By Editorial Staff
Indeed, polygamy is subject to bitter controversy between Muslims and non-Muslims, especially Christians who allege that their divine message permits marriage with just one wife. Let’s discuss this topic and expatiate on what Islam and Christianity really say about it.
Christians often claim that their divine message provides for marriage with only one wife and prohibits polygamy. In support of their claim, they quote some verses from the New Testament. For example, we read: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach.” (1 Timothy 3:2)
We also read: “A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.” (1 Timothy 3:12)
We further read: “If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain.” (Titus 1:6-7)
However, in the above verses, we observe that marriage with only one wife is something Paul imposed in his epistles on bishops and deacons rather than average Christians. Moreover, Jesus Christ never specified the number of wives, nor do we find an explicit verse in the New Testament which obligates average Christians to marry just one wife or prohibits them from marrying more than one wife.
It is curious enough that the above teachings of Paul are contradictory and inapplicable within the clerical circles themselves. Though the above verses may be seen as encouraging monogamy, we observe that in other verses Paul discouraged marriage in principle even with only one wife. Instead, he recommended celibacy.
In the New Testament, We read the following verses:
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” (1 Corinthians 7:1)
“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.” (1 Corinthians 7:8)
“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:32-35)
Needless to say, monks and nuns are under an obligation to remain celibate so that the “celibacy vow” will not be broken, following in the footsteps of Mary and her son, Jesus Christ.
Now, should a monk not marry or should he marry just one woman according to Paul? What about the average Christian man? Should the verses quoting Paul as recommending monogamy prevail over the other verses recommending celibacy or vice versa or what??
Monks and nuns supposedly remain celibate, that is to say they do not put Paul’s teachings concerning monogamy into practice. How can the verses quoting him as recommending monogamy be applicable to the average Christians if they are not applied by monks and nuns?
It goes without saying that Christians follow the Mosaic Law, which according to the Old Testament even in its current form, permits polygamy. In the Old Testament, we read: “Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.” (Genesis 4:19)
About Prophet Solomon, the Old Testament says: “Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines.” (1 Kings 11:2-3)
About Prophet David, the Old Testament says: “And David took more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron: and there were yet sons and daughters born to David.” (2 Samuel 5:13)
The Old Testament tells us that Prophet Jacob had several wives and concubines, including: Leah (Genesis 29:23), Rachel (Genesis 29:30), Bilhah (Genesis 30:4), and Zilpah (Genesis 30:9).
The Old Testament also tells us that Prophet Abraham had several wives, namely Sarah (Genesis 17:15-16), Hagar (Genesis 16:1-3), and Keturah (Genesis 25:1)
So, what is the conclusive evidence for the prohibition of polygamy from the Bible? It has become crystal clear now that polygamy is permitted according to the Old Testament. As for the New Testament, Jesus Christ did not prohibit polygamy in explicit terms therein.
Since Islam is the final extension of the previous divine messages, it also permits polygamy given the benefits it offers to mankind, but it does not make it obligatory or even recommend it. On the contrary, it discourages and restricts it in such a way which is deemed in the best interests of woman in the first place by limiting the number of wives to four wives only, stipulating both physical and financial ability as well as justice and equity as far as possible, and recommending marriage with only one woman by virtue of explicit, unequivocal texts included in the Qur’an. For example, in the Qur’an, we read:
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]. (An-Nisaa` 4:3)
We also read:
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. (An-Nisaa` 4:129)
It is reported that Prophet Muhammad said to Ghailan when he embraced Islam while having ten wives: “Keep four and divorce the others.” (Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi, and Ibn Majah)
It is also reported on the authority of Abu Hurairah that Prophet Muhammad said: “Whoever has two wives and gets more inclined towards one of them, he will come on the Day of Resurrection with half of his body inclined towards one side.” (Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasa`i, and Ibn Majah)
Now, it has become evident that the previous divine messages – Judaism and Christianity – permitted polygamy but did not limit the number of the wives or stipulate justice and equity unlike Islam. We do not find any conclusive evidence not contradicting other evidence in the Bible which recommends monogamy for average people, not just bishops or deacons only.
1- The Glorious Qur’an (Sahih International Translation)
3- Sunan Ibn Majah
4- The Holy Bible (Visit biblegateway.com)
Women’s Rights & Marriage Rulings between Christianity and Islam (Celibacy)
Women’s Rights & Marriage Rulings between Christianity and Islam (Divorce)
Your Comprehensive Guide to Women’s Status in Islam and Christianity
Dictionary of Woman’s Most Important Affairs in the Bible and the Qur’an