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Marrying more than one woman

Islam is a way of life consonant with nature, providing human solutions to complex situations and avoiding extremes. This characteristic of Islam can be observed most clearly in its stand concerning the taking of more than one wife. Islam permits the Muslim to marry more than one woman in order to resolve some very pressing human problems, individual as well as social.

Many peoples and religions prior to Islam permitted marriage to a host of women, whose number reached tens and sometimes hundreds, without any condition or restriction. Islam, on the other hand, laid down definite restrictions and conditions for polygamy. With regard to the restriction, it limited to four the maximum number of wives a man might have.

When Ghailan al-Thaqafi accepted Islam, he had ten wives. “Choose four of them and divorce the rest,” the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) told him (Reported by al-Shafi’i, Ahmad, al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Abi Shaybah, al-Darqutni, and Bayhaqi).

Similarly, some men who had eight (Reported by Abu Daoud in his Musnad.) or five wives at the time of embracing Islam were told by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) to retain only four (Reported by Ahmad, al-Darimi, Ibn Hibban, al-Hakim, and the compilers of Sunan (Abu Daoud, al-Nisai, and Ibn Majah).)

The case of the Prophet (peace be on him), who himself had nine wives, was exempted from this by Allah (SWT) for the sake of da’wah (the propagation of the message of Islam) during his lifetime and because of the need of the Muslim ummah after his death.

Justice Among Wives - A Condition

The condition which Islam lays down for permitting a man to have more than one wife is confidence on his part that he will be able to deal equitably with his two or more wives in the matter of food, drink, housing, clothing and expenses, as well as in the division of his time between them. Anyone who lacks the assurance that he will be able to fulfill all these obligations with justice and equality is prohibited by Allah (SWT) from marrying more than one woman.

Allah (SWT) says:

"...But if you fear that you will not be able to do justice (among them), then (marry) only one...." (Surah 4: Verse 3)

And the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) said,

“Anyone who has two wives and does not treat them equally will come on the Day of Resurrection dragging one part of his body which will be hanging down.” (Reported by the compilers of Sunan and by Ibn Hibban and al-Hakim.)

The equal treatment mentioned here pertains to the rights of the wives, not to the love the husband feels towed them. For equality in the division of love is beyond human capacity and any imbalance in this regard is forgiven by Allah Ta’ala who says:

"And you will not be able to do justice among (your) wives, however much you may wish to. But do not turn away (from one of them) altogether...." (Surah 4: Verse 129)

This is why the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to divide his time among his wives equally, saying,

“O Allah, this is my division in regard to what I can control. Then do not take me to task regarding what Thou controllest and I do not control” (Reported by the compilers of Sunan.), referring to the attachment and affection which he felt for one particular wife.

And when he planned to go on a journey, Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) would cast lots among his wives, and the one who was chosen by lot would accompany him. (Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim.)

Article Contributed by: itsIslam Staff

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