A: Respected Brother/Sister in Islam
As Salaamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakaatuh
Haamidaw wa Musalliyaa
Before the advent of Islam, in all religions of the world, one man having more than one wife was something considered permissible. The custom prevailed in Arabia, India, Iran, Egypt, Babylon and among people elsewhere. Its natural validity cannot be denied even to this day. The Europeans of the present age tried to break away from the practice of their predecessors and made multiplicity of marriage impermissible. It resulted in the multiplicity of concubines and girlfriends retained out of wedlock and without any obligations and responsibility of maintenance etc.
The truth of the matter is that a religion or law which aims to establish an infra-structure of chastity and modesty and considers the eradication of adultery as necessary has no way out except that it permits plurality of wives. Apart from being a preventive measure against adultery, it serves as a remedial approach to the problem of comparatively larger female population in some areas as compared to that of men. If such permission was not granted, mistresses and prostitutes would proliferate. This is why nations which do not permit plurality of wives must live in rampant adultery (calling it "free sex" hardly changes the reality).
Hence, in short, taking more than one wife was prevalent in all nations prior to Islam without the imposition of any limits. The history of nations and beliefs shows that no religion or law had drawn a line in this matter, neither the Jews and Christians, nor the Hindus, Arians nor the Zoroastrians.
During the early days of Islam, this custom continued without being limited. As a result, people took too many wives to satisfy their greed. Later on they could not do justice to all of them and these wives of theirs lived like prisoners bound in the chains of marriage. Under such conditions, the idea of an equitable treatment of wives was practically non-existent. It was all a matter of personal choice or whim which could make the darling of a day a history of tomorrow. The concern for standing rights was a far cry.
It was the Holy Quran that stopped this great injustice prevailing in the Human society at large. It restricted the plurality or multiplicity of wives by declaring that keeping more than four women under the bond of marriage was forbidden (haram). In addition to that, stern warning was given against contravention of the divine command which emphatically demanded that equality in fulfilling the rights of women taken into the bond of marriage at the same time must be maintained faithfully.
The words of the Holy Quran are:
فَانكِحُواْ مَا طَابَ لَكُم مِّنَ النِّسَاء مَثْنَى وَثُلاَثَ وَرُبَاعَ
On the one hand, permission has been given in this verse that more than one wife can be conjoined in marriage in twos, threes or fours, while on the other hand, after having taken the number to four, restriction was placed that more than four women cannot be taken in marriage at one given time. Thereafter the Holy Quran mentions:
فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلاَّ تَعْدِلُواْ فَوَاحِدَةً أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ
"But if you fear that you will not maintain equity, then (keep to) one woman or a bondwoman you own."
From here we find out that having more than one wife is permissible and appropriate only on condition that equality can be maintained among all wives as required under the Shariah of Islam, and that the rights of all can be duly fulfilled. If one does not have the capability to discharge his obligations in this manner, the rule is to keep to only one wife.
As stated earlier, the injustices of multiple marriages during Jaahiliyah without any considerations of rights of wives had made a mockery of this field of human relationship. So, the Quranic command was, if you are unable to do perfect justice between wives, then restrict yourself to no more than one, or make do with a bondwoman you may own (with the absence of slavery, this is not currently found). (Source: Ma'ariful Quraan - Mufti Muhammad Shafi Sb R.A.)
Below are some facts for consideration as well:
1. Average life span of females is more than that of males
By nature males and females are born in approximately the same ratio. A female child has more immunity than a male child. A female child can fight the germs and diseases better than the male child. For this reason, during the pediatric age itself there are more deaths among males as compared to the females.
During wars, there are more men killed as compared to women. More men die due to accidents and diseases than women. The average life span of females is more than that of males, and at any given time one finds more widows in the world than widowers.
2. World female population is more than male population
In the USA, women outnumber men by 7.8 million. New York alone has one million more females as compared to the number of males, and of the male population of New York one-third are gays i.e sodomites. The U.S.A as a whole has more than twenty-five million gays. This means that these people do not wish to marry women. Great Britain has four million more females as compared to males. Germany has five million more females as compared to males. Russia has nine million more females than males. God alone knows how many million more females there are in the whole world as compared to males.
3. Restricting each and every man to have only one wife is not practical
Even if every man got married to one woman, there would still be more than thirty million females in U.S.A who would not be able to get husbands (considering that America has twenty five million gays). There would be more than four million females in Great Britain, 5 million females in Germany and nine million females in Russia alone who would not be able to find a husband.
2. In terms of the impermissibility of a woman taking more than one husband then the wisdom behind this is clear. How would it be possible to determine the father of a child?
And Allah Ta'ala Knows Best
Shafiq Jakhura (Mufti)