Dear scholars, As-salamu `alaykum. What is the meaning of Allah’s words: “Ye will not be able to deal equally between (your) wives, however much ye wish (to do so)” (An-Nisa’: 129)? Does it imply that polygamy is prohibited as some claim? Jazakum Allah khayran.
Wa `alaykum as-salamu wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Dear questioner, we would like to thank you for the great confidence you place in us, and we implore Allah Almighty to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
A man’s obligation to treat his wives equally is concerned with supplying them with equal provision and equal division of time (with regard to abode). However, equal division of love is beyond human capacity; hence, one will not be accounted for it before Almighty Allah. Unfortunately, there are many countries that allow men to practice adultery but prohibit polygamy.
The eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states:
“Citing the above mentioned verse as evidence of prohibiting polygamy is rejected, as it means changing words from their context. Moreover, it implies accusing the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) of not understanding the Qur’an or of purposely not following it, for almost all of them married more than one wife.
The verse in fact indicates that absolute justice between wives is beyond human capacity, for it involves exact equality in everything, even in the distribution of affection, love, and sexual satisfaction, which is beyond man’s power. A man may not help being attracted to one of his wives more than to the others; hearts are within the Hand of Almighty Allah Who changes them however He wills. [A man’s feelings are not subject to his will.]
Besides, if those who claim that the above mentioned verse prohibits polygamy contemplate the rest of the verse, they will realize that it includes a refutation of this very claim. Allah Almighty says in the same verse: “But turn not altogether away (from one), leaving her as in suspense. If ye do good and keep from evil, lo! Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful” (An-Nisa’: 129). In these Divine words, Almighty Allah directs His servants to the fact that they will not be able to practice absolute justice between their wives with regard to love, but this does not mean that one of them should disincline from the wife (or wives) that he is not attracted to as much as another, in favor of the one whom he is attached to.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) dealt equally with his wives concerning provision and abode and then would beseech Almighty Allah saying: “O Allah! This is my division with respect to what I can provide for (that is, I deal with my wives with fairness and justice as much as I can concerning what is in my capacity). So I beseech You not to account me for what You can control but I cannot (that is, my feelings towards them).”
However, it is quite strange to find that there are some Arab Muslim countries that prohibit polygamy but allow adultery, the sin about which Almighty Allah says: “And come not near unto adultery. Lo! it is an abomination and an evil way” (Al-Israa’ 17:32). Such countries do not forbid adultery except in certain cases, such as when a man forces a woman to commit adultery with him, or in cases of marital infidelity in which the spouse who was betrayed does not forgive his/her partner.
The former Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Sheikh `Abdel-Halim Mahmoud (may Allah have mercy on him) told me that a Muslim man from some Arab Muslim country that prohibits polygamy married a second wife in secret. He did not register the marriage contract lest he be punished by the man-made law of his country. The police suspected and followed him until they arrested him in his second wife’s home. Facing him with the accusation that he had a second wife and thus breached the laws of the country, he evaded the accusation saying, “Who told you she is my wife? She is not; she is my mistress, and we make love to one another from time to time.” Upon that, the investigators apologized to him, “We are so sorry for this misunderstanding. We thought that she was your wife. We did not know she is your mistress!” Thus, the man was set free, for his country regards adultery as a right of personal freedom, while it forbids polygamy!”