The Qur'an is a book of divine origin and a source of answers to human questions. The permission granted to men to marry up to four wives has its rationale. Originally it was meant to protect women and it was not a preferential treatment favoring men. War, illness and disasters decimated the male population and the number of widows kept on increasing. Polygamy was thus a sort of remedy. However, for those who would opt for polygamy certain conditions had been foreseen, amongst which just treatment of wives in every respect. If a man could was not sure of being able to behave towards his wives in like manner, he should avoid to take more than one wife. In other words, monogamy had to be considered as principle.

Polygamy was looked at askance in the west due to the ignorance of the historical conditions. Another example of the quantitative difference between male and female population was observed during the post-war Germany, where the proportion of women to men was ten to one.

The Prophet had married his first wife Khadija and had remained faithful to her for 25 years. Only after he had lost her when he was 53 did he indulge in polygamy; and the main reason was to spread Islam.



She was the first wife. She was the first believer in Islam, who had sacrificed her wealth for the spread of Islam. She was a 40 year old widow who had already given birth to two children when the Prophet married her in his twenty fifth years. When she lost her, he was 53 years old. During a happy matrimonial life of twenty five years they had two sons and four daughters. He was a sturdy and potent man who enjoyed perfect health he had remained content with one single wife. After he lost her he did not marry for three years. He then chose to take more than one wife with a view to being instrumental to the spread of Islam. The Qur'an had enjoined the Prophet's wives to teach Islam to their immediate environment. And recite what is rehearsed to you in your homes, of the Signs of Allah and His Wisdom. (33/34)

Polygamy was not the Prophet's invention. When the Qur'an was revealed polygamy as an institution was already prevalent in many corners of the world and in Arabia. Marriage ties were considered to be strong family ties and conjugal relationships. In order to spread Islam one had to have recourse to all sorts of means. He thought to marry many women with whose families he would establish connections, which, in turn would serve to spread the religion. As a matter of fact, a great many tribes were converted in this manner. On the other hand, it is worthy of note that a great many of the traditions of the Prophet had come down through the Prophet's wives.

1) Rewarding women for the efforts they spent for the spread of Islam; Savda may be cited as an example.


Savda who was the second wife of the Prophet was among the first converts. Unable to put up anymore with the tortures of the heathen people in Mecca, she, in the company of her husband, had defected to Abyssinia. Her husband converted into Christianity and died a short while after. Savda, whose convictions and practices had never changed, returned to Mecca eventually. While fighting for the cause of Islam, she lost her 16 year old son. In the face of the hardship to which she had been exposed Muhammad offered her to marry him. She was 50 years at the time.

2) Patronage of widows whose husbands fell at the front; Ummu Salama may be cited

as example.

Ummu Salama

She was the fifth wife of the Prophet. She was reputed for her blind devotion to him. Her husband, Abd al-Asad was among the first converts. Under the cruelties inflicted by the Meccans they had to leave, first to Afghanistan and then to Medina. Her husband fell in the battle field during the Uhud war and she remained a widow with her four children. She also happened to be a close relative of Khalid, commander of the Meccan army, an archenemy of the Muslims. However, Khalid, was deeply affected by her marriage to the Prophet and he himself became a convert after two years.


She was the eighth wife of the Prophet and the daughter of Huzayma. Her first husband fell in the field during the Badr campaign and second husband during the Uhud campaign. The Prophet married Zaynab who was left without resource and took her under his wings; however, she was to die within three months of her marriage.

3) To honor the family of his close friends by marrying their daughters. Aïsha, Hafsa and Zaynab, daughter of Djahsh may be cited as examples.


She was the third wife of the Prophet and the daughter of Abu Bakr, the first caliph, his closest friend. She was born in Mecca and had received a very good education. To honor his closest friend he was engaged to her who was not of age at the time to wed her when she attained the age of puberty. She was very intelligent and wise woman. She served him for 9 years in a great many fields. She accompanied her husband to campaigns and acted as a nurse. We owe her many a tradition. She is considered one of the outstanding jurists versed in canonical law.


She was the fourth wife of the Prophet and daughter of Omar, the second Caliph. Unable to up with the harassment of the Meccans she had, along with her husband Huzafa, one of the first converts, had to leave, first to Abyssinia, and then, to Medina. She became a widower as her husband fell in the battle of Uhud. The Prophet, by the suggestion of Omar, married her and became related to Omar, by kinship ties.

Zaynab, daughter of Djahsh

Zaynab, the seventh wife of the Prophet and the daughter of his paternal aunt, was reputed for her beauty and dignified manners. In Arabia the emancipated slaves suffered injustice. To do away with this ill advised custom and to show the public that they had equal rights as free citizens, the Prophet, married Zaynab, his maternal aunt's daughter to Zaid, the emancipated slave and the Prophet's legally adopted son. Nevertheless, the couple remained aloof from each other and could not settler their disputes. Despite the opposition of the Prophet, Zaid put an end to their matrimonial tie. This caused great grief in Zaynab. Not long after, the Prophet received a revelation in which he was commanded to take Zaynab to wife. Then when Zaid had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary (formality), We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the Believers in (the matter of) marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them. And Allah's command must be fulfilled.(33/37). This solved the matter as Zaynab became under the protection of the Prophet and put an end to the Arab custom according to which said: "The adoptive father cannot marry the wife of the former's ex-wife".

4) To marry women of hostile tribes with a view to converting them to Islam: Juwairiya, Ummu Habiba, Safiyya, Mary the Egyptian, and his last wife, Maymuna.


Widowed daughter of the hostile tribe of Banu al-Mustalik was the wife of the Prophet. She was taken prisoner of war, but instead of making her a mere concubine, the Prophet thought it better to take her to wife. This led the rest of the hostile tribe to be converted into Islam.

Ummu Habiba

Daughter of Abu Sufyan, archenemy of Muhammad, leader of the Meccan polytheists and commander-in-chief of the Meccan army, was the 9th wife of Abu Sufyan. In spite of his father's opposition, she had been, along with Jahsh, among the first converts and immigrated to Abyssinia, her husband had been converted into Christianity and died soon after. Ummu Habiba, who had one child from her first marriage, had remained devoted to the cause of Islam and refused to return to her homeland, where her father ruled. As a token of gratitude for her behavior, when God's Messenger, had proposed her marriage through the good offices of Nejasi, the king of Abyssinia, she was in the seventh heaven. That was the greatest reward for a Muslim woman. It may be that Allah will grant love (and friendship) between you and those whom ye (now) hold as enemies. For Allah has power (over all things); and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (60/7)

The tenth wife of the Prophet; a Jewish girl from Khaybar. Her husband had fallen in the field during the Khaybar campaign between the Muslims and the Jewish people. She was taken prisoner and was entrusted with Muhammad as spoil of war. God's Messenger told her that if she so wished might go back to her country, or else, were she be willing to convert into Islam, she might remain and be his wife, to which she consented. This act had served many Jewish people to embrace Islam.

Mary, the Egyptian

The eleventh wife of the Prophet. She was sent as a gift by Mukavkis, the Egyptian King. The Prophet made her his lawful wife. This marriage created close ties with the Egyptians, a great many of them being converted into Islam.


The Prophet's twelfth and last wife. The objective of the Prophet was to obliterate heathenism in Mecca. Maymuna, a widow had eights sisters married to prominent and influential personages of pagan tribes. The marriage in question served to reduce the prevalent tension reigning between the Muslims and the Meccan people.

God's messenger, who was 53 when his first wife passed away, married up to his 62nd year mostly widows with children. Had his intention been lascivious, she would certainly have preferred to marry young and beautiful maidens. But his later marriages had been under the guidance of the revelations he received and the purpose cited above.


The abode of the Prophet was far from being a palace. His small house consisted of cramped rooms and a masjid far from being spacious. The walls were of adobes, the roof was thatched with branches of palm trees topped with a kilim to prevent any leak of rain water. The wives were far from enjoying the luxury of worldly gifts as they were cooped up in narrow spaces and hardly had anything more than they needed. The Prophet preferred to distribute his acquisitions among his people and led a modest life. This privation was shared by his wives and children. Although the wives who had had a life of abundance in their past made complaints, at frequent intervals, but this had not changed in the least the Prophet's policy devoted to his Creator. God addressed to the Prophet's wives in the following words: O Prophet! Say to thy Consorts: "If it be that ye desire the life of this World, and its glitter,- then come! I will provide for your enjoyment and set you free in a handsome manner. But if ye seek Allah and His Messenger, and the Home of the Hereafter, verily Allah has prepared for the well-doers amongst you a great reward. (33/28-29) It had occurred to none of the consorts to separate from Muhammad. In their penury, they enjoyed the bliss of being contributors to the spread of Islam. They were not only the consorts of God's Messenger, but also the mothers of future Muslims. The Prophet is closer to the Believers than their own selves, and his wives are their mothers. (33/6) O Consorts of the Prophet! Ye are not like any of the (other) women… (33/32) Nor is it right for you that ye should annoy Allah's Messenger, or that ye should marry his widows after him at any time. Truly such a thing is in Allah's sight an enormity. (33/53).

(See Islam Peygamberi, Prof Dr. Muhammed Hamidullah; Asr-ı Saadetin Büyük Kadınları, Prof. Dr. Yaşar Nuri Öztürk; Islam'da Kadın ve Aile, Prof Dr. Hayrettin Karaman)


If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice. (4/3)

The Qur'an stresses the protection of the rights of the orphaned progeny. However, marrying girls whose parents had died should be the outcome of love and affection, not for their wealth, since this will eventually cause grief and injustice. If you fear that you cannot deal with them in justice, than avoid marrying them, and choose for spouses other marriageable women up to a maximum number of 4.

The female population compared to male one was considerably greater. For instance under Pharaoh, boys were decimated while girls survived. (See 7/141). The number of male population increased in that community. During the pre-Islamic times the underdeveloped Arab tribes owed their existence to muscular strength, and as they often came into conflict with each other, the number of male population marked a decline. On the other hand, girls underrated were buried alive as soon as they saw the light of day. (See 16/58-59)

In the wake of the World War II, there had been a considerable disproportion between male and female population as the major part of men had been killed in the war. Only after a lapse of two or three generations was this disproportion redressed. In the Philippines there still is an imbalance on that account for genetic problems; the proportion is three women to one man.

Today as the mortality of male population is considerably greater due to the stressful working life; the number of widows is on the increase. On the other hand, woman is acknowledged scientific researches to be sturdier than man; therefore, she outlives him by ten years approximately. Under such circumstances man is allowed to marry more than one woman according to the Qur'an.


If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice. (4/3)

In pre-Islamic times, there was no limit to the number of women a man would marry. Bitter jealousy between wives was rampant. The Qur'an's approach to polygamy was not radical. It had to take into consideration the reduced number of male population killed in the battlefield. Muhammad tried to find a remedy for this by marrying the widows whose husbands had fallen; this policy he adopted would also help him to spread the religion.

Before transition to monogamy, the Qur'an preferred a soft landing and limited the number of marriageable women to four: Unless absolutely necessary, it was loath to see the spread of polygamy; as a matter of fact, by imposition of grave stipulations it made it difficult. The just treatment between wives involved equal enjoyment of such facilities as clothing, nourishment, sexual contacts, nice behavior and words. By the verse … Allah has not made for any man two hearts in his (one) body: (33/4) Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire But turn not away (from a woman) altogether, so as to leave her (as it were) hanging (in the air). … (4/129)

Unless one was able to realize all these stipulations, one should be content with one spouse only. This would be the ideal marriage putting an end to marital squabbles.


The Prophet married Khadija, a widow of 40, when he was but 25, and he remained faithful to her. In the course of their 25 years of marriage they had 6 children. Only after she died, his devotion to her memory refrained from marrying anyone else for three years. In his 53rd year he did marry in line with the injunctions of the Qur'anic revelations having in view to spread Islam.

The Prophet married his daughter Fatma to Ali, his nephew, one of the first male converts. He did not allow him to marry a second wife. Except for the requirement of his divine mission he remained faithful to the idea of monogamy.


There is the type of man whose speech about this world's life May dazzle thee, and he calls Allah to witness about what is in his heart; yet is he the most contentious of enemies. When he turns his back, His aim everywhere is to spread mischief through the earth and destroy crops and cattle. But Allah loveth not mischief. (2/204-205)

1) Blood relationship. The progeny's parents should be known. In case of polyandry this is not possible, let alone it is medically ill-advised.

2) Heritage. Polyandry would give rise to infinite problems in the partition of the legacy. Not to mention the parental love of children which a must in their sound development.

3) The number of female population is higher in the world.