Redundant Revelation? The Question of Polygyny in Islam

“And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphans, then marry other women those that please you, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then marry only one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline to injustice. (Qur’an 4:3)

 

The above-mentioned verses have been used by self-proclaimed spokespersons for Islam past and present, albeit unwittingly, to regulate these verses to redundancy.

 

So it is disheartening to see Muslims with a ‘modernist‘ bent turn certain verses in the Qur’an to redundancy.

Also, we all need to be very careful not to prohibit that which Allah (swt) has made permissible.

O you who have believed, do not prohibit the good things which Allah has made lawful to you and do not transgress. Indeed, Allah does not like transgressors.” (Qur’an 5:87)

 

Redundant Revelation: The Question of Polygyny.

The example we will discuss today is the following verse:

“And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphans, then marry other women those that please you, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then marry only one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline to injustice.” (Qur’an 4:3)

I would also have to rank this particular verse of the Qur’an as the one most used and abused.

I would have to say those who ‘use and abuse’ it the most are those who follow under three broad categories

Category A)

‘modernist’ or ‘reformers’.   

Category B)

The next group most likely to abuse these verses are those Muslims who consider themselves ‘traditionalist’. Often they are trying to find favour with post-modern liberalism.

Category C)

The last group that I would say that are most likely to abuse these verses are those who follow the ‘Qur’an only’ Religion.

What do I mean by abuse of the text?

Flat lies concerning the Asbab Al-Nuzul? 

By this I mean those who are usually not favorable towards traditionalist interpretation will tell you how this verse was ‘revealed during the context of a war’.   They will mention how there was a ‘surplus of all these widows’ and ‘men just rushed out to marry them all.’   This is to elicit the ‘Oh, so very noble‘ response from you.

The reality of this verse is that it does no such thing.  It doesn’t tell me to marry widows. In fact, the next time someone tells you that this verse was revealed in the context of war ask them:

Can you kindly show me the source for this information?”

 

This is not in the Asbab Al-Nuzul by Al Wahidi.

 

“(And if you fear that you will not deal fairly by the orphans…) [4:3]. Abu Bakr al-Tamimi informed us> ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad> Abu Yahya> Sahl ibn ‘Uthman> Yahya ibn Za’idah> Hisham ibn ‘Urwah> his father> ‘A’ishah who said, regarding the words of Allah (And if you fear that you will not deal fairly by the orphans): “This was revealed about any custodian under whose care is a female orphan who possesses some wealth and does not have anyone to defend her rights. The custodian refuses to give this orphan in marriage out of greed for her money, harms her, and treats her badly. And so Allah, exalted is He, says (And if you fear that you will not deal fairly by the orphans marry of the women, who seem good to you…) as long as they are lawful to you and leave this one”. This was narrated by Muslim> Abu Kurayb> Abu Usamah> Hisham. Sa‘id ibn Jubayr, Qatadah, al-Rabi‘, al-Dahhak and al-Suddi said: “People used to be wary of the wealth of orphans but took liberty with women and married whoever they liked. And sometimes they were fair to them and sometimes they were not. So when they asked about the orphans and the verse (Give unto orphans their wealth), regarding the orphans, was revealed, Allah, exalted is He, also revealed (And if you fear that you will not deal fairly by the orphans). He says here: ‘Just as you fear that you will not deal fairly by the orphan, so should you fear that you do not deal fairly by women. Therefore, marry only as many as you can fulfill their rights, for women, are like orphans as far as weakness and incapacity are concerned’. This is the opinion of Ibn ‘Abbas according to the narration of al-Walibi”.

Source: (Tafsir of Qur’an 4:3 by Al Wahidi)

 

This idea that these verses were revealed during the context of war is not in the Tanwir al-Miqbas of Tafsir Ibn Abbas.

 

This idea that these verses were revealed during the context of war is not in the Tafsir of Al Jalalayn.

 

This idea that these verses were revealed during the context of war is not in the Tafsir of Al Qushairi.

This idea that these verses were revealed during the context of war is not in the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir. 

 

Not limited to asbab al-nuzul.

Now even if we are to imagine that the order to marry only orphans or up to four women came during the context of war (which we still await evidence of) even then it would not be limited to that context. Asbab al-nuzul is the timing that Allah (swt) feels is appropriate to deliver a specific revelation.

It would be very strange if the Blessed Prophet (saw) and his companions were having a meal together and suddenly a revelation came saying, “Marry women of your choosing, 2, 3 or 4...” It makes sense that certain rulings are revealed in a certain context. However, it does not mean they are limited only to that context. If that was the case we would have real problems in the implementation of the Qur’an 2:256.

Masruq said: “A man from the Helpers, from among the Banu Salim Banu ‘Awf, had two sons who had converted to Christianity before the advent of the Prophet, (saw). After the migration of the Prophet,(saw), these two sons came to Medina along a group of Christians to trade in food. Their father went to them and refused to leave them, saying: ‘By Allah! I will not leave you until you become Muslim’. They refused to become Muslim and they all went to the Messenger of Allah, (saw), to settle their dispute. The father said: ‘O Messenger of Allah! How can I leave a part of me to enter hell fire while I just sit and look?’ Allah, glorious and majestic is He, then revealed (There is no compulsion in religion…) after which he let them go”. Source: (Tafsir of Qur’an 2:256 by Al Wahidi)

 

If we are to follow the logic of modernist who says that the Qur’an 4:3 only applies to the context of orphans and/or to women after the war it would mean that the Qur’an 2:256 only applies to sons. Or it only applies to those who convert to Christianity. So this means if they were daughters they could be compelled. This means if they converted to a religion other than Christianity they could be compelled.  Would anyone reason like this?

 

What is the context of the Qur’an 4:3?

The whole context of the Qur’an 4:1-12 is the distribution of wealth and property.

Quite a number of conflicts in tribal society would erupt over this.  It happens until this very day. We find people fighting over the distribution of property and wealth even in our times.

So let us look at the verse in question again.

“And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphans, THEN marry other women those that please you, TWO or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then marry only one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline to injustice. (Qur’an 4:3)

Note three interesting points.

POINT 1)

The verse starts off with ‘And if you fear that you will not deal justly with orphans, then.….”

So let us look at the verse before this one.

“And give to the orphans their properties and do not substitute the defective [of your own] for the good [of theirs]. And do not consume their properties into your own. Indeed, that is ever a great sin. (Qur’an 4:2)

This is in context with a verse that comes later:

“Indeed, those who devour the property of orphans unjustly are only consuming into their bellies fire. And they will be burned in a Blaze.” (Qur’an 4:10)

 

POINT 2)

After orphans, it addresses marrying women who are neither orphans nor slaves.

Notice that it starts off by saying, “marry 2, or 3 or 4. It is interesting that it does not start off by saying, ” marry 1.”

Now if one wanted to manipulate the Qur’an in the way that Muslims who pander to post-modern liberalism do, you could make the argument that marrying 2 was imperative!

You could also make the argument that 2 is actually optimal followed by more; as 1 was simply offered up as a ‘better than nothing’ solution.

So the fact that it starts off with saying “marry 2” is interesting and flat out neglected (ignored?) by post-modern liberal interpretations.

However, I have also noted that those given to post-modern- liberal interpretations will say,  “2 or 3 or 4 but if you cannot deal justly with them than only one”.

Yet the text does not stop there.  There is a conjunctive.

The Arabic word ‘aw’ which means ‘or’  

There is a flow that I feel is ignored by the three categories (mentioned above).

So then the verses pick back up with saying, “but if you fear that you will not deal justly than marry those whom your right hand possesses.”

This is addressed here:

“And whoever among you cannot [find] the means to marry free, believing women, then [he may marry] from those whom your right hands possess of believing slaves. And Allah is most knowing about your faith. You [believers] are of one another. So marry them with the permission of their people and give them their due compensation according to what is acceptable. [They should be] chaste, neither [of] those who commit unlawful intercourse randomly nor those who take [secret] lovers. But once they are sheltered in marriage, if they should commit adultery, then for them is half the punishment for free women. This is for him among you who fears sin, but to be patient is better for you. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (Qur’an 4:25)

So if we are to follow the approach that some people take, and we are to be consistent we should understand Qur’an 4:2-3 as this.

1) You should marry orphans first and foremost.

2) Failing to do justice with them, you should marry free believing women.

3) Failing to deal with them justly you should marry those ‘whom your right hand possesses.’

However, notice it stops here.  Why does it not continue and say, failing to do justly with them…. etc?

Ponder some of the translations of this verse:

http://quran.com/4/3

& here as well:

http://www.islamawakened.com/quran/4/3/

Please take note on two points:

1) How the translators have used the conjunction ‘aw‘.

2) How they have translated ‘Thus it is more likely that you will not do injustice.’

The whole thrust of  Qur’an 4:3  if one looks at it in light of the overall context of the distribution of wealth and property is what is a man looking at getting married for?

What may he find beneficial for him?  In fact, the verse itself is obviously directed towards men.

It tells us that men may find the idea of marrying an orphan appealing; as some may want to usurp their property, wealth, and/or belongings as we are told in the Qur’an 4:10.

“Indeed, those who devour the property of orphans unjustly are only consuming into their bellies fire. And they will be burned in a Blaze.” (Qur’an 4:10)

It then goes into the idea of marrying free believing women.  Nowhere does the verse say that we are to marry one woman. Interestingly enough it starts off with the number two.

However, a man may find that he is still having financial constraints in trying to marry free believing women.

Thus it is simultaneously brought to his attention to marry his slave women.

This is dealt with in more detail in Qur’an 4:25.

“And whoever among you cannot [find] the means to marry free, believing women, then [he may marry] from those whom your right hands possess of believing slave girls. And Allah is most knowing about your faith. You [believers] are of one another. So marry them with the permission of their people and give them their due compensation according to what is acceptable. [They should be] chaste, neither [of] those who commit unlawful intercourse randomly nor those who take [secret] lovers. But once they are sheltered in marriage, if they should commit adultery, then for them is half the punishment for free women. This is for him among you who fears sin, but to be patient is better for you. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (Qur’an 4:25)

So let us look at the other verse that is brought in to say that Muslim men can only marry one woman.

And you will never be able to be equal between wives, even if you should strive [to do so]. So do not incline completely [toward one] and leave another hanging. And if you amend [your affairs] and fear Allah – then indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful. (Qur’an 4:129)

This verse is nowhere telling men that because they cannot deal justly with more than one wife that they should marry only one.   The context itself tells us this.  The following sentence reminds the man not to incline towards one wife letting the other to feel neglected.

What I feel many of us neglect when reading the  Qur’an 4:129 is that not only do men read this verse but women do too!  Thus, women are reminded that men won’t be able to be totally equal in all respects.  Some women may have more needs than others. You may have a wife who has a mental or physical handicap. So this verse is also a reminder to women to keep the larger picture in mind.

In fact, you will see that the post-modern  ‘free minds translation’ of the Qur’an  being manipulated right here:

http://www.islamawakened.com/quran/4/129/

& here:

https://www.free-minds.org/quran/PM/4

“And you will not be able to be fair regarding the women even if you make every effort; so do not sway too greatly and leave her as one hanging in a void. And if you reconcile and do right, then God is Forgiver, Merciful.”

Wouldn’t be surprised if they ‘clean up’ this translation latter.  Notice the verse is obviously addressing women (plural) and then suddenly the theme is switched to one woman (the wife)?

Manipulation of the text at its best!

 

There is no text in the Qur’an that tells men they are restricted to marry only one wife.

 

If Allah (swt) wanted Muslim men to marry only one woman, he would have told us this in very clear terms.

If we are to believe the view of modernist this means that when the Qur’an does mention 2 or 3 or 4 and then says, well in reality it only means one is to say the Qur’an is not only couched in obfuscation but that it contains redundant language.

Surely as Allah (swt) says if the oceans were ink to write his words, the oceans would deplete before Allah (swt) would run out of things to say.

Say: “If the ocean were ink to write the words of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than would the words of my Lord, even if we added another ocean like it for its aid.”  (Qur’an 18:109)

Surely, Allah (swt) would say simply marry only one.  Simple.

Now one thing I want to clear up is that the Qur’an is not saying that it is mandatory for a man to marry more than one woman.

However, to say that the Qur’an does not allow men to marry more than one wife is simply pandering to a post-modern liberal world view.

Mind you there are also those who say, well if a man marries another woman, she should be absolutely destitute, having been divorced and so forth.

The Qur’an also does not say those marrying women who are destitute or divorced are a priority.   Again these are people who seek to impose their own criteria of whom a man may or may not marry.  Did these very people go and seek to marry the handicap, the most destitute, those considered ‘undesirable’ by society?

To marry such people is a choice.  The irony is that many men and women who claim that the verse in Qur’an 4:3 is only in regard to women who are destitute and down and out not only ignores the verse itself but gives the impression that women are weak and powerless.

Note the following part of the verse again,

THEN marry other women those that please you, TWO or three or four.

These “other women” are not slaves nor orphans. There are women in a society that are socially upwardly mobile. Women in society that are wealthy or have careers.  These women want husbands because they have any number of needs.

They could want children. They could simply want affection and male companionship. They could want sexual gratification.  They might feel more secure being in a relationship with a man that has already proven he can be good Imam of his children and household than to risk a marriage on someone who is unproven.

The point being is that if a woman or any woman marries a man of their own free will and volition are in agreement to such an arrangement than who are we to impose post-modern liberal values upon them?

It is also interesting to note that verse 4:129 does not say “You will not be able to love them equally.”   The theme is justice.

Allah (swt) is admonishing the husband by taking the perspective of one of the wives. Allah (swt) is also reassuring a husband who may be having doubts about his ability to be a good husband that He (Allah) is forgiving and merciful. 

In the end, the perfect justice is the purview of the divine; and complete and perfect justice belongs only to Allah (swt).

“Have you not turned Your vision to those who claim sanctity for themselves? Nay-but Allah Does sanctify whom He pleases. But never will they fail to receive justice in the least little thing. (Qur’an 4:49)

Muslim men can marry an unrestricted number of women according to modernist, liberal interpretations!

You read that correctly! If we are to believe even for a moment the modernist interpretations of the Qur’an it then means that Muslim men can not only marry 4 wives but possibly 5,6, 7 unlimited!  Why? Because according to them Qur’an 4:3 is an example of takhsees-The specification of a general ruling.

1) The Qur’an nowhere tells us to marry only one woman. It obviously has no such verse if it does indeed tell men they can marry more than one orphan (as modernist agree it says).

2) If Qur’an 4:3 is only restricted to orphans and it does not mean women in general than this means it is laying down no rules concerning women other than orphans. So the marry up to 4 rule is only applicable to orphans. This means that for the modernist the Qur’an gave no principle in regards to women who are not orphans, therefore allowing a man to marry an unrestricted number of women! 

 

Conclusion:

The Qur’an nowhere restricts men from marrying only one wife. Even those people who say that marrying more than one wife is only concerning orphans are the same people who would say that polygyny is not applicable today! Even though there are certainly orphans in Yemen, Syria, Palestine. Anyone who leaves their ivory tower in Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Philippines knows there are plenty of orphan women.  The people who restrict polygyny to only orphans have actually unwittingly given license for men to marry an unlimited number of women! Those who are deadset against polygyny claim that the Qur’an 4:3 was revealed in the context of war and yet they do not furnish proof of this. It is clear there is no verse in the Qur’an that tells men to marry more than one woman. If there was such a verse the opponents of polygyny would produce it. Obviously, no verse can exist as it would contradict even by their own standards concerning Qur’an 4:3. As regards to say that no man can deal justly with more than one woman, therefore, they are to marry one, Allah (swt) himself said that a man would not be able to deal justly but admonished a man not to incline towards one wife and neglect the other.

 

 

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Redundant Revelation? The Question of Polygyny in Islam

  1. Pingback: Do Muslim women need a guardian (wali) for a marriage contract according to the Qur’an? | primaquran

  2. Hossain Salauddin

    Salam Brother
    Thank you fro your article about 4.3. You did very good job to explaining it . But I have one question about your translation of the Ayat.
    ‘And if you fear that you will not deal justly with orphans girls, then.
    where it saying it is orphans girls? l-yatāmā meaning is the orphans not orphan girls. If you translate it correctly as the orpahns then your hole argument not making any sence. You can say many translator translate as orphan girls, i will say why you use their translation not your own and then explain the Ayat. l-yatāmā word used it Quran in many Ayats all of them mean orphan not specificly orphan girls. Lets translate the Ayat as orphan then explain what is the Ayat telling us.
    Thank you brother for your good work .I liked your other article .

    Hossain

    • Walakum salaam wr wb.

      Dear respected brother Hossain you have stated:

      ” I have one question about your translation of the Ayat.
      ‘And if you fear that you will not deal justly with orphans girls, then.
      where it saying it is orphans girls? l-yatāmā meaning is the orphans not orphan girls. If you translate it correctly as the orpahns then your hole argument not making any sence.”

      I have went with a more direct translation of ‘orphans’ rather than ‘orphan girls’ thank you for pointing this out. Especially in the modern hysterical environment that we live in. I do want to emphasize that the orphans in question are in reference to women. What I am curious is to your statement “If you translate correctly as the orphans then your hole argument not making any sence.” In what way would it not make any sense? Would you like to elaborate.

      Thank you noble brother.

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