Polygyny: Is It Fair?

By Aishah Schwartz


Today polygyny is seen as an exception rather than a rule, and indeed, this is true, as it takes an exceptional man to navigate its oftentimes tumultuous waters.

But the Quran and Sunnah do not leave men ill-equipped when making a decision toward polygyny, or in demonstrating how to enjoin women in understanding what is best.

{And it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.} (Al-Baqarah 2:216)

Very specific guidelines for polygyny are set out in the Quran and are cited as follows:

1 – Justice or Fairness (3)

Allah says: {…but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one.} (An-Nisa’ 4:3)

This verse (ayah) indicates that just treatment is a condition for plural marriage to be permitted. If a man is afraid that he will not be able to treat his wives justly if he marries more than one, then it is forbidden for him to marry more than one.

What is meant by the justice that is required in order for a man to be permitted to have more than one wife is that he should treat his wives equally in terms of spending, clothing, conjugal relations, or other material things that are under his control.

With regard to justice or fairness in terms of love, he is not held accountable for that, and that is not required of him because he has no control over that. This is what is meant by the verse , {You will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire.} (An-Nisa’ 4:129)

2 – The Ability to Spend on One’s Wives

The evidence for this condition is the verse: {And let those who find not the financial means for marriage keep themselves chaste, until Allah enriches them of His Bounty.} (An-Nur 24:33)

In this verse, Allah Almighty commands those who are able to get married but cannot find the financial means, to remain chaste. One such example is not having enough money to pay the mahr (dowry) and not being able to spend on one’s wife. (Al-Mufassal fi Ahkaam al-Mar’ah, part 6, p. 286)

And in support of understanding between co-wives (from hadith):

Aisha, the wife of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“The wives of Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) sent Fatima, the daughter of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him), to Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him). She sought permission to get in as he had been lying with me in my mantle. He gave her permission and she said: Allah’s Messenger, verily, your wives have sent me to you in order to ask you to observe equity in case of the daughter of Abu Quhafa. She (Aisha) said:

“I kept quiet”

Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to her (Fatima):

“O daughter, don’t you love whom I love? She said: Yes, (I do). Thereupon he said: I love this one.” (Al-Bukhari, 755)

Management of Polygyny



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