Asalamu Alaikum Kashmiri,
Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.
Polygamy in Islam is a social and economic solution to many problems that, if left unaddressed, could lead to the prevalence of injustices, hardship, moral vices, and crime in society.
However, in order to truly understand why Islam has allowed polygamy, one needs to open one’s mind and look at social relationships, especially gender relations, in proper perspective.
Women historically outnumbered men in any society, due to the lower birth rate and higher mortality rate among males. Historically, wars would also lead to daunting scarcities of viable male partners.
Furthermore, before the industrial revolution and the (more recent) Internet revolution, men were the primary breadwinners of their families because of the physical hardship involved in earning an income.
The fact of life was that money was mostly earned through hard manual labor. Because of limited medical facilities; and the fact that women used to be almost perennially involved in childbirth and related physical complexities, women found it hard to work outside the home to earn wages, with some exceptions.
Electricity, indoor heating, readily available resources (including food), instant communication, medical facilities, and other advances did not exist a couple of hundred years ago.
Life was hard. And doing many “normal” things, such as lighting an indoor fire for warmth or traveling to a neighboring city, involved high risks. Therefore, men and women depended more heavily on one another in their traditional roles. Specifically, women needed men for provision and protection, to live an honorable life in society.
Furthermore, the economic power of men held allowed them to pay for variety in partnerships, albeit illegally and on the sly. It is for this reason that, in any society where there was a surplus of women who have no male (father, brother, or husband) to protect them and support them financially, prostitution and adultery became common.
This is why Islam has provided the perfect solution to the social challenges in the form of polygamy.
Rather than have clandestine illegal/immoral sexual relationships and ‘the flesh trade’ flourish on the sly, degrading women and reducing them to sex objects, Islam allows economically stable and wise men to marry more than one wife, on the condition that they be strictly just among all their wives.
This situation becomes a win-win solution for both the sexes who find themselves in a predicament of sorts. For example, single women (perhaps with children) who need or prefer a “part-time” husband and also may or may not be in need of financial support, and rich men who desire many children can fulfill this role for one another.
That being said, polygamy is still the exception rather than the rule in most cultures and societies. Islam did not invent polygamy, it has not made polygamy obligatory, nor does it encouraged polygamy.
This is especially true for those Muslim men who do not possess the wisdom and righteousness to be just between their wives, nor possess the economic power to support more than one wife/family. Nowadays, it is challenging for most husbands to support just one wife and his children with her.
However, in order to truly understand the benefits of polygamy, one should keep an open mind and think about the variety of cultures and situations of humanity through out history. Islam is for humanity for all times and circumstances.
And polygamy provides a halal (permissible) way for all individuals to seek sexual satisfaction, many offspring, and companionship.
Marriages and stable extended families are a result of polygamy, instead of illicit liaisons, exploitation of women, and fatherless children born out of wedlock and raised in misfortune.
In today’s digital age, while the prevalent abundance and ease of resources, travel, earning, and communication might have reduced a woman’s need for a provider and protector, polygamy still offers a workable solution for many.
I hope that this answers your question and sheds light upon the divine wisdom behind the permissibly of polygamy in Islam. Please keep in touch.
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