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Permission To Marry Upto Four Women

The very first human relationship created by Allah SWT was that of marriage: Adam and Hawa (pbut) The supreme importance of this human bond can never be properly appreciated if its true nature and purpose is not adequately understood.

Marriage is the foundation stone upon which families, societies and nations are built. Secure and stable marriages necessarily lead to secure and stable communities, the opposite also holds true: if marriages are unstable or of a fragmentary nature, communities absorb the impact and eventually become unstable and fragmentary themselves. Every human relationship must be characterized and guided by the principles of justice and equity; this is even more important in marriages, because the manner in which man and wife behave towards one another has a lasting effect upon the manner in which the offspring of both behave towards their parents, each other, relatives and society at large.

Marriage serves many purposes and is comprised of many elements -

a) biological: pro-creation, essential for the continuation of the human species,
b) physical and sensual: providing the means by which natural desires may be fulfilled,
c) emotional: the need to love and be loved being satisfied,
d) intellectual: freindship and all that it entails being very much aspects of marriage,
e) spiritual: man and wife recognizing their complementary and co-operative roles, in the light of their responsibility before their Creator.

Surah 4 An-Nisaa, Verse 1
O mankind! Be conscious of your Sustainer, Who has created you out of one living entity, and out of it created its mate, and out of the spread abroad a multitude of men and women. And remain conscious of Allah, in Whose Name you demand (your rights) from one another, and these ties of kinship. Verily, Allah is Ever Watchful over you!

Surah 7 Al-A'raaf, Verse 189
It is HE Who has created you (all) out of one living entity, and out of it brought into being its mate, so that man might incline (with love) towards woman. And so, when he has embraced her, she concieves (what at first is) a light burden, and continues to bear it. Then, when she grows heavy (with child) they both call to Allah, their Sustainer, "If YOU indeed grant us a sound (child), we shall most certainly be among the grateful."

Surah 25 Al-Furqaan, Verse 54
And HE it is Who out of this (very) water has created man, and has endowed him with (the consciousness of) descent and marriage-tie: for your Sustainer is Ever Infinite in HIS Power.

Surah 30 Ar-Rum, Verse 21
And among HIS Wonders is this: HE Creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you might incline towards them, and HE engenders love and tenderness between you: in this, behold, there are Messages indeed for people who think!

Surah 49 Al-Hujuraat, Verse 13
O mankind! Behold, WE have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the Sight of Allah is the one who is most deeply conscious of HIM. Behold, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.

All most beautiful human attributes may be enhanced - or inspired - within a healthy and well-balanced marriage: respect, compassion, forbearance, love, and so on. Because these characteristics reflect goodness in its true form, it - ie., goodness - will be the fruit of such a union.

Islam permits a Muslim man to marry upto four women: but the permission is restrictive and limited. Over the course of time, this particular aspect of the Deen has been both misunderstood and abused -

Surah 4 An-Nisaa, Verse 3
And if you have reason to fear that you might not act equitably towards orphans, then marry from among (other women) such as are lawful to you - (even) two, or three, or four: but if you have reason to fear that you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then (only) one....

Verse 3 of Surah 4 makes abundantly clear that the permission granted to Muslim men to marry upto four women is conditional: they may not contract more than one marriage if they have reason to believe they will not be able to do justice: this contractual obligation arises out of the need to -

1) give the marriage dower, which is the absolute right of the wife: Q4:4, 25
2) provide financially for the wife (and family): Q4:34
3) ensure that rights of inheritance are maintained for the wife: Q2:240, Q4:12, 33

Thus, a second marriage (let alone a third or fourth) has a direct impact upon the wife, not only in the emotional sense, but also in the financial: she becomes, by virtue of her position, the most affected party. In accordance with justice and equity, therefore, it is not only necessary for a man to inform his wife about his desire to marry another woman, it is incumbent upon him to explain the reason: since it is inconcievable that a Muslim man would simply arrive at so important a decision in an arbritrary manner or in a spirit of unconcerned frivolity. Men have been prohibited from mistreating their wives -

Surah 4 An-Nisaa, Verses 19-21
O you who have attained to Faith! It is not lawful for you to (try to) become heirs to your wives (by holding onto them) against their will; and neither shall you keep them under constraint with a view to taking away anything of what you may have given them, unless it be that they have become guilty, in an obvious manner, of immoral conduct.
And consort with your wives in a goodly manner; for if you dislike them, it may well be that you dislike something which Allah might yet make a source of abundant good.
But if you desire to give up a wife and to take another in her stead, do not take away anything of what you have given the first one, however much it may have been. Would you, perchance, take it away by slandering her and thus committing a manifest sin?
And how could you take it away after you have given yourselves to one another, and she has recieved a most solemn pledge from you?

This solemn pledge - Mithaaq Ghaleedh - mentioned in Verse 21 of Surah 4, comprises the two essential ingredients of which the marriage ought to be composed: trust and respect. In order for the wife to trust her husband and respect him, she needs to be fully confident that he will neither betray her trust nor treat her with disrespect - either in private or in public. As communication and consultation between man and wife form the basis of a sound marriage, it follows logically, therefore, that any potential or proposed change in circumstances to that marriage would be openly and honestly discussed. Such dialogue between husband and wife is imperative if a permanent breach in the marriage is to be avoided: man and wife, in the light of any prospective alterations in their marital arrangements, seek to accommodate one another, achieve compromise and maintain unity. In this sense, then, it becomes obvious that the husband is, indeed and in fact, striving - out of love, compassion and respect - to attain both the approval and permission of his wife in order to marry another woman. The dynamics of a marriage, by their very nature, are bound to undergo considerable change when a second wife is present.

Surah 4 An-Nisaa, Verses 128-129
And if a woman has reason to fear ill-treatment from her husband, or that he might turn away from her, it shall not be wrong for the two to set things peacefully to rights between themselves: for peace is best, and selfishness is ever-present in human souls. But if you do good and are conscious of HIM - behold, Allah is indeed Aware of all that you do.
And it will not be within your power to treat your wives with equal fairness, however much you may desire it; and so, do not allow yourselves to incline towards one to the exclusion of the other, leaving her in a state, as it were, of having and not having a husband. But if you put things to rights and are conscious of HIM - behold, Allah is indeed Much-Forgiving, a Dispenser of Grace.

Verse 129 of Surah 4 categorically states that a man will never be able to treat his wives with equal fairness: this passage is often either forgotten or ignored whenever the question of second (or third and fourth) marriages arises or is discussed. In continuation of this fundamental truth, the Ayah further prohibits men from neglecting their duties in respect of their wives: they are not permitted to favour or prefer one wife to the detriment of the other.

Thus, since "inclining" towards one wife to the obvious loss of the other(s) is strictly prohibited during marriage, it is evident that this prohibition extends beyond marriage as well. Whilst a man may be more attached to one wife as opposed to another in the emotional sense, he is, nevertheless, required by Law to treat his wives with equity. Following on from this then, it is a clear contradiction to assert that a man may marry another woman without even informing his first wife: such a proposition is absurd in the extreme. In other words, a man cannot "incline" towards ANY woman other than his wife or wives. These Ordinances exist to protect the sanctity of marriage, as well as to preserve the rights of women.

Surah 2 Al-Baqarah, Verse 187
...they are as a garment - Libaas - for you, and you are as a garment - Libaas - for them..

A garment is the nearest and closest item to a human being: it enfolds, embraces, warms, protects, guards and preserves the body and being from the harsh elements. In marital terms, such then is the function and role of husband and wife: to be as garments for one another, not torn and tattered, but whole and complete.

Allahu 'Alam.

Translations from:
"The Message Of The Qur'an" by Muhammad Asad.

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