subhanAllah, since polygyny has become a reality in my life, i have come across numerous comments, verbal and written, seeking to define polygyny in Islam, its limitations and condtions. alhamdulillah, much of the information i have come across has been correct; however in the midst of such truth there has also been a great deal of falsehood. i have decided that being that my blog's focus is polygyny and insha'Allah i seek to shed a truthful light on this blessed part of Islam, i wanted to tackle some of the misconceptions about what polygyny in Islam is and isn't. insha'Allah everything that follows will be accompanied by proof from the Qur'aan and Sunnah.
First: the aayah in the Qur'aan that establishes polygyny as a part of Islam
"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." ~Surat an-Nisaa'(4):3
Tafseer Ibn Katheer:The Permission to Marry Four Women
Allaah's statement "two or three, or four" means, marry as many women as you like, other than the orphan girls, two, three or four. We should mention that Allaah's statement in another aayah,
"Who made the angels messengers with wings, - two or three or four" (35:1),
does not mean that other angels do not have more than four wings, as there are proofs that some angels do have more wings. Yet, men are prohibited from marrying more than four wives, as the aayah decrees, since the aayah specifies what men are allowed of wives, as Ibn 'Abbaas and the majority of scholars stated. If it were allowed for them to have more than four wives, the aayah would have mentioned it.
Imaam Ahmad recorded that Saalim said that his father said that Gheelan bin Salamah Ath-Thaqafi had ten wives when he became Muslim, and the Prophet sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam said to him, "Choose any four of them (and divorce the rest)." During the reign of ^Umar, Gheelan divorced his remaining wives and divided his money between his children. When ^Umar heard news of this, he said to Gheelan, "I think that the devil has conveyed to your heart the news of your imminent death, from what the devil hears during his eavesdropping. It may as well be that you will not remain alive but for a little longer. By Allaah! You will take back your wives and your money, or I will take possession of this all and will order that your grave be stoned as is the case with the grave of Abu Righak (from Thamuud, who was saved from their fate because he was in the Sacred Area. But, when he left it, he was tormented like they were)." Ash-Shaafi^ee, At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Maajah, Ad-Daaraqutni and Al-Bayhaqi collected this Hadeeth up to the Prophet's statement, "Choose any four of them." Only Ahmad collected the full version of this Hadeeth.
Therefore, had it been allowed for men to marry more than four women at the same time, the Prophet sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam would have allowed Gheelan to keep more than four of his wives since they all embraced Islaam with him. When the Prophet sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam commanded him to keep just four of them and divorce the rest, this indicated that men are not allowed to keep more than four wives at a time under any circumstances. If this is the case concerning those who already had more than four wives upon embracing Islaam, then this ruling applies even more so to marrying more than four.
My Note: It is clear from the above tafseer of the classical mufassireen Ibn Katheer that the proof for polygyny being a part of Islam is established in Aayah 3 of Suraat an-Nisaa'. In addition, this aayah establishes the limit of four wives, a limitation that was not in place prior to Islam as is evident from the Hadeeth of Gheelan bin Salamah Ath-Thaqafi who had ten wives prior to Islam and, upon the revelation of this aayah, was instructed by the Prophet sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam, to divorce six of his wives and retain four. The hadeeth of Gheelan bin Salamah is also proof against those who claim that the Prophet sallallahu ^alahyi wa sallam favored monogamy or that Allah subhanahu wa ta^ala declared monogamy to be better than polygyny, for if this was so, then surely the Prophet sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam would have advised Gheelan to divorce nine of his wives and retain only one and surely when ^Umar radee Allahu ^anhu heard that Gheelan had divorced the remaining four of his wives, he (^Umar) radee Allahu ^anhu would not have have advised Gheelan to remarry all four.
Second: the two aayat dealing with the issue of justice between multiple wives
"But if you fear that you will not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one or what your right hands possess." ~Suurat an-Nisaa'(4):3
Tafseer Ibn Katheer:Marrying Only One Wife When One Fears He Might not Do Justice to His Wives
"But if you fear that you will not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one or what your right hands possess."
The aayah commands, if you fear that you will not be able to do justice between your wives by marrying more than one, then marry only one wife, or satisfy yourself with only female captives, for it is not obligatory to treat them equally, rather it is recommended. So if one does so, that is good, and if not, there is no harm on him. In another aayah, Allaah said,
"You will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even it is your ardent desire (4:129)." Allah said,
"That is nearer to prevent you from Ta^uuluu,"
meaning, from doing injustice. Ibn Abi Haatim, Ibn Marduwyah and Abu Haatim Ibn Hibbaan, in his Saheeh, recorded that ^Aa'ishah said that, the Prophet sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam said that the aayah, "That is nearer to prevent you from Ta^uuluu," means, from doing injustice. However, Ibn Abi Haatim said that his father said that this Hadeeth to the Prophet sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam is a mistake, for it should be attributed to ^Aa'ishah not the Prophet sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam.
My Note: Allaah subhanahu wa ta^ala reveals things in their order of preference and importance. For example, regarding zakaat, Allaah states,
"As-Sadaqaat (i.e. Zakaah) are only for the Fuqaraa', and Al-Masaakeen, and those employed to collect the funds; and to attract the hearts of those who have been inclined (towards Islaam); and to free the captives; and for those in debt; and for Allaah's cause, and for Ibn As-Sabeel; a duty imposed by Allaah. And Allaah is All-Knower, All-Wise." ~Suurat at-Tawbah(9):60
In Tafseer Ibn Katheer, it is stated "Allaah mentioned the expenditures of Zakaah in this aayah, starting with the Fuqaraa' (the poor) because they have more need than the other categories, since their need is pressing and precarious." Also, many of the classical scholars have commented on this aayah that the categories of people worthy of zakaah are mentioned according to importance, with the most important being the first mentioned (i.e. the Fuqaraa') and descending in importance and priority accordingly.
That being said, the same is true with regards to the aayah about polygyny. Again, just to refresh the reader's memory, Allaah subhanahu wa ta^ala states in Suurat an-Nisaa'(4):3,
"But if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one ..."
i have bolded the "but" and the "then" to make a grammatical point. but first, clearly Allah subhanahu wa ta^ala mentions polygyny first in the aayah before metnioning monogamy. this is clear. secondly, Allah subhhanahu wa ta^ala mentions monogamy as conditonal upon one fearing he will not be able to do justice. He states that if one fears not being able to deal justly with more than one, then one should marry only one. the word "then" implies that what comes after it is secondary upon the conditions that are mentioned before it. this point is very important, for often in the discussion about polygyny people start off with making the point that polygyny is conditional upon the man being able to be just, insinuating that monogamy is of priority and polygyny is secondary. however, if one were to truly look at the aayah they would see that in fact, Allah subhanahu wa ta^ala mentions polygyny first and then specifies that monogamy is conditional upon one fearing he cannot be just.
Regarding the aayah, "You will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire (4:129)," in Tafseer ibn Katheer it states,
"(it) means, O people! You will never be able to be perfectly just between wives in every respect. Even when one divides the nights justly between wives, there will still be various degrees concerning love, desire and sexual intimacy, as Ibn ^Abbaas, ^Ubaydah As-Salmaani, Mujaahid, Al-Hasan Al-Basri and Ad-Dahhaak bin Muzaahim stated.
"Imaam Ahmad and the collectors of the Sunan recorded that ^Aa'ishah said, "The Messenger of Allaah sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam used to treat his wives equally and proclaim,
'O Allaah! This is my division in what I own, so do not blame me for what You own and I do not own,'
referring to his heart. This was the wording that Abu Daawud collected, and its chain of naarators is Saheeh."
My Note: So, from the above it becomes clear that when Allaah subhanahu wa ta^ala enjoins the Believing men to treat multiple wives equally, what is meant by equality is in the division of nights, maintenance and those things which one has control over, but that insha'Allah he is excused from those things one does not have control over such as love, desire, and sexual intimacy.
also, this clears up any misconceptions that there are contradictions in the Qur'aan being that in Suraat an-Nisaa' Allaah enjoins the Believing men to be just to multiple wives and then later states that they will never be able to do perfect justice. the first aayah is referring to those things which one has control over and the second is referring to those things which one does not have control over.
Also, take note that while each wife is entitled to equality when it comes to maintenance and nights, a woman can also choose to forego these rights and there will be no sin on the man. one example we have is that of Sawdah bint Zam'a radee Allahu anhaa who gave up her night to ^Aa'ishah radee Allahu anhaa.
Third: Regarding the notion that polygyny is only permissible during times of war, marriage to widows or if one's wife cannot have children, there is no authentic proof from the Qur'aan or the Sunnah that supports this claim. Quite the contrary, we find that in the example of Rasulullah sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam, who was th best of examples, that amongst his wives were those who were widows and those who were not, those who were married as a consequence of war and those who were not. There is no indication that the Prophet married again due to his current wives not being able to have children. Nowhere in the Qur'aan does Allah set the condition that a Believing man can only have more than one wife in instances of war, marrying of widows, or a current wife's infertility. So, while the above-mentioned scenarios are conditions in which polygyny is beneficial and might be practiced, they by no means are the ONLY conditions in which polygyny can take place.
in closing, insha'Allah i pray that this post has clarified some of the most common misunderstandings regarding polygyny in Islam. and i pray insha'Allah that Allah subhanahu wa ta^ala accepts this from me as an extension of my worship of and submission to Him and forgives me my shortcomings. all that i have said that is correct and true is from Allah subhanahu wa ta^ala. the mistakes are only my own.