Polygamy means a system of marriage whereby one person has more than one spouse. Polygamy can be of two types. One is Polygamy where a man marries more than one woman, and the other is polyandry, where a woman marries more than one man. In Islam, limited Polygamy is permitted; whereas polyandry is completely prohibited
"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." [Al-Qur'an 4:3]
Before the Qur'an was revealed, there was no upper limit for Polygamy and many men had scores of wives, some even hundreds. Islam put an upper limit of four wives. Islam gives a man permission to marry two, three or four women, only on the condition that he deals justly with them.
The Emperor Valentinian II, by an Edict, allowed all the subjects of the Empire, if they pleased, to marry several wives; nor does it appear from the ecclesiastical history of these times that the Bishops and the heads of the Christian made any objection to this law. Far from it, all the succeeding Emperors practiced polygamy, and the people generally were not remiss in following their example. Even the clergy often had wives.
That polygamy is neither mandatory, nor encouraged, but merely permitted.
That the permission to practice polygamy is not associated with mere satisfaction of. Rather, it is associated with compassion towards widows and orphans, a matter that is confirmed by the atmosphere in which the Qur’anic injunction was revealed.
That dealing justly with one’s wives is an obligation. This applies to housing, food, clothing, kind treatment…etc., for which the husband is fully responsible. If one is not sure of being able to deal justly with them, the Qur’an says: "then (marry) only one." (Qur’an 4:3)
The requirement of justice rules out the fantasy that man can "own as many as he pleases." It also rules out the concept of a "secondary wife", for all wives have exactly the same status and are entitled to identical rights and claims over their husband. It also implies, according to the Islamic Law, that should the husband fail to provide enough support for any of his wives, she can go to court and ask for a divorce.
The verse says "marry," not kidnap, buy or seduce.
What is "marriage" as understood in Islam? Marriage in Islam is a civil contract which is not valid unless both contracting parties consent to it. Thus, no wife can be forced or "given" to a husband who is already married.
"There is pretended monogamy in the West, but there is real polygamy without responsibility. The mistress is cast off when the man is weary of her and she sinks gradually to be the woman of the street: for the first lover has no responsibility for her future: and she is hundred times worse off than a sheltered wife and the mother in the polygamous home. When we see thousands of miserable women, who crowd the streets of Western towns during the night, we must surely feel that it does not lie in Western mouths to reproach Islam for its polygamy
It is better for a woman, happier for a woman, more respectable for a woman to live in Islamic polygamy united to one man only with the legitimate child in her arms and surrounded with respect, than to be seduced, cast out in the streets perhaps with an illegitimate child, outside the pale of law, un-sheltered and uncared for, to become a victim of any passer by, night after night, rendered incapable of motherhood, despised by all."