Short Answer: Because God created Adam with just one wife, it can’t be said that men are “naturally polygynous.” The default and natural creation of human beings is to incline emotionally to one person and “out of the two spread men and women.” Any other form of “family” is a matter of culture that is formed despite humanity’s natural inclinations. Many “reasons” people mention behind the Islamic law allowing a man to marry more than one wife are unfounded. Some are apologetic, and even men-serving.
Salam Dear Amina,
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
There are three parts to your question:
1- The question of why Allah created one woman only for Adam (peace be upon him).
2- The claim that polygyny in Islam is related to the non-balanced ratio between men and women.
3- Whether polygyny is necessarily part of the law that people have to practice.
No Clear Answer to “Why Polygyny?” Question
First of all, in Muslim scripts (Quran and Hadith), we do not have answers for the question of “why polygyny?” stated clearly.
This means the answer anyone gives to the question of polygyny, including this answer, is a matter of speculated interpretation.
And when we give answers based on such interpretations, we should make sure that we inform the people we talk with (especially if they are not Muslim) that we are giving our own interpretations and not what Allah stated in His book as His own reasons.
And the rationale is clear: If the facts, which we based our interpretations on, turn out to be inaccurate, then people will think that Allah’s scripts, not our opinions, are inaccurate.
So, we have to make a clear distinction between Allah’s reasons and our own.
Similarly, we can answer a question of “why” in Allah’s creation with certainty, only if He reveals His reasons.
There are no direct reasons given in the scripts for “why” Allah created only one mate for Adam.
However, if we refer to the verses that mentioned the creation of a “mate” for Adam, we will notice certain implications of the words and expressions used in the verses.
And yes, the following is a matter of interpretation.
Quran Verses Regarding “Mate”, not “Mates”
Read the following verses:
O mankind! Be conscious of your Sustainer, who has created you out of one living entity, and out of it created its mate, and out of the two spread abroad a multitude of men and women. (Quran 4:1)
It is He who has created you [all] out of one living entity, and out of it brought into being its mate, so that man might incline [with love] towards woman. And so, when he has embraced her, she conceives [what at first is] a light burden, and continues to bear it. Then, when she grows heavy [with child], they both call unto God, their Sustainer, “If Thou indeed grant us a sound [child], we shall most certainly be among the grateful!” (Quran 7:189)
He has created you [all] out of one living entity, and out of it fashioned its mate. (Quran 39:6)
Men Are Not “Naturally” Polygynous
The expression consistently used in the verses is “zawjaha” (Adam’s mate) and not “zawjan lahu” (one mate for Adam). And the second verse quoted above states that “so that he (Adam) might incline to her with love”.
This means that the “natural” situation for a human being (nafs, whether man or woman) is to incline and love one mate and not more.
This is how Adam was created, and it is certainly more accurate to refer to Adam’s creation for discovering the nature of human beings more than any other statistical reference that could differ along the dimensions of geography and history.
In fact, “nature” and “naturally” are such complex words because they are often confused with the words “culture” and “culturally”.
So you find some people claiming that certain things are human “nature”. While in reality, they are only really referring to their own “culture” as a reference for this “nature”.
The point is that the default and natural creation of human beings is to incline emotionally to one person and “out of the two spread men and women” as the verse is saying.
This is the default and natural family structure: man, woman, and their children. Any other form of “family” is a matter of culture that is formed despite humanity’s natural inclinations.
Scientific Justifications Are Built on False Information
In my personal view, many of the “reasons” that people mention behind the Islamic law allowing a man to marry more than one wife are unfounded, apologetic, and even men-serving.
For example, people say that, “men are “naturally” inclined to sexual activities more than women”, “the number of men is statistically more than the number of women”, “the second is meant to be a friend for the first wife, and the whole family will live happily ever after”, and so on.
If we examine these claims mentioned here via modern social sciences tools, we will realize that they are simply inaccurate.
Moreover, even if they happen to apply to a certain society or community in a certain country or time, they do not apply as “universal” human facts based upon what a law could be based on.
Here, “universal” is also as big a claim as “natural”.
‘Urf as an Important Dimension
There is another dimension to polygyny that we have to consider, which is the dimension of `urf (tradition or culture).
Speaking from a jurisprudential standpoint, traditions of the people do have an effect on Islamic rulings and do affect people’s contracts and worldly dealings in general as long as they do not contradict the rules of Shari`ah.
In Islamic law, the rule goes that what is default according to tradition is a default condition in the contract.
This means that if the tradition of the people (or perhaps the agreement of the couple before marriage) indicates that the man will not marry any other women, then it goes as a “legal condition” in the marriage contract that is binding on that man, unless his wife (or perhaps a judge in certain cases) willfully allows this default to change.
Polygyny is Not a Central Tenet of Islam
Some societies, especially in the West, do not accept polygyny and find it harmful for the make up of the family and society.
Therefore, it is unfair to tell these societies that polygyny is part of “Islam” that they have to practice!
We do not want to tie people’s acceptance of Islam to practicing polygyny, because they do not have to.
It is mentioned in the Quran, which is true, but practicing it is subject to people’s perception of the family.
Our legal evidence is that the first family of Adam and Eve, according to the Quran, was monogamous.
I hope this answers your question.
Salam and please keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam’s archives)