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Multiple Perspectives of Socio-Legal Insights on Polygamy

Socio-legal perspectives on polygamy


Brief introduction of polygamy in Muslim societies


Polygamy was common practice in pre-Islamic societies. In Islam, the practice of polygamy is limited to four wives. The Prophet has explained in detail how the practice of polygamy can be put into practice in Sunnah. To be clear, what is permitted in Islam is polygyny, that is male having many wives and not polyandry, which is specifically barred under the Sunnah.

Polygamy practice amongst Muslims in contemporary times

Unlike western countries that have secular laws that prohibit polygamy although Christian ‘law’ does not prohibit the practice of polygamy, Islamic countries do not have secular laws on marriage and depend on religious texts and leaders to expound the law.

Brief explanation of the principal challenges to continuance of polygamy in Muslim communities

There are two principal challenges against the continuance of the practice of polygamy in Muslim communities. The first challenge is that the Qur’an itself did not intend for polygamy to be a permanent practice and it was intended to be progressively eliminated. The second challenge to polygamy comes from the gender equality discourse, which considers the continuation of polygamy to be discriminatory to women rights. This essay argues that these challenges have substance under the Sharia law as well as literature and based on this, polygamy should be discontinued.

Polygamy in Sharia Law

Polygamy in Qur’an

According to the Qur’an, Islam permits polygamy under specific circumstances and there is a specific reference in Qur’an to the condition that a man take more than one wife only if he can “deal justly” with his wives. Another condition is that a man cannot take more than four wives.

Does Qur’an encourage polygamy?

Qur’an permits polygamy under verse 4:3 but some commentators contend that Qur’an’s permission of polygamy in verse 4:3 has to be seen in context of verse 4:1 and 4:2, which concern the equality between men and women and justice for orphans. Moreover, it is also contended that Qur’an’s permission of polygamy was based on the exigencies of the time when male population decreased due to wars. Moreover, it is also contended that Islam preaches monogamy but allows polygamy under certain conditions provided under verse 4:3.

Should Polygamy be Impermissible in Muslim Communities?

This essay will argue that polygamy should no longer be permitted in Muslim communities based upon two grounds that will be discussed in this section.

Qur’an intended polygamy to be progressively eliminated

Islam granted some revolutionary rights to women at the time of revelation that related to slavery and alcohol consumption. The same logic can be applied to the concept of polygamy which the spirit of the Qur’an intended to eliminate progressively. Also it is important to consider the role of Shari’ah, which is not meant to be static but evolutionary. Ijtihad (human reasoning) is also crucial to the evolving nature of Shari’ah, which can help Shari’ah to adapt to the changing society.

Gender equality

Polygyny/polygamy in Muslim societies is antithetical to gender equality because it allows a man to marry more than one woman while no such privilege is given to women. Therefore, there is a strong feminist argument against the practice of polygamy in Muslim communities.

Case study: Tunisian reforms and abolition of polygamy

Tunisia reformed its law in 1956 and the “Law of Personal Status” has banned polygamy and extra- judicial divorce and under the law of Tunisia polygamy is illegal and is punishable by imprisonment of 1 year or a fine of 240,000 francs or both. The Tunisian reforms will be discussed in this section to demonstrate how disallowing of polygamy is not necessarily contrary to Islamic law and precepts.


This section will conclude by restating the arguments and evidence that shows that polygamy should be discontinued in Muslim communities.


  • Johnson H, "There Are Worse Things than Being Alone: Polygamy in Islam, Past, Present, and Future"(2004) 11 Wm. & Mary J. Women & L.563.
  • Mashhour A, “Islamic Law and Gender Equality—Could There be a Common Ground?: A Study of Divorce and Polygamy in Sharia Law and Contemporary Legislation in Tunisia and Egypt” (2005) 27(2) Human Rights Quarterly 563.
  • Philips A, Bilaal A and Jones J, Polygamy in Islam (Islamic Books 2005).
  • Zaidi T, "Polygamy: In the Perspective of Islam" (2016) 2(1) Social Sciences International Research Journal 201.

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