Islamic Sociology and Polygamy

QUESTION: Islamic Sociology – Polygamy

ANSWER:

While most Muslims practice monogamy, the Qur’an permits a man to have four wives, upon certain conditions: “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hand possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice” (4:3). At this time in Islam’s history, this allowance arose because many Muslim men had been killed, leaving widows and orphans without protection or provision.

Islamic Sociology – Multiple Wives
The Qur’an warns that it is unlikely that men will be able to treat various wives equally: “Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire: but turn not away (from a woman) altogether, so as to leave her (as it were) hanging (in the air)” (4:129). A. Yusuf Ali notes, “Legally more than one wife (up to four) are permissible on the condition that a man can be perfectly fair and just to all. But this is a condition almost impossible to fulfill. If, in the hope that he might be able to fulfill it, a man puts himself in that impossible position, it is only right to insist that he should not discard one but at least fulfill all the outward duties that are incumbent on him in respect of her.”1

Many modern Muslims believe that the practice of polygamy may have been acceptable in times past, but should no longer be practiced. After all, they argue, no man can treat multiple wives with equality, for not even Muhammad did that (as we will see below). While this argument does not accord with traditional Islam, the observation regarding Muhammad is instructive.

Notes:

Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 The Holy Qur’an, A. Yusuf Ali, trans., 221, n. 639.

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