Quran Facts | 4:4 – Marry Up To Four Wives
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4:4 – Marry Up To Four Wives

Introduction

It is alleged that the Holy Quran and the Islamic tradition is oppressive to women. Verses of the Holy Quran are showcased by detractors as promoting the inferiority of women, misogyny and abuse against women.

 

On the contrary, the Holy Quran and the Islamic tradition have probably the greatest historical legacy of the emancipation and empowerment of women. The Holy Quran unequivocally announces the equality of men and women in several verses such as 16:98– Whoso acts righteously, whether male or female and is a believer, We will surely grant him a pure life; and  We will surely bestow on such their reward according to the best of their works.

 

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) had a direct hand in this legacy. One of the first acts of the Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) to shift attitudes towards women was halting the practice of female infanticide. He announced that daughters were a blessing upon the household they were born into: A person who is blessed with a daughter or daughters and makes no discrimination between them and his sons and brings them up with kindness and affection, will be as close to me in Paradise as my forefinger and middle finger are to each other.” (Muslim II, Section Beneficence).

 

As is sometimes alleged, Muhammad (on whom be peace) was clearly not a misogynist, rather a great benefactor in the emancipation and empowerment of women. He spent his career as a trader working for a woman named Khadijah who later became his wife. Throughout his ministry he regularly consulted her in matters and decisions as the leader of the Muslim community. Islam accorded women the right to accept or refuse a proposal for marriage, and the right to inheritance and ownership of property. While acknowledging that men and women have been endowed with different roles and functions in society, the Quran exhorts on equality between men and women in the eyes of God in that both will be rewarded solely on the basis of their deeds (see section below ‘Fundamental Teachings of Islam About Women’).

 

The women of the family of prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) became revered figures and great examples among Muslims which aided in shifting attitudes about women. His first wife Khadijah (ra) was a business leader and his trusted advisor. His daughter Fatimah (ra), known for her piety, was a great example to the Muslim community. And his wife Ayesha (ra) came to be known as a religious and community leader.

And if you fear that you will not be just in dealing with the orphans, then marry of other women as may be agreeable to you, two, or three, or four; and if you fear you will not be able to do justice, then marry only one or marry what your right hands possess. Thus it is more likely that you will not do injustice. (4:4)

 

Allegation

It is alleged that this verse reduces the status of women due to it allowing men to marry up to four women.

 

Context

As the permission of marrying up to four wives has been given in connection with the subject of orphans, it should be taken primarily to be based on the question of the care of that much-neglected class of society which had become exacerbated by war. The issue of population growth of orphans with wartime casualties makes for a lopsided ratio of males and females in society. As male population tends to lessen with wartime casualties, practical realities exist for orphans and widows. If circumstances do not permit them to be able to find a single male suitor, they inevitably will turn to sin to fulfill their carnal desires. Some may even become targets for criminals and get lured into prostitution. The same is also true for widows during times of military activity as was the case during the birth of Islam with the superpowers of Rome and Persia engaged in a protracted regional war.

Further, according to the Qur’an, the objects of marriage are four, viz., (1) protection against physical, moral and spiritual maladies (2:188; 4:25); (2) peace of mind and the availability of a loving companion (30:22); (3) procreation of children; and (4) widening of the circle of relationship (4:2). Now one or all of the above-mentioned four objects of marriage are sometimes not realized in the case of one wife; for instance, if the wife of a person becomes permanently invalid or suffers from a debilitating disease. Indeed, no course is left to the husband but either to contract another lawful marriage or take grave risks in failing the attacks of carnal passions as well as remain without children or progeny.

 

It is important to note that while the permission for up to four wives is given, it comes with the condition of fair treatment as given in the verse 4-130: “And you cannot keep perfect balance between wives, however much you may desire it. But incline not wholly to one so that you leave the other like a thing suspended. And if you are reconciled and act righteously, surely Allah is Most Forgiving and Merciful”.

 

Verse 4-130 states that it is humanly impossible for a man to keep perfect balance between his wives in all respects. For instance, love being an affair of the heart over which man has no control, a husband cannot be expected to have equal love for all his wives. But he can certainly deal with them with equity in other respects. Thus, this allowance of marrying up to four wives is not the purpose of carnal passion or marrying someone for their beauty or desirability, as in that case it will not be possible to do justice between wives. This permission is a serious practical provision in order to preserve morality and sanctity in a society under severe circumstances as it is mentioned in connection with orphans in the backdrop of a war.


Fundamental Teachings of Islam

The Holy Quran and Islamic fundamental teachings hold one of the greatest historical legacies advocating equality between men and women and according rights to women in an era wrought with misogyny. Although men and women have fundamentally different roles in life and society, the Holy Quran clearly emphasizes equality between men and women as is clear from the following verses:

Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women, and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him – Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward. (33:36)

 

So their Lord answered their prayers saying, I will not allow the work of any worker from among you, whether male or female, to be lost. You are from one another. Those therefore, who have emigrated, and have been driven out from their homes, and have been persecuted in My cause, and have fought and been killed, I will surely remove from them their evils and will cause them to enter gardens through which streams flow – a reward from Allah, and with Allah is the best reward. (3:196)

 

They (your wives) are a garment to you, and you are garment to them. (2:188)

 

But whoso does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such shall enter Heaven, and shall not be wronged even as much as the little hollow in the back of a date-stone. (4:125)

 

And think of the day when thou wilt see the believing men and the believing women, their light running before them and on their right hands, and it will be said to them, ‘Glad tidings for you this day! Gardens through which streams flow, wherein you will abide. That is the supreme triumph. (57:13)

 

Whoso acts righteously, whether male or female and is a believer, We will surely grant him a pure life; and We will surely bestow on such their reward according to the best of their works. (16:98)

 

The following verse exhorts a gender not to covet that which, as an endowment and creation of God, makes one gender excel the other. For example, men having more physical strength than women. The verse exhorts that both men and women will be ultimately rewarded per their deeds and righteousness.

 

And covet not that whereby Allah has made some of you excel others. Men shall have a share of that which they have earned, and women a share of that which they have earned. And ask Allah of His bounty. Surely, Allah has perfect knowledge of all things. (4:33)

 

These verses make the equality of men and women abundantly clear. Males and females are repeatedly mentioned on an equal footing in attaining spirituality, the ultimate success in the eyes of God Almighty.

 

This is further reinforced in Hadith literature which are the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) such as the following examples:

 

‘It is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge’ (Ibne Majah)

 

‘The best among you is he who is best in his treatment towards his wife.’ (Abu Daud)

 

‘Paradise lies under the feet of your mother.’ (Nisai)