Man is God’s vicegerent on the earth. He, the Almighty, created Adam and Eve, and scattered a lot of people from them, a fact unanimously agreed upon by the followers of the heavenly and non-heavenly religions alike. In order for the course of life to continue in line with the Divine Objective of constructing the earth, God, Most High, allowed men to get married to women, so that they would give birth to children who will later get married to each other, and thus deliver other children, and so the course of life ceaselessly goes on.
Marriage in Islam, as clearly recorded in the Quran, shall be based on mutual love, mercy, affection and serenity between the couple. For this reason, it was described as “a solemn covenant”, meaning that men are entrusted with the full protection of and care about their wives, and that they could not have been allowed to have sex with them save with Allah’s Permission. For this reason, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stated that man shall shoulder the full responsibility of his wife, since he is her guardian.
Under Islam, man is originally allowed to get married to just one woman, and to more than one (up to four) in some particular cases, which is believed by some as one of the anti-woman’s rules adopted by this final religion, and that is why they accuse Islam of committing injustice against women by allowing men to get more than one woman in marriage, which is polygamy.
The following lines will attempt to clarify this point in light of the sound and proper understanding of the texts of the Quran and the Sunnah.
Polygamy was actually allowed in all the religions and laws before Islam, even among the polytheists of Mecca before the advent of Islam, to the extent that the one single man used to get married to ten women, if not more. Al-Harith Bin Qyas Al-Asdi said: “I embraced Islam while I had eight wives. So I mentioned it to the Prophet (PBUH). The Prophet said: “Select four of them.” In another narration, Ghaylan Bin Salamah Al-Thaqafi said that he embraced Islam while he had ten wives, and the Prophet (PBUH) told him to divorce six of them and to keep just four.
The Holy Bible contains no single clear text on the prohibition of polygamy; rather, it told that Prophet Abraham was polygamous, and so were the two Prophets David and Solomon, peace be upon them all. In Deuteronomy 21:15, we read: "If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love …," which clearly records the fact that man may have two wives under the orthodox Jewish Sharia. Surprisingly enough, we find the Chief Rabbinate of Israel today issuing a verdict on the permissibility of polygamy, with the aim of increasing the numbers of the Israelis, maintaining that Judaism would not object to modifying a marital law that benefits the life of people.
Back to Islam, we find that all what it did was to confine and restrict the number of wives to four, not to leave it unrestricted as was before. But, is man obliged to get married to four women?!
This is actually the most essential point in this regard. Muslim scholars believe that one is no way obliged to do that, but it is only recommended for him under certain circumstances and in light of certain strict and firm conditions.
Let’s now review the verse cited as evidence by those who believe that polygamy is mandatory in Islam, which is: “And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, 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].” Commenting on this verse in question, Al-Tabari said: “If you guardians over orphan girls fear that you would not give them dowries equal to their counterparts, then you are allowed to get married to one, or two, or three, or four of the foreign women; yet if you will be unable to maintain justice among them (whether two, or three or four), then don’t marry but one.” This clearly shows that polygamy is not mandatory upon men in Islam, but rather a means to solve a problem or to overcome a crisis. For example, if man got married to a barren woman, he may then get married to another while keeping the first whom he deeply loves and respects. Also, in the aftermath of wars, so many men are dead and their wives become widows, a case at which man is allowed to practice polygamy to provide protection for these women and their children and to meet their requirements, and so on.
It is enough to know that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did not marry any other woman in the life of his first wife, Lady Khadija (Allah be pleased with her), which also shows that this act is practiced only for particular purposes.
In conclusion, we can state that polygamy is not an obligation upon Muslims in Islam, but rather a lawful act which they may resort to at times of necessity under certain circumstances and conditions, warning meanwhile that some families may collapse as a result of the misunderstanding of the verses of the Quran and the Sayings of the Prophet (PBUH), which necessitates consulting the well-versed scholars before deciding on the matter.