How should we respond to those who criticize Islams allowing men to marry more than one woman?
At the time when the religion of Islam was spreading in Arab Peninsula, some kinds of customs dating from the era of ignorance were in full effect. Islam either abolished them or improved them in such a way that everybody could agree on. One of them was to marry women as many as one pleases. Before Islam came, men in Arab Peninsula were able to marry women without a number limitation.
The Quran has brought a limitation to this custom of the Era of Ignorance. It announced that one could marry maximum to four. Allah Almighty announced, if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then marry only one. (An-Nisaa Surah, 4:3)
Accordingly, it is not the Quran, which has established the marriage more than one, but it has limited the practice, which used to be limitless. For example, a Companion of the Prophet Muhammads (PBUH) named Giylan was married to ten women. When he embraced Islam, he divorced more than four.
Although Islam has permitted to marry more than one woman, It principally deemed monogamy more suitable. It permits more than one if it is vitally important in terms of social and moral conditions. The verse warns that in this case, one has to deal justly with them and acting equally is impossible if one has more affection for one of them: Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire (An-Nisaa Surah, 4:29)
The fact that Allah Almighty orders justice in one verse and states that men can never set up justice between his wives truly in the other verse is for pointing out that one should not marry more than one woman if not vitally necessary.
In all periods of history, because of the cruel consequences of the bloody wars between nations, while male population decreases, the female population increases several fold. In such a case, it is incumbent on men to protect several women. Turkey experienced this after World War I and Germany after World War II. After WW II, German women outnumbered men almost by three to one. The nation was face to face with a severe social imbalance. Because nearly two-thirds of women were hopeless and in destitution. Therefore, German government had to let a man marry more than one woman. A German professor insistently indicated that there was not any other way-out but accepts that method of Islams in order to save the women of Germany.
As is the case with the situation of Germany after the war, if women are as there times many as men, there appears three situations:
1. Every man will marry just one woman and the remaining two will not be able to experience the family life, a mothers compassion, and love for children.
2. Every man will marry just one woman and be involved in illegitimate relations with other women and hence two out of three women again will not be able to experience the family life, a mothers compassion, and love for children.
3. A man will marry several women; they will protect their chastity and honesty by abiding by the principles of justice in a legitimate field. Thus, the society will be getting rid of the confusion of gender and family.
Every man of common sense prefers the third option. Because human nature requires that.
Bediuzzaman explains that Islams permitting marriage up to four women fits human nature, reason, and wisdom:
Marriage to four is fitting nature, reason, and wisdom and however, Shari a has not made it four while it was one, but it did lower it to four from eight. But it has imposed so many conditions that obeying it would never occasion any harm. Even if it is evil, it is the lesser of two evils. As for the lesser of two evils, it is a relative justice. Not every situation in the world bears pure good. (Munazarat, 69)
Source: Mehmed Paksu, The Questions That the Modern Age Has Posed
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