Title: On Permitting Marriage to Four Women, and Mistreating Them
Date: 26 August 2009
Decision of the Council: Before Islam, people would marry whichever women they wished without any restrictions or conditions. Then Islam came, and placed limits and conditions on this polygamy. As for the limit, it made the maximum number four, not to be increased under any circumstances: “Marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four” [Qur’an 4:3]. When an educated man who had ten wives converted to Islam, the Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded him to choose four of them, and divorce the rest.
As for the condition, it is expressed in the confidence a man has in himself to be able to deal justly. Otherwise, he is forbidden from taking another wife: “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one” [Qur’an 4:3]. This is in addition to the availability of the other conditions (required) for any marriage, such as the ability to cover (the wife’s) expenses and to protect her.
Therefore Islam has allowed this, because it is a practical religion. It does not float around in dreamy ideals, and leave the problems of life without a predetermined solution. A second marriage could solve a problem for a man whose wife cannot bear him children. Or for a man whose wife has a prolonged menstrual cycle, and his lust becomes too great. Or for a man whose wife becomes sick, and he remains with her and does not want to divorce her, and so on.
It could also solve a problem for the widow whose husband has died, and who does not desire to marry a young man who has no wife. The same goes for a young divorced woman, especially if she has one or more children.
It could even solve a problem for the whole of society, which comes when the number of righteous women becomes greater than the number of men who are able to marry. This is an ever-present problem, which is aggravated after wars and such.
For what will we do with the surplus women? There are three choices:
1. They can spend their entire lives denied the life of a wife and mother. This is injustice against them.
2. They can satisfy their natural instincts outside the boundaries of religion and morals. This is perdition for them.
3. They can accept marriage with a married man who is able to pay their expenses and protect them, and is confident of his ability to deal justly. This is the appropriate solution.
Now the misuse of these plural wives or of this right to polygamy--for how often rights are misused, or abused! Yet this does not result in their abrogation. How often the first marriage itself is misused! Do we therefore cancel (this right)? How often freedom is misused! Do we therefore cancel this (right)? Elections are misused--do we cancel this (right)? And authority...how often this is misused! Do we cancel this right, and let life descend into anarchy? Therefore rather than call for the cancelling of the right, let us put conditions on its use, and punish he who misuses it, as much as we are able.