إِنَّ هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنَ يَهْدِي لِلَّتِي هِيَ أَقْوَمُ وَيُبَشِّرُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ الَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ الصَّالِحَاتِ أَنَّ لَهُمْ أَجْرًا كَبِيرًا – 17:9
“Indeed, this Qur’an guides to that which is most suitable and gives good tidings to the believers who do righteous deeds that they will have a great reward.” (Surah al-Isra:9)
Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen al-Shinqitee (rahimahullah), in his tafsir, “Adwa al-bayan”, mentions various ways on how the Qur’an guides to that which is most right. And in it he refutes many arguments put forth against the guidance of the blessed Qur’an. One of the first issues he (rahimahullah) explains is the issue of polygamy in islam. The sheikh writes:
From the guidance of the Qur’an to that which is most right is permitting a man to marry up to four wives and if the man fears his inability to maintain justice between his wives then he is obligated to marry only one or that which his right hand possesses. As Allah ﷻ says, “And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphan-girls then marry (other) women of your choice, two or three, or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one or (the slaves) that your right hands possess. That is nearer to prevent you from doing injustice.” (Surah Al-Nisa: 3)
And there is no doubt that the best, the most right and the most just of ways is the granting of permission to marry more than one because of the tangible evidences known by all who possess intellect.
Reasons for permitting polygamy
And from these well known evidences is that a woman may be prevented from her most specific of marital duties due to many obstacles such as illness, her monthly periods, or postpartum bleeding, while on the other hand the man is ready, for he is the cause for increase of the ummah. If he were to be prevented from her during such times, then his contribution becomes void with no fault of his.
Also, Allah made it such that the men are always fewer in number than women all over the world and men are more likely to be in situations which may result in their death (such as wars). If a man were to be restricted to just one wife then there would remain a huge number of women who would be prevented from having a husband. And this would force them to resort to fahisha (prostitution etc). Thus, to abandon the guidance of the Qur’an with regards to this issue is one of main causes for the loss of moral values and degradation to the level of animals, by not protecting and maintaining the standards of nobility, chivalry and good character. So glory be to al-Hakim al-Khabir (the all wise, well acquainted), (This is) a Book, the Verses whereof are perfected (in every sphere of knowledge), and then explained in detail from One (Allah) Who is All-Wise Well-Acquainted (with all things). (Surah Hud: 1)
And lastly, it is easier for women to get married, while on the other hand many men don’t have the ability to get married and fulfill the obligations of marriage due to poverty. Thus those men who are able and ready to get married without any hindrances are far fewer in number than those women who are ready for marriage, because women don’t have any obstacles (in comparison to men) and the men may be hindered by poverty or inability to fulfill the marital obligations. If men were to be restricted to marrying only one woman, then many of those women who are able to get married will be left without a spouse. And this will become a cause for loss of nobility, spread of depravity, degradation of character and loss of human values, as it is obvious.
The command to be just
However, if the man fears that he cannot be perfectly just between his wives it is obligatory upon him to marry only one or that which his right hand possesses, because Allah ﷻ says, “Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct…” (Surah al-Nahl: 90)
As for the inclination of (the husband in) preferring one wife over the other, with regards to those rights prescribed in the sharia’, then this is unlawful, because Allah ﷻ says, “So do not incline completely [toward one] and leave another hanging”(Surah al-Nisa: 129). As for the natural inclination such as loving some of them more than the rest, he isn’t able to push it away because he is just human. And these feelings however are not actions of his; rather they are passions, desires of the heart. And this is the intended meaning of Allah’s saying “And you will never be able to be equal [in feeling] between wives…”(Surah al-Nisa: 129) as we had mentioned previously on more than one occasion.
The opposition to polygamy and its refutation
Some of the disbelievers, the opponents of Islam, claim that polygamy will lead to continuous disputes, enmity and chaos and this will make life miserable, because whenever the husband satisfies one wife the other will get angry and thus he is always between two angry wives. Thus, they claim that this isn’t from hikmah (wisdom), However this claim is shallow and has no basis, and the shallowness of this claim is evident to every intellectual person.
This is because the disputes and quarrels (that occur) between family members have no end to it. Such disputes may occur between a man and his mother, between him and his father, between him and his children, between him and his only wife. This is a normal occurrence and one cannot place too much importance to it. Thus, this (permission) is due to the the numerous benefits that we mentioned in polygamy, by way of protecting women, making marriage easier for them, and also increasing the strength of the ummah. Thus polygamy is permitted because the benefits are numerous and gaining them takes precedence over warding off a little evil or hardship.
If we were to assume that polygamy is a mafsadah (evil or corrupt) because it leads to disputes as claimed or that it would hurt the feelings of the first wife, then the mafsadah would have taken precedence over the clear-cut maslahah (benefits) that we mentioned earlier. And this is well known in the science of Usool al-fiqh.
For example, the ransom of captives from the enemy is a clear-cut, acceptable maslahah. And paying the ransom which would benefit the enemy is a negative consequence (mafsadah) but outweighed by the maslahah. So the maslahah which is ransoming the captives is given preference over the negative consequence which is that the enemy would benefit from the ransom money. However if the maslahah and the mafsadah were equal in degree or the mafsadah was outweighing the maslahah, such as in the case where the captives are to be ransomed by weapons (rather than money), and there was a likelihood that the captives or other muslims could be killed by these very weapons, then the maslaha gets nullified as it doesn’t outweigh the mafsadah.
And similarly grapes are pressed for wine, and this is undoubtedly the mother of all evils, except that the maslahah found in grapes, raisins etc and benefitting from them all over the world is a clear-cut and acceptable maslahah outweighing the mafsadah of pressing grapes for wine, thus nullifying the mafsadah. Similarly the congregation of men and women in one particular town or city, maybe a probable cause for zina taking place, but the cooperation of men and women in a community is an acceptable maslahah outweighing the mafsadah (which is the probability of zina). And this is why none of the ulema said that women should withdraw to a specific place away from the men.
Thus, the Qur’an allowed polygamy for the benefit of the women so that she isn’t prevented from a legal and lawful marriage. The Qur’an also allowed polygamy for the benefit of the man so that his role isn’t prevented or diminished during those days his wife excuses herself from him. And finally polygamy was allowed for the benefit of the ummah, so that its number increases and thereby drawing its strength in numbers. This is the legislation, legislated by the One who is All wise and Who is well acquainted with all things. None contests it except the one whom Allah has blinded by the darkness of disbelief.
And similarly limiting the number of wives to four is also set by the One who is All wise and Who is well acquainted with all things. It’s a just command, it has neither exaggerated, thus making the husband unable to fulfill his marital obligations justly, nor has it understated thereby diminishing and restricting the role of the husband. And Allah knows best.
(Adwa al-bayan, Vol.3; Pages: 357-360. Note: The subheadings, shown in bold and underlined, are not the sheikh’s words. I included them to facilitate better understanding and to make reading facile.)