Polygamy And Its Implications In Modern Age


Polygamous marriage is always a sensitive topic that often being portrayed as an outdated practice and should be abolished as the world progresses. The numerous cases of unsuccessful polygamous marriage, such as abusive and controlling partner has painted a negative image on polygamy. Due to this misconception, movements has been created to go against the practice with hope that women will be given justice and fairness in marriage. Modern females are also very vocal on this issue, with the help of media in rejecting the idea of polygamous marriage The gloom-ridden claims does not only corroded the true intention of polygamy, especially in Islam, but also has influenced the non-Muslim’s perception on the teachings of Islam. Truthfully, it is quite difficult to acknowledge the true reality of polygamous marriage. Because of this, there will always be arguments whether polygamy is appropriate or not. Often times, it has become a subject of an argument due to the patriarchal characteristics of most societies around the globe. The wives will potentially mistreated by their husbands in polygamous marriages. Majority believes that polygamy will gives negative implications towards the family and will create conflicts in family management. Such impacts may be subjective and probably depends on how the individuals managed their household. All in all, it is very important to know the essence of polygamy, how it works in modern days despite the backlash and controversies surrounding it and the implications of this practice towards the affected parties.

Concept and History of Polygamy

Polygamy in general, can be defined as having more than one wife without limitation in terms of the amount of wives. The term Polygamy is a unification of two Greek words, Poly which is many and Gamos that means marriage. Polygamy is also referred as the custom in some societies in which someone can be legally married to more than one person at the same time. However, in Islam, the meaning of Polygamy is slightly different. In Arab language, polygamy is referred to two words; Ta’addud which is the root word of Ta’addada that means multiply or more in amount and Zawjat which is the root word of Zawwaja that carries the meaning of to unifiy two things or to married off a man and a woman. The concept of Polygamy is very wide and some researchers agreed that the term polygamy is more directed towards a man who has multiple wives.

If we look upon the history of polygamy back in the ancient days, majority of historian agreed that polygamy has existed way before the existence of Islam, especially by Jewish people in the era of pre and post Prophet Musa. It has been practiced by the society of that time and deemed as a norm due to the difficulties in committing monogamous relationship. Referring to the Torah scripture, the application of polygamy has started from Prophet Ibrahim himself by marrying Siti Hajar and Siti Sarah. History also shown that Prophet Daud who was also practicing polygamous marriage with having 300 wives whereas Prophet Sulaiman himself has 700 wives from the noble lineage with the additional of 300 concubines. It is a recorded evidence that polygamy has happened before the existence of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

In the society of Arab Jahilliyyah, for instance, polygamy are not bound to any restrictions such as the amount of wives and equality in treating the wives. A man can have more than four wives and the number can exceed to hundreds. Apart from that, there are no guidelines pertaining to the needs of all the wives without being biased. There’s also another type of practice which is similar to polygamy but it was practiced by women. The term is called Polyandry. Polyandry allows a woman to have not more than 10 husbands at one time, and there are also no restrictions on how the marriage works and function. It is totally up to the woman herself on how she commits to her husbands. These practices however, has been fully polished and altered according to the rules of Islam, which are more appropriate and just towards women. After the emergence of Islam, polygamy is no longer accessible to females, and males who wants to do polygamy must be able to follow the stated rules and regulations.

When it comes to other cultures of other civilizations, polygamy is not a foreign concept. In Persian culture, there will be reward for man in hereafter if they are able to marry more than one woman. There’s no restrictions in the amount of wives obtained and men are free to have as many wives as possible and that includes mistresses. In Ancient China, there’s a known tradition, practiced mainly by the royalties, which is keeping concubines. This tradition was kept alive during this time because of their faith, which encourages men to have more children as a means of continuing the legacy of their family. Furthermore, it was believed that the massive amount of offspring will appease their ancestors.

Polygamy in Islam

It has been known that a Muslim man can acquire more than one wife as long as he is able to fulfil the required conditions. In general, polygamy is permissible in Islam. However, it is not encourage to do so if men are not able to deal justly with their wives. It is clearly stated in Quran about polygamy based on the following verse: “And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice]”. This particular verse also mentioned that practicing polygamy is not encouraged nor denied but men should not have more than one wife if he can’t take full responsibilities. Another verse has stated the risk of polygamy. “And you will never be able to be equal [in feeling] between wives, even if you should strive [to do so]. So do not incline completely [toward one] and leave another hanging. And if you amend [your affairs] and fear Allah - then indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful”. Polygamy is a choice for Muslim men that should not be influenced by lust or desire. Equality in provisioning the wives is a must in order for men to properly practice polygamy.

Polygamy in other religions

The practice of polygamous marriage does not only applied to the religion of Islam. In other religions, it is also permissible to do so although it is more common in the past rather than in the modern days. Judaism, for instance, the practice of polygamous marriage are permissible before Rabbi Gershom decided to make it forbidden in the 11th century. Christianity prohibits its followers to practice polygamy as stated in several passages in the Book of Mormon. However, the Old Testament has an evidence stating that it was acceptable in ancient Israel. “And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other was Zillah. ” Although Christianity strictly disallowed Polygamy, it is said that the Catholic Church sometimes approved second marriages for political leaders. All in all, polygamy in general is not relevant and definitely should not be practiced in modern Christianity.

In Hinduism, a person can commit to polygamy, only if the purpose of it is to continue the family lineage. Another common reason in allowing polygamy is for the sake of protection on women and refraining them from disgracing themselves and their family members.

Polygamy in Modern Age

The issue of polygamy in modern days does not come off positive to the eyes of the world. Sometimes, it is often exaggerated on the internet and television, making it harder for Muslim to clarify further on this issue. Muslim spouses who resorted to polygamy are frowned upon, unfairly judged by the Non-Muslim or even Muslim who denies polygamy. Looking at the reception of today’s society, polygamous marriage is no longer favourable, especially in the west. Monogamous marriages are definitely preferable and it might come off as very unusual for any married couple to practice polygamy. However, it is unknown whether polygamous marriages are still being practiced or not as most of them are being very private regarding this matter. When it comes to the modern Hindu communities, they certainly do not practice polygamous marriage. To them, polygamy is not appropriate and some of them viewed polygamy as irrelevant or ancient.

Muslim communities have always been associated with polygamy although the practice is not frequent, especially in this modern age. This is because of the heavy responsibilities embedded on man who desires to have multiple wives. As stated in the Quran, a man who wants to obtain another wife must be able to be fair towards his wives. Factors such as economic circumstances and psychological burdens are often weighed in before resorting to this choice. Since it is very difficult for men to maintain two or more households at one time, polygamy does not appeal to Muslim men compared to monogamy, which is already a huge responsibility for them. It can be concluded that most Muslim men today are strictly monogamous.

In the east, especially countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, polygamy is quite a common practice although the amount of individuals practicing it still low compared to monogamy. In Malaysia, it is legal for Muslim men to marry as many as four wives, although they must obtain permission from an Islamic, or shariah, court to marry more than one. Nevertheless, several states require men to obtain the consent of their existing wives before seeking court permission to marry another wife.

The implications of Polygamy

The impact of polygamous marriage may affect either positively or negatively, depending on how it is viewed and practiced by an individual. Positive implications of practicing polygamous marriage are fruitful, if we were to look on the aspects of expanding the offspring and avoiding cases of sexual exploitation on unmarried women. In some cases, polygamous marriage is one of the best ways to solve the problem such as inability to procreate and child abandonment. Spouses who have difficulties in having the child of their own may subject to polygamous marriage so that the husband could have the children of his own. Due to the high numbers of career women out there, it is very helpful for them to have another person in the household to assist them with the chores and taking care of the children. There will be less risk of children feeling abandoned by their own parents, as there will be literally another mother figure at home to depend on. In Islam, polygamy can be viewed as an alternative for men to help single mothers and her children by providing a shelter and better education opportunities for them.

However, there are obviously negative implication on practicing polygamy, and usually, the emergence of cases regarding polygamous marriage derives from the injustice of husband toward the wives. Statistically speaking, it was found that out of nine women in polygamous marriages, every single woman had experienced psychological abuse, which is more than half of them has suffered physical, economic and sexual abuse. It was a clear indication that polygamous marriage is still widely misused by men and there are lack of understanding in practicing it. Based on the female or wife perspectives, polygamy is seen as oppressive. It is also believed that polygamous marriage may invoke jealousy and rivalry between wives.


The act of Polygamy is not something new as it is practiced beforehand in ancient times. Unfortunately, most of the time, polygamy is deemed as an advantages for men to fulfil their desire and control their partners. Polygamy is also widely misunderstood and the association of polygamy with Islam is often biased.

31 October 2020
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