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ISLAMIC POLYGYNY AND MAINTENANCE OF JUSTICE





By

Ibn 'Abdillah As-sudaisiy Al-Iloori

Polygyny does not start in the era of Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم, rather it was known among the previous nations of the world. Some of the Prophets عليهم السلام were married to more than one woman. For example, the Prophet of Allaah, Sulaiman (Solomon) عليه السلام was said to have married ninety (100) wives. In a hadith, Abu Hurayrah رضي الله عنه reported that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: 

“Sulaymaan ibn Dawood (عليه السلام) said: ‘Tonight I will go around to one hundred women, each of whom will give birth to a boy who will fight for the sake of Allaah.’ [Sahih Bukhari]

Before the arrival of Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم, the Arabs were already accustomed to the practice of polygyny. At the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم , there were some men who became Muslims while having many wives. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم  told them to keep four (4) wives and divorce the rest.

Legal Justification For Polygyny

The legal justification for polygyny in the shari'ah can be found in Suratu Nisa', Q4: 3 where Allaah سبحانه وتعالى says:


(وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلَّا تُقْسِطُوا فِي الْيَتَامَىٰ فَانْكِحُوا مَا طَابَ لَكُمْ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ مَثْنَىٰ وَثُلَاثَ وَرُبَاعَ ۖ فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا فَوَاحِدَةً أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ أَدْنَىٰ أَلَّا تَعُولُوا)

“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 (2) or three (3), or four (4); but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one (1) or (slaves) that your
right hands possess. That is nearer to prevent you from doing injustice” [Surat An-Nisa' 3]

This Qur’anic text shows that polygyny is permitted in Islaam. According to Islamic law, a man is permitted to marry more than one (1) wife. However, it is not permissible for a man to have more than four (4) wives. This is the consensus opinion of the mufassireen (commentators on the Qur’an) and the fuqaha with no differing opinions. 

It must also be noted that the practice of polygyny is not mandatory upon Muslim men. The legal status of polygyny under the shari'ah is permissibility (mubah) when the necessary conditions are met. In fact, it is haram for a Muslim to marry more than one wife if the pre-conditions are not sufficiently met. It is better for a Muslim to stay with a single wife than for him to enter into an illegal polygynous relationship that would would earn him the wrath of his Lord. Abu Hurayrah رضي الله عنه narrated that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

“Whoever has two wives and favours one of them over the other, will come on the Day of Resurrection with one of his sides leaning.” [Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (1141)]

Wisdom Behind Islamic Polygyny

The wisdoms and reasons behind permissibility of polygyny under the shari'ah are enormous. The list is not exaustive. It depends on how much one ponders on the relevant verses of the Qur'an, the hadiths of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, peculiar nature of men and woman and the prevailing circumstances that may be different from one community to another. I will not bother myself stating all of them here because as the topic of this short article indicates above, our main focus is the aspect that has to do with maintenance of justice.

Our women folk are being misled by the feminists towards the believe that since Allaah says men cannot do perfect justice, a man is expected to have only one (1) wife. But we must make them understand that the kind of justice needed in the case of polygyny is not absolute justice. Absolute justice is that of Allaah alone. No human being can march it. Allaah سبحانه وتعالى says:

(فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا فَوَاحِدَةً)

“..But if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one” [Suratu Nisa’ 4:3]

This aayah indicates that just treatment is one of the conditions for the permissibility of polygyny. Therefore, if a man is afraid that he will not be able to treat his wives justly if he marries more than one (1), then it is forbidden for him to marry more than one (1). On this, Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahmaan al-Sa’di رحمه الله said: 

"the one who wants to take two or three or four wives may do so, but no more than that, because the context of the verse reminds people of the blessings of Allaah, so it is not permissible to add anything to the number that Allaah has defined, according to scholarly consensus. That is because a man’s desire may not be fulfilled by one wife, so it is permitted for him to take more, up to four, because four is sufficient for anyone, except in rare cases. However, that is only permitted to him if he is confident that he will not be unfair and unjust, and that he will be able to give them their rights. If he is afraid that any of this applies to him, then he should limit himself to one, or to slaves that his right hand possesses, because he is not obliged to divide his time equally when it comes to slave women". [Tafser As-sa'di, pg 163]

What is meant by the justice that is required in order for a man to be permitted to have more than one wife is substantial justice (considerable percentage of justice) which is achievable just as in other matters where Allah stress importance of justice. Substantial justice in the area of maintenance, accommodation, intimacy, utterances, clothing and other material things that are under his control. With regard to justice or fairness in terms of love, he is not held accountable for that, and that is not required from him because he has no control over that. This is what is meant by the verse,

(وَلَنْ تَسْتَطِيعُوا أَنْ تَعْدِلُوا بَيْنَ النِّسَاءِ وَلَوْ حَرَصْتُمْ ۖ )

“You will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire” [Suratu Nisa’, Q4:129]

Here is a simple illustration for our better understanding of what kind of justice Allaah requires from men as far as polygyny is concerned; administration of justice in our courts, tribunals and panels is fundamental in an ideal society. No court of law in the world can claim absolute or perfect justice. They have their lapses. The courts are only expected to do substantial justice. It is Allaah Who would do final and perfect justice on the Day of judgement. So, can we say courts should not exist because it is only Allaah that can do perfect justice? No! If there are no courts of law, the community would witness anarchy, break down of law and order.

Submission To Allaah's Dictate On Polygyny 

The Islamic concept of polygyny has led some women to saying "its a man's world" It is wrong to perceive polygyny in this direction. Honestly, this is not a matter of God favouring men over women as some women make it look. It is a matter of following the dictates of Allaah and His Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم. We must not be seen to be questioning Allaah's instructions and commandments. We can only be Muslims if we embrace all aspects of the shari'ah. The Quran says: 

(أَفَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِبَعْضِ الْكِتَابِ وَتَكْفُرُونَ بِبَعْضٍ)

"Would you accept a part of the Book and reject others?...". [Surat Al-Baqarah 85]

Men's Mismanagement Of Polygyny

It must be pointed out very importantly that it is ridiculous the way some men practice the sunnah of polygyny today. Very ridiculous indeed. The serious breach of the conditions of polygyny is rampant in our society. Men who cannot even afford feeding and clothing themselves, their one wife and the children practice polygyny indiscriminately. Some men who can afford maintenance of more than one wife lack requisite courage and intelligence to manage the home properly. They cause confusions among their wives all the time. Some men would marry a new wife and neglect the old one, or neglect the new wife for the old wife. This is a form of injustice. Allaah says,

(فَلَا تَمِيلُوا كُلَّ الْمَيْلِ فَتَذَرُوهَا كَالْمُعَلَّقَةِ ۚ وَإِنْ تُصْلِحُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ غَفُورًا رَحِيمًا)

...but do not incline with a total inclination (towards one so that you completely sever your relations with the other) so as to leave her like some thing suspended (as virtually deserted). And if you keep things right and guard against evil, then surely Allâh is Great Protector, Ever Merciful. [Q4:129]

On the importance of justice on the part of the husband, ‘Aa’ishah رضي الله عنها said:

"When the Messenger of Allaah صلى الله عليه وسلم wanted to go out on a journey, he would cast lots between his wives and the one whose name was drawn, he would take her with him". [Narrated by al-Bukhaari (2454) and Muslim (2770).]

On this hadith, Al-Nawawi رحمه الله said:

"This shows that if a man wants to travel with one of his wives, he should cast lots between them. In our view this casting lots is obligatory". [Sharh Muslim (15/210).]

Ibn Hazm رحمه الله also said:

"It is not permissible for him to choose one of his wives to travel with him except by drawing lots". [Al-Muhalla (9/212)]

It is very rare to find a truly sunnatic polygynous home today, especially in our own immediate environment here. The Sunnah is strange and those who practise polygyny upon the true Sunnah are rare. We are just messing up the whole thing. It is high time we begin to define sunnatic polygyny from the non-sunnatic polygyny. Polygyny is allowed and encouraged in Islaam, but it has to be done strictly in line with the provisions of Qur'an and Sunnah of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.

May Allaah grant us pure understanding of the deen and rectify our affairs. 

WAllaahu A'lam

First written on 20th September, 2013

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