Guide to Understanding Islam



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Does Islam really allow a man to take up to four wives?

Summary Answer

Yes.  A Muslim man can marry as many as four women and have sexual relations with an unspecified number of slaves as well.  Muhammad had eleven wives at the same time.

The Quran:

Quran (4:3) - "Marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or (the captives) that your right hands possess."  This verse plainly allows a man to have up to four wives (Allah conveniently granted Muhammad an exception... on the authority of Muhammad, of course).  According to the Hadith, the "justice" spoken of merely refers to the dowry provided the bride, not the treatment accorded following the wedding.

Quran (4:129) - "Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire"  Underscores that a man is not able to treat multiple wives fairly.  He would therefore be unable to acquire more than one wife if this were a requirement - which it is not.  In fact, Muhammad was not able to treat his own wives fairly (see Additional Notes).

Quran (66:5) - "Maybe, his Lord, if he divorce you, will give him in your place wives better than you, submissive, faithful, obedient, penitent, adorers, fasters, widows and virgins"  A disobedient wife can be replaced.  A man can only have up to four wives, but he can rotate as many women as he pleases in and out of the lineup.

From the Hadith:


Bukhari (62:2) - Provides the context for verse 4:3 of the Quran.  "Dealing justly" is defined within a financial context.  It refers to providing a fair dowry to secure marriage - not to the equal or fair treatment of wives (which is impossible according to verse 4:129).


Bukhari (5:268) - "The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number." I asked Anas, "Had the Prophet the strength for it?" Anas replied, "We used to say that the Prophet was given the strength of thirty men."   Muhammad had a "special rule" that allowed him to have at least eleven wives.  (His successors had more than four wives at a time as well.)


Bukhari (62:6) - "The Prophet used to go round (have sexual relations with) all his wives in one night, and he had nine wives."


Bukhari (77:598) - "Allah's Apostle said, "No woman should ask for the divorce of her sister (Muslim) so as to take her place, but she should marry the man (without compelling him to divorce his other wife)"  Polygamy is firmly established in the Islamic tradition.


Additional Notes:

The practice of polygamy is a mathematical contradiction of the principle that men and women are to be treated equally.  The Quran's allowance of multiple wives is therefore somewhat of a challenge to the contemporary apologist, who wants his Western audience to believe that Islam encourages gender equality.  Often, the first ploy is a weak claim that Islam is the only religion to encourage monogamy - based on the snippet of verse 4:3 which says  "marry only one."


In fact, this is not true.  In the first place, the New Testament plainly states that the model Christian is the "husband of but one woman" to whom he should be faithful (ie. no exception for sex slaves, as the Quran allows).  Secondly, the very Quranic verse from which the fragment "marry only one" is pulled is actually the very one that goes on to say that up to four wives are allowed as long as they "seem good" to the man!


At this point, the apologist usually falls back on defending polygamy itself - claiming that it reduces prostitution, for example - while effectively conceding that are not equal in Islam.  After all, why would Allah procreate women and men at an equal rate if marriages were meant to have ratios as high as 4:1?  The Quran also gives devout Muslim men license to capture women and use them as sex slaves, lest four wives prove insufficient. 


A preacher in 'moderate' Tunisa recently claimed that is every Muslim man's divine right "to take a concubine along with his wife and to enjoy the ones that their right hands possess." He went to add that "the concubine is the most effective solution to restore the social and moral balance of society."


Nowhere does the Quran allow an existing wife (or wives) any veto power in her husband's choice of additional sexual partners.  In fact, it discourages it by twice presenting an episode from Muhammad's live in which his wives "angered Allah" with their jealousy.  (Allah took a remarkable interest in Muhammad's life, devoting passages from the eternal Quran to his personal comfort).


The prophet of Islam had many wives (nine of whom outlived him) and the bickering in this unhappy arrangement is well-chronicled.  At one point, his wives were so upset by Muhammad's taking a slave girl to one of their own bedrooms that Allah had to step in and whisper parts of suras 33 and 66 in his ear, including the threat to divorce them all if they didn't allow him complete sexual freedom.


There are worse things in the world than polygamy (which has been practiced by many cultures outside of Islam), but it is shocking to see a religion place such high value on a man's base sexual desire that he is permitted to bring other women into the marriage bed just to satisfy his lust.  As pointed out, women are not allowed the same freedom to seek sexual satisfaction from alternate sources should their husband lose interest or capacity.


The Western world has decided that polygamy devalues a woman's worth.  In Islam, however, a woman's worth is often the sum of her sexual value to her husband. Home Page


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