Bigamy Vs Polygamy | Know The Differences

Marriage is a crucial aspect of Islam in terms of sunnah and socialism. In Islam, a man can have multiple wives at a time. Bigamy vs Polygamy discussion comes when a man is to marry more than one wife. 

To clarify things, Bigamy in Islam is when a man has 2 wives at a time. Polygamy in Islam is when a man has more than 2 wives, but up to 4 at a time. In Islam, bigamy is also a form of polygamy. 

In this guide, we will talk about the facts and basic differences between bigamy and polygamy according to Islamic law. We will also mention some other laws about polygamy and bigamy for non-Islamic views. 

Bigamy Meaning: An Overview According to Islam

Bigamy Vs Polygamy | Bigamy Meaning
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Bigamy means having two sex partners at a time. It has a broader meaning in general. The partners could be a man and two women, a woman and two men, with legal marriage and without marriage.

But in Islam, the meaning is precise. By bigamy, Islam means a man having two legal wives. When a man has two wives at a time, it is called bigamy, and in Islam, it is permitted. 

Polygamy Definition: An Overview According to Islam

Polygamy Definition

The word “poly” clears the meaning of polygamy here, which means multiple. Polygamy means a man or woman having multiple sex partners, two, three, four, and more. 

But like bigamy in Islam, polygamy is also precise. In Islam, polygamy means a man having multiple wives, from two to four. 

Please note, in Islam, bigamy (a form of polygamy) and polygamy both are only for men. A man can marry up to 4 wives at a time. But, if someone dies or gets separated, he can then marry again up to 4. 

Allah Subhanahu Ta’ala says in the Qur’an-

“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 hands possess [i.e., slaves]. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice].” [Surah An-Nisa, 4:3]

According to top Islamic scholars throughout the Islamic era, Allah Subhanahu Ta’ala allowed polygamy marriage for men. But with conditions. 

According to Shaykh Waseem Khan

  • A man must fulfill certain conditions to serve his wives equally, including food, clothing, and lodging. 
  • He must have sufficient economic capabilities to compensate his wives. 
  • He must treat all wives equally in terms of compensation. 

Bigamy Vs Polygamy: What Are the Main Differences?

We hope now you know what bigamy and polygamy are in Islam. But what are the differences between them?

From an Islamic point of view, the only difference is the number of wives. In bigamy, a man will have two wives, and in polygamy, a man can have more than two wives, up to four. 

Bigamy in IslamPolygamy in Islam
A man having 2 wivesA man can have more than 2 wives, up to 4
Permitted only for men, women are not permitted to have two husbandsPermitted only for men and women are not permitted to have multiple husbands at a time.
Bigamy is optional in Islam, not mandatoryIt is also optional, not mandatory

Bigamy Vs. Polygamy: In General Comparison Outside Islam

Outside of Islam, the concept of bigamy and polygamy is a little complicated. Here’s how they are defined. 

Bigamy Vs. Polygamy
  1. Bigamy

It is the act of getting married with another person, while the first person is already in the bonding or marriage with another one. For clarification, a man is being married to a woman, and getting married to another woman, while the first marriage is yet to be separated. 

  1. Polygamy

Polygamy means having multiple sex partners at a time. This could be among married spouses, or unmarried ones. Though polygamy is mostly believed reserved for men, it also has the following 3 different forms. 

  1. Polygyny: A man has multiple wives at a time. It has also two forms-
    1. Sororal: The man marries two sibling sisters
    2. Non Sororal: The wives are not from the same family, or have no relation with each other. 
  2. Polyandry: One woman marries 2 or more men at a time. It is actually a very rare case, mainly observed in matrilineal societies. It also has two forms.
    1. Fraternal Partners: One woman marries two or more sibling brothers. 
    2. Non Fraternal Spouses: One woman marries two or more men who have no relations among them. 

To be noted that polygamy among women is not healthy and it has several physical and psychological health issues

Multiple or Second Marriage Laws in Different Countries

Though Islam permits a man to have up to 4 wives at a time, still, this practice doesn’t have social acceptance even in many Muslim nations. On the other hand, most secular countries banned bigamy and polygamy marriages. 

Here, we have listed the nations that banned having more than one wife at a time, whether it is bigamy or polygamy. 

Countries That Banned Polygamy

Here we have listed some of the countries that ban polygamy marriage.

AngolaAntigua and BarbudaArmeniaEuropean Union
BeninArgentinaAzerbaijanUnited Kingdom
Burkina FasoBahamasIndiaAlbania
Cabo VerdeBelizeChinaAndorra
Democratic Republic of the CongoBoliviaHong KongAzerbaijan
Côte d’IvoireBrazilJapanBelarus
Equatorial GuineaChileSouth KoreaBosnia and Herzegovina
EthiopiaCosta RicaRussiaNorth Macedonia
TunisiaUnited States (banned in all 50 States)North KoreaSwitzerland

Countries That Permit Polygamy Marriage

Here we have listed some countries that permit polygamy marriage only for men at a time. 

AfricaAsiaAsia (Allowed for Muslims)
Central African RepublicBhutanPakistan
Republic of the CongoBrunei
South AfricaKuwait
SudanUnited Arab Emirates
KenyaSaudi Arabia

Can You Get Married to Two People?

If you are a Muslim man, you can get married to two women at a time. But if you are a Muslim woman, you can’t get married to two men at a time. But if you get divorced, or your husband dies, then you can get married to another man. [Reference:]

Final Words

The main difference of bigamy vs polygamy in Islam is the number of wives a Muslim man can have at a time. Other aspects are the same for both marriages.

However, bigamous and polygamous relationships outside of Islam have different meanings and aspects. These are not halal for Muslims. 

Omar Abdullah

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