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Polygamy: Not a Sixth Pillar of Islam

Question and answer details
Ali
2012/06/19
I've heard from many scholars that polygamy has rules and restrictions, and that it is not for everyone, and not recommended either because the Quran says to marry only one. However I recently came across an Islamic web site and this is what they said on polygamy: "According to the hadith narrated by al-Bukhaari from Ibn ‘Abbaas, the best of this ummah are those who have most wives." Sorry, but I've NEVER heard that hadith before in my life. What is the reliability of this hadith? And are Muslim men really encouraged to take more than wife? I live in Canada, and if I tried to apply this principle it would be against the Law. What do you advise Muslims living in non-Muslim countries to do in such cases?
Mohsen Haredy
Answer

Salam Ali,

Thank you for your question.

Let me first clarify that the Hadith you referred to in your question is actually a saying attributed to `Abdullah ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him). Sa`id ibn Jubair is reported to have said: Ibn `Abbas said to me: “Did you get married?” I replied in the negative. So Ibn `Abbas said: “Then get married, as the best of this Ummah (Muslim nation) had the most wives.” (Al-Bukhari)

According to Ibn Hajar, the famous Hadith commentator, Ibn `Abbas refers to the Prophet (peace be upon him) as he had multiple wives. And this Ummah means the Muslim nation which followed the Prophet and not previous nations as Prophets David and Solomon had more wives than what the Prophet had. (Fath al-Bari, 9:114)

Therefore, Ibn `Abbas’ saying cannot be interpreted to be a general rule that the best Muslims are those who have the most wives. Ibn `Abbas was just encouraging Ibn Jubair to get married. This is what al-Muhallab said on his commentary on this hadith. (Ibn Battal, Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, 7:164)

This is the Islamic stance on marriage in general. It is highly recommended to get married in order to have a family that can contribute greatly to the progress of the community. Marriage is not an invention. It has been practiced by Islam by all people including Prophets themselves. We read in the Quran:

{And verity We sent messengers (to mankind) before you, and We appointed for them wives and offspring…} (Ar-Ra`d 13:38)

Marriage is a sacred bond which must be based on love and respect. Muslim men are highly urged to be fair with their wives and never abuse them. Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said:

"The best among you are those who are best to your households; I am the best among you to my household." (Al-Bukhari)

Muslim scholars view that marriage is subject to the five categories of Islamic rulings. It can be obligatory, recommended, permissible, forbidden, or prohibited according to the circumstances of each case.

As for the issue of polygamy, I am not going to delve into why it is permitted. This is because there is no clear answer to this question in the Quran, which Muslims believe is the word of God, or the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Whatever reasons people give are just human interpretations which might be accurate or inaccurate. But it is important to state that the Quran is the only divine book that tells its followers to marry one wife and the reason for that. This is when one cannot establish justice among more than one wife. In this case, he is recommended to marry only one woman.

We read in the Quran what means:

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

All other scriptures give man the right to marry as many women as he wishes. Recently, some religious groups restricted the number to one wife.

Polygamy is there in the Shari`ah. It is an option. It is not a sixth pillar of Islam that every Muslim has to practice it. Polygamy is not the norm; it is the exception. In no way can it be said that a man with two, three, or four wives is better in the sight of Allah than a man with one wife only.

Given the above, polygamy is not an issue that you should busy yourself with. It is not a priority in Islam. It falls within the category of the permissible things in Islam. You will not be asked on the Day of Judgment why you did not marry more than one woman.

What is more important is to integrate in the Canadian society and be an active member. Act as an ambassador for your religion. Be a role model for your neighbors, colleagues, friends, etc.

We thank you, Ali, for your concern not to break Canadian laws. This point takes us to a very crucial issue which should be given due attention. This issue has to do with the duties of Muslims living in a non-Muslim context. Muslims should be law-abiding people, and they should give a good image of Islam. Muslims have to cooperate with other community members and work for their welfare.

At the same time, Muslims should keep their identity and should not give concessions on core issues. Muslims have to take care of their families and raise their children according to the teachings of Islam.

I hope this answers your question.

Useful Links:

One Eve for Adam, So Why Polygamy?

Polygamy Between Islam and West

Does Islam Encourage Polygamy?

Polygamy: Norm or Exception?

Does Polygamy Contradict True Love?

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