In the name of Allah,
The All Merciful, The All-Compassionate
"If you fear that you will not be just, then marry only one." (The Quran 4:3)
Polygamy was practiced in many societies before the rise of Islam.
It is Islam that restricted the practice of unlimited polygamy. It also regulated this restriction to protect the dignity and security of women in Islam.
The Qur'an is the only religious book that says marry "only one".
The "do's" and "dont's" in Islam fall into five categories: fard (obligatory); mustahab (encouraged), mubah (permitted); makruh (discouraged) and haram (prohobited or forbidden).
Polygamy is not obligatory for Muslim men.
The overwhelming majority of Muslim men (more than 98%) have only one wife. Thus monogamy is the rule amongst Muslims and polygamy is the exception.
Instead of telling this Truth, western media and literature lie about Islam as a religion that promotes polygamy.
Polygamy falls into the third category of permitted (mubah) activities in Islam. This permission is for exceptional situations, and is subject to stringent conditions.
The Quran permits Muslim men to have up to four wives at any one time. [4:3] It grants this permission only to those who can look after all their wives justly. This requirement removed the concept of "a secondary wife", for all wives have the same status and are entitled to identical rights and claims over their husband.
In 7th century Arabia, this Islamic revelation liberated thousands of women who were suffering under unrestricted and unregulated polygamy. To those men who fear that they will not be able to deal justly, Allah commands them to marry only one. [4:3]
You will never be able to do perfect justice between your wives even if it is your ardent desire, so do not incline too much to one of them so as to leave the other hanging.
And if you are just, act righteously and fear Allah, then Allah is ever Forgiving and All Merciful. [4:129]
Some have misused this verse to demand the introduction of numerous rules to curb the limited polygamy permitted in Islam. The need to prevent the abuse of the permission given by The Almighty should not be stretched to make it impossible to practice what is permitted by Him.
No one has the right to make unlawful what The Almighty has made lawful. The Qur'an acknowledges the difficulty of being "just and fair between women."
Why does The Qur'an then permit a Muslim to have up to four wives at one time?
The complete answer to this question is known only to Allah The All-Knowing. We have no way of knowing about all the situations that justify the need for this permission from The Almighty. Some situations may exist now. Others may occur several centuries later.
The guidance found in The Noble Qur'an is for all mankind and for all times till the end of this civilization. The permission given in The Qur'an has to be understood in the context of compelling reasons that may occur in some places and at certain times.
The effort to understand these reasons must begin with The Qur'an itself.
What is the objective and historical context of the revelations relating to polygamy?
The verse [4:3] that permits limited polygamy was revealed after the Battle of Uhud in which many Believers were killed. One result of warfare is that many wives and children become widows and orphans.
In The Qur'an, the permission for polygamy is associated with showing compassion to widows and the orphans. [4:3]
The permission given in The Qur'an is therefore not a right but a responsibility placed on Muslims to ensure that widows and orphans live in dignity and security. Applying the principle of "one man, one wife" in a postwar situation would result in many women without husbands.
The choices these women have are a life of celibacy (which Islam opposes as it is not consistent with human nature) or illicit sex (which Islam forbids). Most women would not accept these coices since most women would want a publicly accepted married life that gives them dignity, and the security and love of a legal husband and family.
Permitting polygamy when necessity for example, in a postwar situation, provides a more humane solution compared to extramarital affairs. The second wife, legally married and treated justly, is better off than a mistress without any legal rights or social recognition.
In Islam, marriage is a lawful contract freely entered into by a man and a woman to please Allah; a woman cannot be forced into a polygamous marriage against her will.
Extramarital affairs, free sex, prostitution, and humiliating women by describing them as sex workers-these are forbidden in Islam but are either legalized or tolerated in the pseudo-monogamy of the West!
Allah knows best.
Dr Y Mansoor Marican, Ph. D