Unveiling the Hur Al-‘In (2) | The Polygamy Problem | Zainab bint Younus

A Poly Paradise – Earthly Wives, Celestial Brides, Oh My!

THE ÛR AL-¢ÎN are most certainly one of the most contentious issues for Muslim women, and a source of downright glee for many men.

While many women ask, “What do we get in Jannah?” – which is a valid question that certainly deserves to be addressed – it is, to be blunt, merely an aside to the true crux of the matter.

That core issue is, of course, polygamy.

Polygamy in and of itself is a fraught issue amongst Muslims. On the one hand, it is clear in the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet œ that it is recognized as a legitimate, permissible form of marriage in Islam. Classical scholarship discusses and confirms the rights of Muslim women not merely in general, but specifically within the context of marriage – including polygamous marriage.

On the other hand, however, there is undeniable reality: a reality where the theories of Islamic law do not necessarily translate into real life. Polygamy has been, and continues to be, misused by Muslim men and has thus resulted in the gross abuse of Muslim women. Islamic rulings about fiqh are twisted and technicalities exploited as an excuse, in many cases, for men to avoid taking full responsibility for their actions – which in turn are driven largely by their desires and not necessarily by noble intentions or even basic honesty.

However, that is not to say that the widely-known problems surrounding polygamy as practiced by many Muslims are problems exclusive to polygamy or even to Muslims. Rather, while the behaviors may be dressed up or justified using Islamic terms, the truth is that the motivations behind those actions are purely human. Just as there are those who abuse the institution of monogamy, the problem is not with monogamy itself, but rather, with the individuals.

What is it about polygamy that makes so many women upset? Is it the idea of sharing their husband physically with another woman (or multiple women)? Is it about feeling that one doesn’t have an exclusive relationship – including emotionally – with her husband? Is it more about the common stories of abuse, or even simple irresponsibility and ineptness by many men who engage in polygamy? Or is there, perhaps, a bias through which we are viewing this entire issue that we ourselves do not even recognize?

On the Other Side of the Rainbow

Polygamy is not exclusive to Islam or Muslims. Globally and historically, polygamy has existed as an institution of marriage, wherein a man has married more than one woman and has been committed to them physically, emotionally, and financially. Polygamy differs from promiscuity in that, rather than engaging in short-term multiple relationships that are based on a largely sexual foundation, polygamy demands that the husband be committed and responsible.

From a worldview which views and encourages fidelitous relationships as necessary to a healthy society, polygamy is by far preferable to short-term relationships which do not foster strong family units. In short – marriage of any type, whether monogamous or polygamous – is considered infinitely more desirable than zina of any type.

What is peculiarly interesting about how polygamy is viewed today, and in particular in Western countries – both those with a strong Judeo-Christian history and those which are primarily secular and liberal – is that there is a huge disconnect with history and with a consistent moral framework.

Despite LGBTQ+ rights being championed around the world, and pride being taken in understanding and supporting ‘liberal’ values, polygamy continues to be viewed as something negative and shameful. For all that certain groups claim that they support ‘love’ and that it shouldn’t be restricted by race or gender, they conveniently ignore that polygamy involves consenting adults (for the most part). Those who say that polygamy is the cause of abuse, forced marriage, child marriage, and other such problems are deliberately conflating issues. Abuse, forced marriage, and child marriage all exist outside of polygamy, and are not unique to it.

It is strange to me that so many people, including Muslims, do in fact try to ‘prove’ how liberal and ‘enlightened’ they are by actively supporting something such as homosexuality, yet have such a strong kneejerk reaction to polygamy – which, unlike homosexuality, is permissible in Islam.

The blunt truth is that when individuals question things such as polygamy (or the Hûr Al-¢În ) in Islam, they view themselves as being objective – when in truth they are themselves biased and influenced by the prevailing attitudes and mentalities of their time and culture.

It’s very easy to claim objectivity, but no one is truly objective. Values and morals change over time, and dramatically over a period of time as short as a decade. One need look no further than Western cultures to recognize how the moral norms of society have changed drastically: as early as 60 years ago, men and women as young as their mid-teens got married and it was not considered an intolerable problem; homosexuality was, as in every monotheistic religion, reviled and considered unacceptable, and public support was nearly non-existent. Today, it’s widely considered ‘normal’ for twelve-year-olds to engage in sexual experimentation but inappropriate for seventeen-year-olds to get married, while gay marriage has been legalized in Canada, the United States, and numerous other countries.

The great wisdom behind Divine Law, the Sharî¢ah of Allah, is that as our Creator has set down a set of general (and often specific) morals and values that do not change based on people’s whims and desires. In the Sharî¢ah, we have standards and codes of conduct that reinforce morals that are non-negotiable. Modesty, marital fidelity, and a zero-tolerance policy on zina of any type are examples of these values.

Once again related to the curious dichotomy between the modern-day secular, liberal agenda and the perception of polygamy, is that the liberal movement claims to be enlightened regarding the meaning of ‘love’ – yet does not extend that to polygamy.

Instead, we have people across the world affected by the primarily Judeo-Christian ideal of monogamous love: the idea that there is only one woman for one man; that romantic love is restricted to that single relationship alone; that love is limited and confined.

Why is that we are so resistant towards changing our perception of love? Why do we feel that love is something limited and quantified; that to love one individual means being incapable of loving another? Why do we feel that to have our husbands love another woman, takes away his love from us? What about loving for your loved one to be loved – to experience happiness simply in the knowledge that your loved one is happy?

Of course, the answers to much of that lies within understanding how the prominence of certain ideologies have resulted in the change of lifestyles, worldviews and perception of concepts such as love, marriage, and family.

In fact, I truly believe that the normalization of the nuclear family unit, as opposed to an extended family network that includes and incorporates polygamy, is largely responsible for the attitude that views polygamy as something innately harmful.

One counter-argument regarding polygamy often is – if it’s okay and ‘normal’ for men to be polygamous, why is it not so for women? Aren’t the same justifications for polygamous men applicable to women who incline towards the same?

The truth is, once again, harsh to some. Allah tells us clearly that “wa laysa al-dhakara ka al-untha.” The male is not like the female. Islam itself recognizes innate differences – biological, psychological, and social – and has a vast array of different rulings for the genders. However, with emotional capability to love put aside (and there are certainly some valid points regarding women’s emotional bandwidth compared to men), one very simple reason for the fact that polyandry is prohibited in Islam is because of paternity.

Access to technology such as DNA analysis is both extremely recent and privileged; the vast majority of people in the world cannot get a paternity test easily or immediately. Lineage through the father is taken very seriously in Islam, and the prohibition of polyandry is related to that.

Sharing is Caring

Though so many people are hung up on the idea of sharing their husbands with the Hûr Al-¢În, one point which is particularly fascinating is actually about the fact that out of the spouses whom a man will have in Jannah, two of them will be human wives.

In Sûrat Al-Wâq¢iah, Allah describes the women of Jannah in the following terms:

Indeed, We have produced the women of Paradise in a [new] creation; and made them virgins, beloved (by nature), equal in age  [Sûrat Al-Wâqi¢ah, 56:35-37]

As evidenced by the adîth of the Prophet œ (introduced in Part 1), Abû Hurairah narrated that the Prophet Muhammad œ said:

Every man in heaven will go to seventy-two of the creatures of Allah (houris) and two of the women of mankind. These two (human, believing) women are superior to the creatures of Allah (houris) with their worshipping (good deeds) which they had performed in this world. (Bayhaqi, Al-Ba¢th wa Al-Nushûr; Ṭabari, Tafsir; Abû Ya¢la, Ibn Ḥajar, Fat Al-Bâri; Ṭabarâni; and others)

These verses refer not to the Hûr Al-¢În (houris), but to the human believing women.

In particular, verse 37 of Sûrat Al-Wâqi¢ah stands out: ¢Uruban atrâban. While the word atrâban is translated as ‘equal in age,’ there are other linguistic nuances to the word. In Nouman Ali Khan’s linguistic analysis of the verse, he points out that the word atrâban is related to the word turâb – dust, dirt, that original source material from which every human being has been created. More specifically, the implication of the word is not merely that these women are made from dust (ergo, they are human beings), but that they are made from the same dust as their spouses, a symbolic reference. In essence, they will be perfect and compatible for their spouses in every way: true soul mates.

In addition, the following adîth further describes these women:

It is reported that some people stated with a sense of pride and some discussed whether there would be more men in Paradise or more women. It was upon this that Abû Hurairah reported that the Prophet œ said:

The (members) of the first group to get into Paradise would have their faces as bright as the full moon during the night, and the next to this group would have their faces as bright as the shining stars in the sky, and every person would have two wives and the marrow of their shanks would glimmer beneath the flesh and there would be none without a wife in Paradise. There would be no dissension amongst them and no enmity in their hearts. Their hearts would be like one heart, glorifying Allah morning and evening. (Muslim)

Considering the way this adîth is phrased – with the description of the believers in general coming first, and then specifying the women – it could be said that the final phrase regarding the hearts is also describing the women in particular.

How incredible would it be if our co-wives in Jannah are not merely soul mates to our husbands, but our kindred spirits as well?

So Many Questions, Never Enough Answers

This look at polygamy and our attitudes towards it – whether on this Earth or in Jannah – is by no means exhaustive or perfect. It is a small attempt to look into why we feel so strongly about it, and there are further points that will continue to be addressed in future parts, inshâ’Allah.

Nor are the sentiments put forth in this article meant to invalidate the questions and emotions many people have regarding this sensitive topic. It is recognized that for every individual, there will be issues that are troubling and which they find problematic. Ultimately, it is impossible for a fellow human being to provide answers that are tailored to and satisfy each and every person. What is difficult for one person to process may be very simple for another; the perspective which provides contentment to one individual may cause further discomfort for another.

In the end, we are all on a journey towards Jannah itself. That path has difficulties for us all, and those challenges must be expected – for Allah Himself tells us:

Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while Allah has not yet tested those of you who fight in His cause and made evident those who are steadfast? [Sûrat Âl ¢Imrân, 3:142]

Perhaps one of the greatest tests of us all is that we do not allow our own weaknesses and question to commit one of the greatest sins: to question Allah by demanding explanations of His choices or questioning His wisdom.

He is not questioned about what He does, but they will be questioned. [Sûrat Al-Anbiyâ’, 21:23]

Written By

Zainab bint Younus is a Canadian Muslimah who has been active in grassroots da’wah and writing about Islam and the Ummah for the last nine years. She was first published in al-Ameen Newspaper (Vancouver, Canada) at the age of 14, became a co-founder, editor, and writer for MuslimMatters.org at 16; and began writing regularly for SISTERS Magazine at the age of 19 until today. She also blogs regularly at The Salafi Feminist

"You are invited to respond to the contents of the article and to engage in conversation about the issues raised."

36 Comments

  • Actually it’s good that means those human wives entered jannah too and we want our fellow humen to enter jannah too. Plus there is no jealousy in jannah so enjoy and play ?

  • I dont get the whole concept. It seems to motivate men and demotivate women at the same time. What if us women want some male hoors? Or do we get only our husband cuz a good muslim woman isnt supposed to want more than one one man?

  • lol even the hint at the end is scandalous. is there any wonder why the quran kept silent on this topic? i wish i could find the video, but there was a good one out there that mentioned it’s to protect the woman’s modesty. i think perhaps its a bit of protecting the man’s jealousy as well lol. regardless, we know in the end that jannah is a place where our desires can be fulfilled to our heart’s content, which is enough encouragement, at least for me!

  • Just a side note – When shaykh Yasir Qadhi did tafseer of surat al Rahman, and he talked about hurr al ayn, he mentioned that even though they have several wives, they are never together at the same time. When he is with one wife, they are in a private shell that looks like a pearl, and she is specific for him and no one else. So even in Jannah, the relationships are private and respectful. And the second key point he mentioned – In Jannah, women will not have the feelings that they have here on earth – there is no jealousy or hatred or backbiting, they simply won’t feel the same feelings about hurr al ayn like they do here in this life. So right now if you can’t comprehend it or it makes you upset, know that in Jannah you will not think twice about it. And lastly, Allah gave to women what they need in Jannah based on how He created them, and he gave to men what they need in Jannah based on how He created them. And that’s how it should be – we should be rewarded based on what we need. wa Allahu a3lam.

  • female sexual jealousy is based on biological clamouring for resources for their own offspring, hence quranic injunctions on strict resource (time, money) sharing. in Jannah, there is no shortage of resources and no time, hey presto, no jealousy.

  • I’ve read a lot of articles and opinions besides this one, plus the Ayat in The Qur’an and Hadith by our Prophet (SAW). But I wouldn’t accept my husband to bring another woman to our home. I’m not married, neither is there anybody on my mind, but even the thought of being number two or being set aside, or just the thought of witnessing or knowing that my beloved is together with another woman in another room of our house, or any other place in the world, sharing with her the love he used to give only to me, brings the tears to my eyes. Even the thought does that. I couldn’t bear it, I don’t care what will happen in Jannah, if I in sha Allah go there, as I will not feel jealousy there. But I feel jealousy in this Dunya, and I can’t look at this situation without this emotion. And Allah (SWT) Hasn’t prohibited women to object to their husband on this matter – I’m not saying the woman has a right to prohibit her husband from it, as many scholars tell us she can’t – I simply appreciate the fact that Allah (SWT) Hasn’t made a restriction as to if I can or cannot be against polygamy, which proves that our jealous nature is approved and understood and also should be so by men. And please bear in mind that every woman has a past, and that past might not have been as brilliant as you think. Mine has turned me into a sensitive female who is looking for a husband who will fulfill all her emotionally lacking parts. I would be devastated if I had to witness that husband sharing his love with someone else. I literally cry right now while writing this, and this is how emotional a woman is by nature.

    That being said, I would recommend everyone to examine the Hadith where our Prophet (SAW) tells openly that he is against Ali (RA) marrying another woman while still married to His beloved daughter Fatima (RA).

  • Every one will get whatever they wish for. ALLAH is just. A person will be with whomever he/she loves (hadith).

    Allah Ta’ala created one hawwa alayhis salaam for hazrat Adam . Not four nor multiple women.

    The hoors are from the unseen realities. We cannot comprehend now with our limited human minds.
    Plus they are for those who wish to have them. A hadith mentioned that a person enquired if he could have a farm in jannah as he loved farming. He was from the ansaars. Rasullah sallallahu alayhi wasalllam replied in detail that yes he wiil have a farm ..in which whatever gmhe planted would grow v quickly. No need to wait like farming in the dunya.

  • If a husband and wife wish to be alone together forever. .Allah Ta’ala will grant that. Basically jannah is about happiness and peace. Everyone desires different things..everyone’s desires will be fulfilled. Someone wishes to fly? He will be given wings. Nobody will be forced into accepting painful or sad situations. It is jannah. But the highest pleasure in jannah is seeing Allah. Those who will be given the privilege will forget all the bounties and hoors of jannah

  • “How incredible would it be if our co-wives in Jannah are not merely soul mates to our husbands, but our kindred spirits as well?”
    Wow, that’s an attractive thought.

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