Polygamy and Zakir Naik

Only the Qur’an says, “marry only one”

Zakir Naik has made the following bizarre allegation:

The Qur’an is the only religious book, on the face of this earth, that contains the phrase ‘marry only one’. There is no other religious book that instructs men to have only one wife. In none of the other religious scriptures, whether it be the Vedas, the Ramayan, the Mahabharat, the Geeta, the Talmud or the Bible does one find a restriction of the number of wives. According to these scriptures one can marry as many as one wishes.”1

Now here is the verse in the Qur’an which Naik is referring to:

“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 ; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess,” (Sura Nisa 4:3, Yusuf Ali)

The verse does not contain the Arabic phrase “marry only one”; between the word ‘marry’ and the words “only one” comes “two, three or four”, irrefutably condoning marrying multiple wives as this verse has always been interpreted by Muslim theologians.

The Bible Says ‘Marry as Many As You Wish’?

The Injil very clearly teaches that one must only have one wife, and this has been the unanimous interpretation of Christians since the very beginnings of Christianity:

“Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife , temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach..” (1Timothy 3:2)

“A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.” (1 Timothy 3:12)

“An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” (Titus 1:6)

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery .” (Matthew 19.9)

In Jesus’ words above, he makes it clear that marrying a second woman without a genuine divorce constitutes not simply polygamy but adultery —so he makes it clear that both polygamy and invalid divorce are as bad as adultery.

According to Naik again:

“there is no other religious book that instructs men to have only one wife…in none of the other religious scriptures does one find a restriction on the number of wives.”

How can Naik misrepresent the truth so confidently?

The Church Accepts Polygamy?

Zakir Naik goes on to say:

“In earlier times, Christian men were permitted as many wives as they wished, since the Bible puts no restriction on the number of wives. It was only a few centuries ago that the Church restricted the number of wives to one.”

This is utterly false. The Church has always viewed polygamy as wrong. Consider these statements from Church leaders:

1. Justin Martyr (c.160) rebukes the Jews for allowing polygamy:

“Your imprudent and blind masters [i.e., Jewish teachers] even until this time permit each man to have four or five wives. And if anyone sees a beautiful woman and desires to have her, they quote the doings of Jacob.” [ANF, vol. 1, p. 266]

2. Irenaeus (c.180) condemns the Gnostics for, among other things, polygamy:

“Others, again, following upon Basilides and Carpocrates, have introduced promiscuous intercourse and a plurality of wives…” [ANF, vol. 1, p.353]

3. Tertullian (c.207) was also explicit:

“Chapter II.-Marriage Lawful, But Not Polygamy. We do not indeed forbid the union of man and woman, blest by God as the seminary of the human race, and devised for the replenishment of the earth and the furnishing of the world, and therefore permitted, yet Singly. For Adam was the one husband of Eve, and Eve his one wife, one woman, one rib. (ANF: Tertullian, To His Wife)

4. Methodius (cf.290) was clear on the issue, arguing that it had stopped at the time of the Prophets:

“The contracting of marriage with several wives had been done away with from the times of the prophets. For we read, ‘Do not go after your lusts, but refrain yourself from your appetites’…And in another place, ‘Let your fountain be blessed and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.’ This plainly forbids a plurality of wives.” [ANF, vol. 6, p.312]

5. Augustine (c.400) wrote:

“Now indeed in our time, and in keeping with Roman custom, it is no longer allowed to take another wife, so as to have more than one wife living [emphasis added].”

6. Basil , Archbishop of Caesarea, called polygamy “fornication”.
7. In the Council of Neocaesarea (c.315) list of major sins polygamy was included.
Zakir Naik, Answers to Non-Muslims’ Common Questions about Islam, Islamic Bookstore, Kolkata p.7.

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