Social Issues
Question asked by .
Answered by Saadia Malik

Why does Islam allow a Muslim man to marry more than one woman? What is the significance of the first wife’s permission? What is the status of a marriage that is done without the permission of the first wife? Is there any punishment for a man for marrying for the second, third or fourth time with the permission of previous wives? If yes, then what is it?


A regular household is naturally built around one man and one wife. This rule of human nature is also evident through God’s providence of one wife to Adam: Eve. Islam does not encourage polygamy as a way of life; rather, it permits it in order to deal effectively with exceptional circumstances.

The Islamic injunction permitting Muslim men to marry more than one woman requires special understanding. During the time of the Prophet (sws), many wars were being fought between the believers and the disbelievers. A lot of Muslims were martyred on the battlefields. The battle of Uhud, for one, left behind many widows and orphans. Islam grants special protection to women and children, and the permission of marrying more than one lady arose from that spirit in order to ensure her safety as well as sound upbringing for her children.

This also allowed for the proper handling of the orphans’ interests and property. For their wealth to be kept secure and carefully allocated in due course of time, a sound family structure provided a more secure environment. The mother is the best candidate to be trusted with proper and considerate management of her children’s rights and inheritance. Marriage provided a good medium of support to meet such ends. The Qur’ān, thus, reads:

And if you fear that you will not be able to deal fairly with the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four. (4:3)

Similarly today, some women may be in need of care and acceptance in society. It is unfortunate that widows, orphans and new converts are forced to live lives of misery in most societies. Islam seeks to provide solace to such women and children in order that they may live regular lives with comfort and peace.

Islam only allows Muslim men to marry more than once, but does not encourage it in any way. This can especially be done in order to secure the lives of the women, and children, involved. It seeks to maintain the sanctities of a healthy household for all individuals and requires all wives to be treated equally. This latter consideration should be very strongly stressed.

Another good reason for this allowance is to prevent heinous sins from engulfing a society. In the event that a man feels the urge to go to a woman other than his own wife, restraint is absolutely the best possible option. However, if even then he finds himself much too compelled so as to choose between extra-marital relations and another marriage, he should go for the second option.

It needs to be stressed again that the allowance of polygamy is there in Islam has not been encouraged. The Qur’ān puts a very stern condition on the man, should he want to take more than one woman into marriage: the fair treatment of all wives:

But if you fear that you would not be able to deal justly [with them] then [restrict yourself to] one only. (4:3)

As far as the requirement of the first wife’s permission for second marriage is concerned, this is not a necessary pre-requisite. However, prudence demands that she be made aware of it in order to avoid future enmity. Consequently, there is no punishment for a man, in the event that he marries more than once. Up to four wives have been permitted along with the enjoining of fair and equal treatment of all four wives. Should multiple marriages result in the breaking up of any of the families, or in mistreatment of either of the wives, then the husband will be held responsible for any mismanagement on his part. In that case, any punishment will be from Allah.

For Questions on Islam, please use our