Lot of confusion is caused by Feminism and the clash between Islam and modernist norms. Let’s address polygamy.
1. About 75% of societies historically and globally practiced polygamy (source: Ethnographic Atlas).
2. Polygyny (multiple wives) is endorsed in the Quran: “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].”
3. The Prophet ﷺ practiced polygamy as well as many of the major Sahaba.
4. All Islamic madhahib in fiqh encourage marrying a second (third, fourth) wife for the man who has sexual desire that is not satisfied by one and who has the financial means to support his wives equitably. (Those of you have heard that the Hanbali or Shafii madhhab says getting a second wife is makruh or discouraged have been misled. See here.)
Now, polygamy has been an accepted practice for most of history and for the vast majority of societies. So, why has polygamy become a stigma for some Muslims in present times?
The taboo began with the Christian Church, which started advocating against polygamy in the 4th century despite the Bible having many examples of the practice. Both the Catholic and Orthodox Church ultimately prohibited polygamy and considered it to be a form of adultery. Arguably, they took this stance due to the influence of Roman culture, which maintained strict monogamy but also expected men to engage in prostitution.
The legacy of rampant prostitution in the West up to present times as well as the proliferation of adultery seems to be directly tied to the history of the Church and its adoption and eventual canonization of certain Roman social practices and norms, including its opposition to polygamy.
Banning polygamy creates a major incentive for the institutionalization of prostitution. This is due to the fact that the primary beneficiaries of polygamy are the elites.
Men with high social status are pursued endlessly by women. Just look at groupies who follow celebrities and wealthy athletes.
These are women who are so attracted to wealth, power, and status that they don’t mind being one girl out of dozens. This is a biological attraction, and from the perspective of self-interest, it makes sense.
For these women, it is better for them materially to be a co-wife or “side chick” for a millionaire than to be the sole wife of a poorer man. Of course, this is not always conscious. It is more often just a sub-conscious biological urge.
So, when elite men and these women are blocked from marital-type committed relationships, prostitution is the alternative. And the elites then have a big incentive for prostitution to become socially acceptable so that their dalliances aren’t looked upon unfavorably by the masses.
So there is a major wisdom in the institution of polygamy in terms of curbing prostitution. And there are other wisdoms that can be discussed as well.
But for some Muslim women today, the idea of polygyny is viscerally offensive. They have difficulty thinking about the issue without thinking of themselves as personally involved.
This is not helpful.
Take your emotions out of it. Just because you personally don’t want to be a co-wife doesn’t mean others don’t want to. Many women have no problem being a co-wife and for some of them, that is the best option they have. There are countless stories of women who are divorced, widowed, etc., who have children and they need support. Being a second wife can be a great option for many of them.
Feminists are not doing these women any favors.
And the general Muslim community is not doing anyone any favors by stigmatizing a Sunnah practice.
The other aspect of polygyny that some women have a problem with is the lack of equality. Why not one wife with multiple husbands. This doubt mostly comes from teenagers with little life experience.
For those who are more mature, just imagine for a second the type of man who has to resort to being a co-husband. Is he going to be a strong, successful, confident, wealthy, good-looking man? Or is he going to be the opposite of those things? Now imagine a woman who wants to marry not one, but more than one of these losers.
Not very appealing. Which is why there are only 1 or 2 small tribes on the verge of extinction in all of human history who have practiced polyandry (multiple husbands). It’s not an appealing practice.
Polygyny on the other hand…
If it weren’t for the stigma of polygyny created by the Christian Church, polygyny would be probably be far more common today, especially among Muslims.
What’s sad is how the taboos of Christianity and Feminism can confuse some Muslims so badly. Allah help us.
Ultimately, polygyny is a right Allah gave to men. Is it advisable for all married Muslim men to pursue second wives? No. There are many factors to take into consideration. A big factor is how your first wife feels about it. Just because the husband has a right does not mean he should just bulldoze ahead. Successful marriage involves using wisdom to give and take with your partner, to be merciful and sensitive of feelings, not to always be in demand of your rights at all costs.
Since some misunderstood the first note, I did not say approval of the first wife is a shar`i condition. I said it is a factor, meaning that the wise man will be wise in how he approaches this issue. The wise man does not make his private parts the first and last factor in how he conducts his life. He is also concerned about his children, his wife, etc. THAT BEING SAID, a wise woman also doesn’t make her possessiveness or her sensitivity the first and last factor in dealing with her husband. As with all issues, make dua for guidance and protection in all matters.