Approximately 42 percent of those surveyed said they were either in, or knew others in polygamous marriages within the local Muslim community. Thirty nine percent said they would engage in a polygamous marriage if it were legal in the United States.

One woman, who wished to remain anonymous, having been part of a polygamous relationship for fourteen years expressed her support for the institution arguing its ability to solve many moral ailments that plague today’s society.

“I believe the government should legalize polygyny because it is lawful in Islaam. It would enable all the wives to have the same legal status…As a matter of fact, I have discussed the issue with many non-Muslim women as well. The majority of them say that if polygyny was conducted the way that it is supposed to be according to the Qur’aan and Sunnah [traditions], they would have no problem with it. It is much better than committing adultery, fornication and having illegitimate children,” she wrote in response to the survey.[44]


The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) is made up of religious scholars, most of whom have their doctorates in Islamic law or other Islamic subjects. They are qualified to write fatwas (religious rulings or opinions). They use the write-in Question and Answer format.

A reader asks for ten reasons why Islam allows polygamy.

The scholar replies with four:

Polygamy in Islam is permissible for different reasons, like:

1- The sexual energy of men is more than that of women in general. So, in some cases, one wife is not enough to fulfill the conjugal desire of her husband.

2- Pregnancy and delivery negatively affect the shape and physical attraction that women have.

3- Worldwide, the percentage of females is always more than that of males; eventually, there must be a solution, either to permit adultery and prostitution, or to allow polygamy.

4- One husband could take care of more than one wife at the same time; socially, financially, and even sexually as I mentioned above. However, the opposite is not right because of the physical and psychological capability that Allah the all mighty gave men.[45]

Some of his ideas have been challenged in our discussion of Qutb. The other ideas are dealt with in the next section on reformist views.

Dr. Hatem al-Haj, belonging to AMJA, is the Dean of Sharia Academy of America, Board Certified in Pediatrics by the American Board of Pediatrics, and Associate Professor of Fiqh at Sharia Academy of America and Islamic University of Minnesota.

He offers these guidelines about the possibility of polygamy among Muslims living in the USA:

The issue of polygamy (polygyny) is a complex one, but those are some guidelines:

  • Polygamy is halal [permitted] in Islam and may be highly recommended when the number of females is bigger than that of males to afford all females a decent life that suffices their physiologic, emotional and other needs. The US law about polygamy is against the Islamic law, for no one can make prohibited that which Allah specifically made allowable. (the permissible on the basis of textual proof vs. the permissible on basis of the presumption of permissibility until proven otherwise)
  • Many Muslims abuse the legislation of polygamy and practice it in ways that bring a bad reputation to it.
  • A Muslim should not subject himself, family or community to harm.
  • You may ask a legal expert whether the undocumented marriage is illegal. You hear about many celebrities having extramarital affairs, and they do not get prosecuted!
  • The person who attempts to do anything may need first to ensure its legality to spare himself and his/her community all kinds of harm.
  • He may also consider the interest of the second partner and her children from him and whether they will suffer because of his actions.[46]

Finally, a reader, writing in very polished English and following the standard Islamic defense or “script” of polygamy, asks a question about helping to pass laws allowing polygamy in the USA:

…There are many women who could benefit from plural marriage here in the US. In particular, women who are widowed, divorced, and older single women, many are with little or no nearby families (especially immigrants, refugees, and reverts to Islam), many are forced to work long hours to make ends meet, and so forth. They are not finding suitable husbands easily, though like any other woman they could benefit from the protection, security, dignity, and comfort of marriage. The Muslim men here are among the most affluent and educated in the world, but they are marrying only one woman while single Muslim women are left to struggle alone or become dependent on the masjid and the government welfare system. Since polygamy is still illegal in the US, is it advised for the Muslim community to try to make it legal so that the benefits of polygamy can be attained? The Mormon religious community is attempting to make polygamy legal; is it okay for Muslims to join them in this cause? It is not fair that in the US one man can literally sleep with hundreds of women with no penalty or responsibility, but multiple women cannot get the benefits of marriage from one responsible man. What can we do under these circumstances?

The AMJA scholar replies (the Arabic is omitted):

Allah said:

“Should He not know what He created? And He is the Subtle, the Aware.”

You are absolutely right, and the Muslim community should join hands with any religious community towards this noble end to relieve the suffering of many women.

Will this happen any time soon? Allah knows best, but we must do our part.

The verse in the scholar’s context seems to mean that Allah knew what he was doing in instituting polygamy for men, because he created them. (Fatwa no. 2550)

Reformist Views

Sisters in Islam (SIS), a Malaysian feminist reform movement, posted a statement opposing polygamy. Among other ideas, SIS challenges the inconsistency between Quran 4:3 and 4:129. Recall that 4:3 permits a man to marry up to four wives, but only if he can deal fairly with them. If not, he should marry only one. Quran 4:129 says that he will never be able to treat his wives with equal fairness. This lands the Quran in interpretive difficulties. How can Allah permit a practice in one verse, but fail to see a man’s inability to carry it out in a later verse in the same chapter? Why not prohibit polygamy altogether from the start? This would also break with pre-Islamic Arab custom more clearly and surely than merely reducing the number of wives to four, as if this is a substantial improvement on the custom.

SIS writes:

… The guiding principles in the Quran against polygamy can be demonstrated by firstly, limiting the maximum number of wives to four, then by enjoining on [sic] the fair and just treatment of multiple wives [4:3], and finally by declaring that fair and just treatment is impossible [4:129]. An argument that is being put forward in support of the suggestion for the re-legalization of polygamy for non-Muslims is that it would help to reduce social ills such as illicit affairs, prostitution and the birth of illegitimate children. However, the legality of polygamy has not put an end to these social ills among the Malay community.[47]

Women Living under Islamic Laws is an international website that tracks the plight of women living under sharia. One blogger reports on a study of polygamy in Malaysia:

A landmark study on polygamy in Malaysia has cast doubt on whether husbands in polygamous marriages are able to treat their wives and children equally as intoned by the Quran. The study, conducted by Sisters in Islam in collaboration with academics from several local universities, found that while almost 80% of husbands interviewed said they could be fair, their wives disagreed. Researcher Masjaliza Hamzah said just over half of the second wives interviewed in the study said their husbands could be fair. Among first wives, only 35% shared this view. “Among the wives, the first wife is the most dissatisfied. She experiences the strongest effects as she is able to compare the polygamous marriage with when she was in a monogamous marriage. In many cases, they expressed sadness, a sense of being wronged and betrayal,” Masjaliza said.

Even though polygamy is seen as a male right provided for in the Quran, in some Muslim communities, including in Malaysia, there are other interpretations of what is permissible in Islam. Several Muslim countries either restrict or ban polygamy and cite Surah al-Nisa 4:3, which states that if a man fears that he cannot deal justly with several wives, he should only marry one. Associate Professor Datin Dr Rashidah Shuib, one of the study’s researchers, said a proper understanding of polygamous families was needed to enable policies to be formulated based on facts. For example, she said that “giliran”, or taking turns equally and fairly in a polygamous marriage, was ideal, but in reality, it is difficult to carry out. “Policies should be formulated not based on ideals, but on reality,” she said.[48]

The summary of the study shows that the negative impact of polygamy could be applied just about anywhere, not only Malaysia. It provides a counter to the last excerpt from AMJA (above) that polygamy would benefit Muslim women, especially singles who cannot find husbands.

The American Muslim (TAM) posted an article by the Institute of Islamic Studies, in Mumbai, India. It argues for the rarity of allowing for polygamy and disputes the reasons that scholars offer, like preventing sexual corruption.

Some of the article reads:

… If both verses on polygamy 4:3 and 4:129 are read together (and they should be read together) The Qur’an’s intention becomes clear. Qur’an’s emphasis is not on number but on justice. In our male dominated societies emphasis unfortunately is on number, not on justice. Both verses read together make it absolutely clear that Qur’an has permitted polygamy most reluctantly in certain conditions like that of war and has made it conditional on justice.

Our ulama [religious scholars or knowledgeable ones] and jurists unfortunately have ignored both the conditions (that of war and of justice) and give reasons for polygamy, not stated in Qur’an at all. Sexual corruption is nowhere stated in Qur’an for justifying polygamy as our ulama are doing today. Many of them are not even aware of verse 4:129 which says it is so difficult to do justice between all the wives or if they are aware explain it away in some ways belittling its emphasis on justice . . .

The Qur’an, on the other hand, clearly says that We have created everything in pairs (wa khalaqnakum azwajan) and it includes human beings too. Also, Qur’an lays emphasis on chastity (‘iffat) and says, “And let those who cannot find a match keep chaste, until Allah makes them free from want…” (24:33). Thus Qur’an says if you have no means to marry one wife be chaste and our ‘ulama want men to marry more than one to refrain from sexual corruption.[49]

To sum up this section on modern Islam, the excerpts will seem old and outdated in a few years (except perhaps Maududi’s and Qutb’s, whose commentaries are still influential). But the quotations reveal a struggle in modern Islam. The traditionalists seem to be winning, judging from the number of websites that support and argue for polygamy. But this is not surprising. They have 1,400 years of the Quran, traditions (hadith), classical law, and history behind them.

But in the end, who will win the soul of Islam? Reformers like Sisters in Islam, or ultraconservative traditionalists like Qutb and Maududi and the scholars at AMJA?


This entire series on Islamic sharia law would not be necessary if traditionalists did not believe that it is best for humanity and must see it spread around the globe.

But they do believe this. This article challenges that belief, by laying out the evidence from Islamic source documents.

Qutb says in the context of polygamy that Muhammad was “noblest and fairest man ever to have walked on this earth.”[50] However, even the Quran says that no man can maintain equal fairness among his desires and his wives (4:129). And Muhammad proves it. He openly declared that his favorite wife was Aisha, and according to the hadith this favoritism spawned all sorts of conflicts and jealousies in his household – and who can blame the women entirely? He bears part of the responsibility. From this fact of disharmony alone it is difficult to understand why Qutb and Maududi can promote polygamy today. Their prophet’s example should have guided them away from it.

It may be true that Muhammad was curtailing the polygamous customs of seventh-century Arabs who lived around him, but he did not go far enough. He got to have many wives – more than the Muslim men in his community, as if this were a special sign of his political power, military prowess, and sexual potency: he married wives for political alliances (Hafsa and Aisha), after a conquest (Safiyyah), and simply by his desire (Quran 33:50); he reportedly could visit all nine of them in one night, showing his sexual potency.

Islamic polygamy may (or may not) benefit mankind, but it certainly does not benefit womankind for at least six reasons.

First, she cannot have her husband’s undivided attention, but has to share him with up to three other women. Her emotional needs are curtailed, while he can forget her.

Second, she does not have all of her sexual needs met when he goes to the other women on the other three nights. Qutb assumes that only men have such needs and must have several sexual outlets. But wouldn’t the first wife’s deprivation tempt her to have an affair?

Third, the special bond between a husband and wife during the day and outside of the bedroom is cut down to a minimum, if it exists at all, because it is spread around to other women. This godly and exclusive bond is difficult in a crowded household. Inside their own bedrooms, it cannot be edifying for Wives B, C, or D as they realize that their husband is with Wife A that night. Their intimacy is curtailed.

Fourth, this crowded household, as we saw in Muhammad’s example, can spark jealousies and rivalries among the wives. The husband can walk away in cool detachment and let them resolve the conflicts, if they can. It may be an ego boost to him that women are fighting over him, but what about the women’s needs, who may be too busy quarreling to notice their lack of fulfillment, until it finally takes its toll?

Fifth, to whom is he supposed to bring flowers or special gifts, when he wants to spontaneously express his love for one of them, on an ordinary day and not her birthday? Romance and thoughtfulness cannot be expressed adequately in a crowded family.

Sixth, it may be claimed that two women can become best friends; and if they live in the same household as “sister wives,” then that is convenient. One of them can even serve as a babysitter. But that does not balance out all the other disadvantages of polygamy, listed in the first five reasons. The better solution is that the two women become best friend while married to their own husbands. Then one wife can still watch the kids, if necessary.

All of these six problems add up: in polygamy the man enjoys all the power and control in the family, to the detriment of the women. Their influence and authority is cut by three-fourths. Romance and love and special and exclusive intimacy are dissipated.

For womankind, then, polygamy does not promote her highest quality of intimate and exclusive life with her husband; it does not offer her maximum personal and intimate liberty with him, if she has to share him; and it denies her pursuit of her own happiness, sharing special moments with only one man, but this cannot happen with three other wives. In short, her life, liberty and her pursuit of happiness is diminished. Therefore, we should not allow polygamy in modern societies that have progressed beyond a primitive disregard for women and the conferral of total power on men, to the detriment and disadvantage of women.

Islam is undergoing a debate about polygamy between the traditionalists and the reformists. While this is happening, we should not bend towards Islam, but it must obey the norms of progressive societies. And our values are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, in this case both for mankind and womankind in relationship with each other, one man and one woman.[51]

This article first appeared at Jihad Watch on August 24, 2012, but has been updated here.

Articles in the Series

More Punishments (off-site):

[1] James Slack, “Muslim Husbands with More than One Wife to Get Extra Benefits as Ministers Recognize Polygamy,” Feb 4, 2008, dailymail.co.uk, with small editorial changes.

[2] M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, The Quran, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford UP, 2010). Unless otherwise noted, the translations of the Quran in this article in the series are his. In 4:3, the notes in brackets and parentheses are his as well. In the footnote labeled “e,” Abdel Haleem says “Literally ‘what your right hands possess.’” See Part 4 in this series for details about slavery and Islam’s permission to Muslim men to have sex with slave girls. If readers would like to see various translations of the Quran, they may go to the website quranbrowser.com and type in the references.

[3] Sayyid Abul A’La Maududi, vol. 1, 4th ed., trans. Ch. Muhammad Akbar, ed. A. A. Kamal, (Lahore, Pakistan: Islamic Publications, 2003), 306-07, note 4. His translation and commentary are available online: englishtafsir.com.

[4] Bukhari, Marriages, 007.062.002, with slight mechanical adjustments. The notes in parentheses are the translator’s; the one in brackets is mine. Cf. ibid. 007.062.029, 007.062.070, 007.062.071. The hadith are searchable online at the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement, under the aegis of the University of Southern California.

[5] Ibid. 007.062.035, with small mechanical edits. The bracketed insertion is mine; the parenthetical ones are the translator’s.

[6] The notes in brackets are Abdel Haleem’s, except the first one.

[7] Bukhari, Marriage, 007.062.048, with slight mechanical adjustments. The parenthetical insertions are the translator’s.

[8] The comments in brackets are Abdel Haleem’s.

[9] Bukhari, Marriage, 007.062.134, with small mechanical modifications. The parenthetical insertions are the translator’s.

[10] Idem, Gifts, 003.047.766, with slight mechanical adjustments; the parenthetical insertions are the translator’s. More about Sauda’s being overweight: “Narrated Aisha: Sauda asked the permission of the Prophet to leave earlier at the night of Jam’, and she was a fat and very slow woman. The Prophet gave her permission” (Bukhari, Pilgrimage 002.026.740).

[11] Idem, Commentary, 006.060.318, with slight mechanical adjustments. The parenthetical comments are the translator’s.

[13] Muslim, Marriage, 008.3451, with small mechanical modifications. The parenthetical insertions are the translator’s.

[13] Bukhari, Bathing, 001.005.268, with small mechanical edits. The parenthetical insertions are the translator’s. See these parallel hadith: Bathing 001.005.282; Marriage, 007.062.006, and 007.062.142.

[14] Idem, Marriage, 007.062.007, with small mechanical adjustments; the parenthetical insertions are the translator’s.

[15] Idem, Marriage, 007.062.146, with slight mechanical adjustments; the parenthetical insertions are the translator’s.

[16] Idem, Commentary, 6.4789 (006.060.312), with small mechanical edits. The comments in brackets are mine; the ones in parentheses are the translator’s.

[17] Idem, Marriage, 007.062.152, with slight mechanical edits. The parenthetical insertions are the translator’s.

[18] Idem, Marriage, 007.062.143.

[19] Idem, Divorce, 007.063.192, with slight mechanical changes. The parenthetical comments are the translator’s.

[20] Idem, Gifts, 001.047.755, with slight mechanical changes.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid. 007.062.141; cf. 007.062.140.

[23] Ibid. 007.062.119, with small mechanical edits. The insertion in brackets is mine; the one in parentheses is the translator’s. See the parallel hadith in the Commentary on Quran 66:2 (6.4913).

[24] Ibid. 007.062.145, with slight mechanical adjustments..

[25] Ibid. 007.062.157, with small mechanical adjustments. The word in brackets is mine.

[26] Ibn Rushd, The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, vol. 2, trans. Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee (Reading: Garnet, 1996), 65, with small mechanical edits.

[27] Misri, The Reliance of the Traveler: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, rev. ed., trans. Nuh Ha Min Keller, (Beltsville: Aman, 1994), 525. Imam Ghazali (1058-1111) was a Shafi’i scholar.

[28] Ibid. 539. The scholar labeled “A” is Sheikh Abd al-Walkil Durubi (b. 1914).

[29] Ibid. 539-40.

[30] Ibid. 540. The scholar labeled “A” is Sheikh Abd al-Wakil Durubi (b. 1914).

[31] Ibid. The scholar labeled “O” is Sheikh Umar Barakat (d. post 1890)

[32] Malik ibn Anas, Al-Muwatta of Imam Malik ibn Anas: The First Formation of Islamic Law rev. ed., trans. Aisha Bewley, Inverness, Scotland: Madina Press, 1989, 2001), 28.3.14-15, with slight mechanical adjustments. The comments in brackets are mine; the one in parentheses is the translator’s. This law book is also available at the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement.

[33] Imam Muhammad, The Muwatta of Imam Muhammad, trans. Mohammed Abdurrahman, Abdassamad Clarke, and Asadullah Yate  (London: Turath, 2004), 256, with slight mechanical adjustments. The first and last comments in brackets are mine. The others are the translators’.

[34] Ibid. 230-31.

[35] Sayyid Qutb, In the Shade of the Quran, vol. 4, trans. and ed. Adil Salahi and Arthus Shamis (Markfield, Islamic Foundation, 2001), 32-33.

[36] Ibid. 33-34.

[37] Ibid. 36.

[38] Ibid. 37.

[39] Maududi, Meaning, vol. 1, 383-84, note 161.

[40] Ibid. note 161.

[41] Ibid. note 161. The parenthetical comment is mine.

[42] Ibid. vol. 1, 308, note 5.

[43] Adam Nossiter, “Hinting at an End to a Curb on Polygamy, Interim Libyan Leader Stirs Anger,” New York Times, October, 29, 2011.

[44] Wafa Unus, “Polygamy: Tis the Season?” muslimlinkpaper.com, October 27, 2011, my comments in brackets. For a good and recent survey of polygamy in the West, see David J. Rusin, “Polygamy, Too,” nationalreview.com, April 19, 2012.

[45] Main Khalid Al-Qudah, “Polygamy in Islam,” Question ID or fatwa no. 2134, amjaonline.com, October 27, 2006.

[46] Hatem al-Haj, “Practicing Polygamy While It’s Prohibited in US,” Question ID or fatwa no. 3370, amjaonline.com, August 8, 2008, with small mechanical adjustments. The insertion in brackets is mine; the one in parentheses is al-Haj’s.

[47] Sisters in Islam, “Press Statement: Controversy on Polygamy,” sistersinislam.org, January 8, 2002. The bracketed insertions are mine.

[48] Ding Jo-Ann, “Malaysia: the Impact of Polygamy,” Muslims Living under Islamic Laws, July 23, 2010.

[49] Asghar Ali Engineer, “Polygamy and the Quran,” The American Muslim, September 4, 2009.

[50] Qutb, In the Shade, vol. 4, 38.

[51] This series of articles about sharia law does not contrast Christianity and Islam, but readers may be curious about it. Some may believe that because some Old Testament patriarchs or kings had more than one wife, this endorses polygamy today. But Jesus fulfills and interprets the Old Testament for Christians. He endorsed the model in the Garden of Eden: one man and one woman (Matthew 19:3-6). We don’t need to bring those ancient, Old Testament customs about polygamy forward into today’s world. See my studies, How Christ Fulfills the Law and How Christians Benefit from the Old Testament. Also see these articles here and here.


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