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A. Men Can Marry Up to Four Wives

Sura 4:3 – 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;

Polygamy has always played a pivotal role in Islamic society. According to Islamic scholars, the roots of polygamy were noble. Muhammad is said to have had a deep concern for both orphans and widows. As men went into battle and were killed, Muhammad sought for a way to care for their widows and thus was given a revelation that men may marry up to four wives, if he could provide for their needs.

But as many have demonstrated, polygamy creates a unique set of problems for marriages. In the early 20th century, the Islamic jurist Kasim Ameen noted that, "Polygamy produces jealousies, hatred, intrigues and crimes innumerable."[1] Modern authors today echo those same sentiments. Nonie Darwish, a former Muslim woman and daughter of a shahid (martyr), notes that, "no law on earth will make a woman trust a man who has three other wives. Polygamy, thus, does not come for free. It has consequences to the health and happiness of the Muslim family."[2]

For example, jealousies are bound to ensue as each wife "becomes a separate center of power against the others, resulting in fierce competition, animosity, and rivalry between members of the larger family and wives ... Mutual distrust and disrespect become the norm."[3] Sadly, the effects of polygamy in the home has implications for society at large because "chaos in the family caused by polygamy is transferred to chaos and corruption in society."[4] Even Muhammad himself encountered jealousy among his many wives. Aisha was very jealous of all the other wives, commenting at one point, "I used to say to him, "If I could deny you the permission (to go to your other wives) I would not allow your favor to be bestowed on any other person."[5]


B. Muhammad given permission to marry as many wives as he desired

Although Muslim men were limited to four wives by Allah, Muhammad himself received a special revelation that exempted him from this limitation. The exemption is found in Sura 33:50-51. Aisha, his favorite and youngest wife, suspected his revelations might be of questionable legitimacy, for when he was given these verses, she commented, "I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires."[6]

Sura 33:50 – O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makka) with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her - this only for thee, and not for the Believers (at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess, in order that there should be no difficulty for thee.

C. But Muhammad permitted only one wife for his son-in-law Ali

Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 157:
Narrated Al-Miswar bin Makhrama:

I heard Allah's Apostle who was on the pulpit, saying, "Banu Hisham bin Al-Mughira have requested me to allow them to marry their daughter to Ali bin Abu Talib, but I don't give permission, and will not give permission unless 'Ali bin Abi Talib divorces my daughter in order to marry their daughter, because Fatima is a part of my body, and I hate what she hates to see, and what hurts her, hurts me." 

D. Men can divorce wife for any reason

"Divorce is valid from any: (a) husband; (b) who is sane; (c) has reached puberty; (d) and who voluntarily effects it."[7] Notice that only a husband can initiate a divorce according to shari'a.

Muslim men can divorce their wife or wives for any reason at all or for no reason. All that is necessary is for him to pronounce the Arabic word 'talaq,' which means "divorce" or "I divorce you." After pronouncing the talaq three times, either consecutively all at once, or spread out over a period of time, the divorce is considered to be final and irrevocable. The man cannot again remarry a woman for whom he has issued a triple talaq (for exception, see Muhallil marriage below).

The triple talaq is not without its own set of inherent problems, especially in this age of technological advancement. Recently, a young husband from Qatar played what he thought was a practical joke on his wife while chatting with her via Skype. He texted her 'talaq' three times. An Islamic judge has ruled his marriage terminated.[8]

Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 49, Number 859:

Narrated Aisha:
The following Verse: If a woman fears cruelty or desertion on her husband's part (i.e. the husband notices something unpleasant about his wife, such as old age or the like, and wants to divorce her, but she asks him to keep her and provide for her as he wishes). [4.128] "There is no blame on them if they reconcile on such basis." 

Sura 2:229 – The divorce is twice, after that either you retain her on reasonable terms or release her with kindness..

Divorce is thrice. This honorable ayah abrogated the previous practice in the beginning of Islam, when the man had the right to take back his divorced wife even if he had divorced her a hundred times. This situation was harmful for the wife, and this is why Allah made the divorce thrice, where the husband is allowed to take back his wife after the first and the second divorce… The divorce becomes irrevocable after the third divorce.[9]

E. Woman cannot divorce man

Although it is not impossible for a Muslim woman to divorce her husband, it is much more difficult. Whereas a man may simply pronounce the triple talaq, a woman must bring a lawsuit against her husband and have the divorce granted by a judge (Islamic khadi; judge of shariah).

Sura 2:228 – Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. Nor is it lawful for them to hide what Allah Hath created in their wombs…. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them.

Ibn Kathir quotes Sahih Muslim: Fear Allah regarding your women, for you have taken them by Allah’s covenant and were allowed to enjoy them sexually by Allah’s words. You have the right on them that they do not allow anyone you dislike to sit on your mat. If they do that, then discipline them leniently. They have the right to be spent on and to be bought clothes in what is reasonable.[10] 

Video Clip: Divorcing woman no different than getting rid of animal that doesn’t do what you want, or moving to a different apartment that you no longer like

F. Muhallil Marriage: Woman can remarry husband after divorce only if she marries another man first and has sex with him

In pre-Islamic times, men had unlimited rights to divorce and remarry wives. There was no limitation for how many times a man could divorce his wife and then remarry her; reports suggest it was not unheard of for a man to have divorced his wife 100 times or more.

This is one are where it is said Muhammad improved the status of women. He allowed a woman to be divorced up to three times (the triple talaq), after which the man could not remarry her again. As with any ruling, there was an exception, and the exception is known as a Muhallil marriage. 

If a woman wishes to be reconciled to her former husband after an irrevocable divorce, she first must marry another man, consummate that marriage with him, and then obtain a divorce from him. Upon waiting the required time ('iddah) after this divorce, she is then free to remarry her former husband.

"When a free man has pronounced a threefold divorce, the divorced wife is unlawful for him to remarry until she has married another husband in a valid marriage and the new husband has copulated with her, which at minimum means that the head of his erect penis fully enters her vagina."[11]

Sura 2:230 – So if a husband divorces his wife (irrevocably), He cannot, after that, re- marry her until after she has married another husband and He has divorced her.

Contrast this decree of the Qur'an with the Bible. According to biblical principles, Islam forces the divorced woman into adultery as a requirement to be reconciled to her former husband.

Matt. 5:31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD.

Jeremiah 3:1 “If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and becomes another man’s wife, he may not take her back again. Doing that would utterly defile the land.

So according to Biblical standards, Islam requires the woman to commit adultery and defile herself before she can be reconciled back to an earlier husband who has divorced her with the triple talaq.

Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 48, Number 807:

Narrated Aisha:
The wife of Rifa'a Al-Qurazi came to the Prophet and said, "I was Rifa'a's wife, but he divorced me and it was a final irrevocable divorce. Then I married AbdurRahman bin Az-Zubair but he is impotent." The Prophet asked her 'Do you want to remarry Rifa'a? You cannot unless you had a complete sexual relation with your present husband."

“Yahya related to me from Malik  … that Rifa’a ibn Simwal divorced his wife, Tamima bint Wahb, in the time of the messenger of Allah three times. She then married ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn az-Zubayr and he turned from her and could not consummate the marriage and so he parted from her. Rifa’a wanted to marry her again and it was mentioned to the Messenger of Allah, and he forbade him to marry her. He said, ‘She is not halal for you until she has tasted the sweetness of intercourse.’”[12]

Muhallil and virgin wives

The laws regarding Muhallil also apply to wives whose marriage was never consummated, even if the wife remained a virgin. Thus, it is not incumbent on the husband to have consummated a marriage with a wife from whom he seeks a divorce. The same rules apply.

"A man divorced his wife three times before he had consummated the marriage, and it seemed good to him to marry her. He wanted, therefore, a opinion, and I went with him to ask 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas and Abu Hurayra on his behalf about it, and they said, 'We do not think that you should marry her until she has married another husband.'[13]

"A man came and asked 'Abdullah ibn 'Amr ibn al-'As about a man who divorced his wife three times before he had had intercourse with her. 'Ata said, "The divorce of a virgin is one. 'Abdullah ibn 'Amr ibn al-'As said to me, 'You say one pronouncement completely separates her from her husband and three makes her haram until she has married another man.'[14]

G. Misyar Marriage

In a misyar marriage, a union takes place between a man and a woman where some of the responsibilities of both parties are surrendered. The man surrenders his right for housekeeping duties, the right of equal access to the husband among his other wives, and so forth. The wife surrenders her right to be provided for by her husband financially, to have a house owned by him to live in, and so forth. Misyar is often called 'travelers' marriage or 'vacation' marriage, because the man and woman live in separate dwellings, and the man 'visits' his 'wife' from time to time, the period often being specified in the marriage contract.

Critics have denounced misyar as nothing more than prostitution in religious garb. But Islamic scholars, while not directly advocating misyar, note that it fulfills all the shari'a requirements of a conventional marriage: the consent of both spouses, the payment of a dowry or mahr, the consent of the female's guardian, the presence of witnesses, and the announcement of the contract.

Misyar brings with it a multitude of problems. Most men desire to keep their misyar marriages secret, because the primary purpose of the misyar is simply for fulfilling the sexual needs of men without committing zina (fornication)[15]. However, when a pregnancy results in misyar, the wife will want the marriage made public rather than be seen as an unmarried, pregnant woman where such behavior has severe consequences. Further complications can include women who are misyar wives traveling outside the house with no guardian, who subsequently can be sent to jail by morality police.[16] In nations where misyar is practiced, some have noted an increase among single women to engage in misyar as a business, marrying a man for the large dowry and then blackmailing him for more money once the marriage is legal, in order to keep the marriage secret from the man's other wives or family.[17] [18]

H. Mut’a marriage

Mut'a (or Mut'ah) marriage is a religiously prescribed way in which a man can relieve his sexual tension without committing 'fornication.' It can otherwise be described as 'religiously sanctioned prostitution' because, in effect, it differs little from prostitution. In Mut'a, the man gives a woman something of value -- money, jewelry, clothing -- and in exchange the woman agrees to "marry" the man temporarily, strictly for the purpose of engaging in sexual relations. After the agreed upon time has elapsed, each goes his or her separate way with no further obligation toward the other. She has gotten her material goods, he has gotten his sex.

Mut'a is primarily a Shi'a practice. Sunnis believe Muhammad allowed Mut'a for a limited time but later abrogated the practice. Shi'ites believe no such abrogation took place. In practice however, Sunnis also engage frequently in Mut'a while traveling. 

What is the basis for making a distinction between mut'a and prostitution? The primary distinction "is a religious and conceptual one: prostitution in religious thinking represents disorder, disobedience to the established rules, corruption, and indulgence in sinful and unlawful sexual activities. It is fornication, which is explicitly condemned in the Quran. It is viewed as detrimental to the society's general health and welfare, and goes against its stated ethics and ethos. While performing a similar function, muta symbolizes social control and harmony with the social order. Although serving to gratify sexual needs, it is presumably not an anti-social behavior. Rather, participants are following a divinely-recommended way to gratify these needs. Significantly, not only is muta not considered immoral, it is perceived to combat corruption and immorality."[19]

The Marriage of Mut’ah

Note the quotations below from this website regarding Mut’a marriages:

Whenever man sets foot on the earth the need to travel always emerges. Sometimes traveling can involve man going thousands of miles away from home, sometimes for moths, even years. Do one’s sexual desires just evaporate when an individual is traveling? Sexual desire isn’t like some light switch that turns off when a man leaves his wife to set off on his travels, and turns back home when he gets back! Sexual desire is something that remains permanently with a human, when it accompanies him at all times then how can he curtail such sexual feelings? When someone is traveling and accessing his wife is impossible, and he is incapable of summing her to join him, then what will a young red-blooded male do? Miles away from home, feeling sexually aroused his situation is not one wherein he can get permanently married, so what is he to do? He will feel the only way that he can relieve himself is by amalgamating himself into the society around him. Islam does not permit a person to sexually relieve himself through masturbation nor is he permitted to adopt the ways of the kufr and indulge himself in fornication, it offers him a legitimate mechanism with which to relieve himself and that is temporary marriage.

It is not just traveling, that might necessitate Mutah, there are many in society who just does not have the financial ability / standing to get permanent married, yet they still have sexual desires, again Mutah is there to ensure that they practice sex within the boundaries set by Allah (swt).

Islam is a religion that is suited for all nations and ages. Mut'ah is a good example of that. It is only the Deen of Islam that caters for sexual desire by permitting a legitimate method of control. For others societies the only mechanism that they see as the solution to relieving sexual feelings is through the practice of fornication. In the western world adultery and fornication are common and openly performed. Mut'ah is a way of protecting a person from committing these serious sins and vices.

Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 139:

Narrated Abdullah:

We used to participate in the holy wars carried on by the Prophet and we had no women (wives) with us. So we said (to the Prophet ). "Shall we castrate ourselves?" But the Prophet forbade us to do that and thenceforth he allowed us to marry a woman (temporarily) by giving her even a garment, and then he recited: "O you who believe! Do not make unlawful the good things which Allah has made lawful for you." [Sura 5:87]

Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 52:

Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah and Salama bin Al-Akwa':

While we were in an army, Allah's Apostle came to us and said, "You have been allowed to do the Mut'a (marriage), so do it." Salama bin Al-Akwa' said: Allah's Apostle's said, "If a man and a woman agree (to marry temporarily), their marriage should last for three nights, and if they like to continue, they can do so; and if they want to separate, they can do so." I do not know whether that was only for us or for all the people in general. Abu Abdullah (Al-Bukhari) said: 'Ali made it clear that the Prophet said, "The Mut'a marriage has been cancelled (made unlawful)."

Sahih Muslim, Book 008, Number 3252:

Sabra Juhanni reported: Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) permitted temporary marriage for us. So I and another person went out and saw a woman of Bana 'Amir, who was like a young long-necked she-camel. We presented ourselves to her (for contracting temporary marriage), whereupon she said: What dower would you give me? I said: My cloak. And my companion also said: My cloak. And the cloak of-my companion was superior to my cloak, but I was younger than he. So when she looked at the cloak of my companion she liked it, and when she cast a glance at me I looked more attractive to her. She then said: Well, you and your cloak are sufficient for me. I remained with her for three nights, and then Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: He who has any such woman with whom he had contracted temporary marriage, he should let her off.

Imam al-Baydawi

In his famous book, The Interpretation of the Baydawi, he says, "The purpose of the contractual marriage is the mere pleasure of intercourse with a woman, and her own enjoyment in what she has given" (p. 108).

I. Marriage to pre-pubescent girls

One common criticism of Islam is the marriage of Muhammad to young Aisha bint Abu Bakr. Tradition tells us that Muhammad signed a marriage contract with Aisha when she was six years old and consummated the marriage when she was nine. Although Islamic scholars claim that Islam allows marriage only to girls who have entered puberty and have monthly cycles, and thus Muhammad only consummated his marriage with Aisha because she had begun her regular cycles, the Qur'an seems to suggest something different.

Sura 65:4 – [speaking of the prescribed waiting period for a divorce] And those of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the 'Iddah (prescribed period), if you have doubts (about their periods), is three months, and for those who have no courses [(i.e. they are still immature) their 'Iddah (prescribed period) is three months likewise.

"A waiting period is obligatory for a woman divorced after intercourse, whether the husband and wife are prepubescent, have reached puberty, or one has and the other has not."[20]

The prescribed waiting period (iddah) is the time after a divorce during which the woman cannot be remarried legally, in order to determine if she is pregnant. For women who have entered menopause (passed the age of monthly courses), she must wait three months after a divorce before remarrying. And for a woman (girl) who has not yet begun her monthly cycle (who have no courses), their iddah is also three months. This verse suggests that Muslim men can marry girls who have not yet entered puberty, have sexual relations with them, and subsequently divorce them. What other possible explanation can there be for the existence of this verse in the Qur'an?

Marriage to prepubescent girls is codified in Islamic law. When specifying the dowry to be paid by the groom, shari'a states, "A guardian may not marry his prepubescent daughter to someone for less than the amount typically received as marriage payment by similar brides."[21]

Furthermore, one cannot be charged with fornication if one is defined as lacking the capacity to remain chaste. "A person is not considered to have the capacity to remain chaste if he or she ... is prepubescent at the time of marital intercourse."[22]

One classification of divorce identifies that which is neither sunna nor unlawful innovation as "the divorce of a wife who is prepubescent, post-menopausal, pregnant, or one with whom one has not yet had sexual intercourse."[23]

Video clip: Marriage to one year old OK…

J. Marriage to virgins

Virgins must give consent for marriage, but… “Malik related to me from Abdullah ibn al-Fadl … ‘A woman who has been previously married is more entitled to her person than her guardian and a virgin must be asked for her consent and her silence is her consent.’”[24]

There is an abnormal obsession with a Muslim man marrying a virgin woman (but not necessarily the other way around: men are not required to be virgin). 

"Knowing she would have to show her bloodied wedding-night sheets to her in-laws as proof of her virginity, she decided on hymen repair surgery. 'I honestly viewed it as life-saving.' she said. 'If my husband could not prove to his family that I was a virgin, I would be ostracized and sent home in disgrace. My father, who is a devout Muslim, would regard it as the ultimate shame. The entire family could be cast out from their friends and society, and one of my cousins or uncles might kill me to purge them of my sins.'"[25]

Nonie Darwish, born a Muslim and raised in Egypt, notes, "Her virginity is the very focus of the Muslim societal institution of "honor." It is one thing that Muslim men must protect in their female relatives in order to preserve the family's honor."[26] The highlight of a wedding ceremony is the 'virginity test' when the couple consummates the marriage and presents to relatives the blood-stained bed sheet. Regarding this momentous occasion, Darwish comments, "Whether public or private, the virginity check creates an atmosphere of anxiety and distrust between bride and groom. This is the night when a girl who has never had sex before needs a tender and loving beginning. Instead she must worry about an unromantic and potentially painful act to prove she is honorable."[27]


Although Muslim apologists would have us believe Islam elevates and honors women, nothing could be farther from the truth. The view of women as depicted by Muhammad and subsequent Islamic scholars has no place in our modern, civilized society. Even Ghada Jamshir, an outspoken women’s rights activist from Bahrain, admits this.

[1] Quoted in "Students and the Present Missionary Crisis: Addresses Delivered Before the Sixth International Convention of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, Rochester, N.Y., December 29 1909 to January 2, 1910"

[2] Nonie Darwish, Cruel and Usual Punishment (Thomas Neslon: 2008), p. 95.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p. 96

[5] Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 312

[6] Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 311

[7] 'Umdat al-Salik, section n1.1

[9] Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol. 1 p. 635.

[10]Ibid., vol. 1 p. 633.

[11] 'Umdat al-Salik, section n7.7

[12] Al-Muwatta of Imam Malik ibn Anas: The First Formulation of Islamic Law, Aisha Bewley, translator (Inverness, Scotland: Madinah Press, 2004),  212

[13] Al-Muwatta, p. 230

[14] Al-Muwatta, p. 230

[19] Parshall, p. 140

[20] 'Umdat al-Salik, section n9.2

[21] 'Umdat al-Salik, section m8.2

[22] 'Umdat al-Salik, section o12.2

[23] 'Umdat al-Salik, section n2.3

[24] Al-Muwatta, p. 209.

[26] Nonie Darwish, Cruel and Usual Punishment (Thomas Nelson, 2008) p. 25

[27] Ibid.,p. 31