Is there not a paradox between verse 3 and verse 129 of the chapter of an-Nisa?

The Details of the Question

- The following is stated in verse 3 of the chapter of an-Nisa: “If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess...” The following is stated in verse 129 of the same chapter: “Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire....”
- Since it is stated that we will not be able to be fair and just no matter what we do, why is the permission to marry up to 4 women is given in the previous verse on the condition that we deal justly?
- Is it not a paradox, God forbid?
- My wife asked me that question in a discussion about belief and said that polygamy should not have been permitted since it is definitely stated that men will not be able to deal justly. I could not give an answer. I felt confused.


The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

First of all, we should state that the Quran is the word of Allah and there is no, and there can never be any, contradiction in it.

Although Islam allows polygamy, it regards marriage with only one woman as essential.

Permission to marry more than one woman is given due to “moral and social necessities”. While it is explained that justice is a must among women in that case, it is pointed out that it is not quite possible to act equally in terms of spiritual inclinations:

 ”Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire.” (an-Nisa, 4/129)

That God Almighty commands justice in one verse and explains in the other verse that men cannot truly realize justice among their wives aims to point out that men should not marry more than one woman without a necessity.

The possibility and custom of marrying more than one woman (polygamy), which verse 3 of the chapter of an-Nisa indirectly mentions, dates back to a long time before the emergence of Islam.

At that time, men married more than one woman or had marriage-like relationships, either by marrying or keeping mistresses at home or outside the house in Egypt, India, China and Persia, ancient Greek and Roman societies, Jews and Arabs.

There were various reasons for marrying more than one woman in those periods.

The main reason why Bedouins living in the villages and on the mountains in the region where Islam emerged married many women was protection against the enemy; besides, dominance over the environment necessitated a strong and belligerent population.

The other reasons were the difficulty of rural life, the necessity of many workers, the ongoing wars between tribes, the looting, raiding and plundering movements causing a large number of male deaths, and as a result, the balance of numbers between men and women being upset against men.

In that case, Islam did not introduce the possibility and practice of marrying more than one woman; it continued the existing practice by improving it; Islam laid certain conditions and legal rules for it.

When Islam continued it, it seems to have separated the two states:

Men who are afraid of not being able to act justly between their wives are advised to be content with one woman in verse 3 of the chapter of an-Nisa.

It is clearly and definitely stated in verse 129 of the chapter of an-Nisa that it is not possible to act justly between more than one wife in all aspects, no matter how much one wants and tries.

In the face of this fact, it was expected that it would be forbidden to marry more than one woman. However, Allah did not forbid it because He knew the necessities, the urgent needs and the extraordinary states; instead of imposing a prohibition that His servants would have difficulty in applying, He regarded a recommendation with two alternatives as sufficient:

a) Those who are married to one woman should be content with it - unless there is a necessity - because Allah emphasizes justice and equity in the verses in question. However, if men marry more than one woman, there will be injustice and hence they might sin.

b) Men who are married to more than one woman as a result of some necessities need to do the following except for the states and differences that are beyond the control of human beings such as the relationship of the heart, love and devotion:
- They need to be objective in material issues,
- They need to treat their women equally in measurable rights and benefits;
when a man leads the life of marriage with one of them, he must not leave the other one suspended and alone; he must not exclude her from care and relationship; he must not ignore her needs or make her materially inferior to others.

Thus, there is no contradiction between the verses.

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