Marrying More Than One Woman in Islam
Islam is a way of life consonant with nature, providing human solutions to complex situations and avoiding extremes. This characteristic of Islam can be observed most clearly in its stand concerning the taking of more than one wife.
Islam permits the Muslim to marry more than one woman in order to resolve some very pressing human problems, individual as well as social. Many peoples and religions, prior to Islam, permitted marriage to a host of women, whose number reached tens and sometimes hundreds, without any condition or restriction.
Islam, on the other hand, laid down definite restrictions and conditions for polygamy, With regard to the restriction, it limited to four the maximum number of wives a Muslim might have.
When Ghaylan ath-Thaqafi accepted Islam, he had ten wives. The Prophet (pbuh) said to him, “Choose four of them and divorce the rest. Similarly, some men who had eight or five wives at the time of embracing Islam were told by the Prophet (pbuh) to retain only four.
The case of the Prophet (pbuh), who himself had nine wives, was exempted from this by Allah for the sake of the propagation of the message of Islam during his lifetime and because of the need of the Muslim Ummah after his death.
Justice Among Wives – A Condition
The condition which Islam lays down for permitting a man to have more than one wife is confidence on his part that he will be able to deal equitably with his two or more wives in the matter of food, drink, housing, clothing, and expenses, as well as in the division of his time between them.
Anyone who lacks the assurance that he will be able to fulfill all these obligations with justice and equity is prohibited by Allah (Glorified be He) from marrying more than one woman, for Allah (Glorified be He) says,
… But if you fear that you will not be able to do justice (among them), then (marry) only one… (An-Nisa’: 3)
And the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Anyone who has two wives and does not treat them equally will come on the Day of Resurrection dragging one part of his body which will be hanging down.
The equal treatment mentioned here pertains to the rights of the wives, not to love the husband feels toward them, for equality in the division of love is beyond human capacity and any imbalance in this regard is forgiven by Allah (Glorified be He) who says,
And you will not be able to do justice among (your) wives, however much you may wish to. But do not turn away from one of them) altogether… (An-Nisa’: 129)
This is why the Prophet (pbuh) used to divide his time among his wives equally, saying, “O Allah, this is my division in regard to what I can control. Then (please) do not take me to task regarding what you control and I do not control. referring to the attachment and affection which he felt for one particular wife.
And whenever he planned to go on a journey, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would cast lots among his wives, and the one who was chosen by lot would accompany him.