Does the Qur’an Advocate Polygamy and Wife Beating?
Q: If God Preaches equality and tolerance in the Qur’an, why is it that men can have several wives and even beat them? I haven’t read the Qur’an, but this is what I’ve heard.
A: The equality between Man and Woman in the Qur’an. If we study the Qur’an today, we realize that the Qur’an has been planned for two different generations and different eras.
35:31 “That which We have Revealed to you of the Book (O Muhammad), is the just (of the Book, entirety of the Book) confirming what was (Revealed) before It, as in fact All’h, concerning His Servants, Is Knowledgeable, Insightful” (God Considers the level of insight and knowledge of His Servants.)”
35:32 “Then (after Muhammad), We Bequeathed the Book unto those of our Servants Chosen (Messengers), so, among them is who wrongs himself, and among them is who takes a middle course, and among them anticipated the good events (of the Book) by All’h’s Leave, this being the High Grace.”
Please excuse the repeated mention of some verses. This is in case some people refer to Q & A individually. Every time a Book of God Arrives/is Re-opened, the Word of God is at the level of knowledge and understanding of people at the time. So, we must bear in mind that as the dimensions of Knowledge have grown during the last 14 centuries, the Word (without being changed) also has a different dimension today. Moreover, the Qur’an is for both categories of followers, broad minded knowledgeable ones, who use their brain for understanding the Word, and those whose rigidity of mind prevents them from reading in between the lines. They usually take the words out of a text literally, narrowing their view of the expansion of the field of possibilities, brought by science for the Word and their time. Nevertheless, for both these categories, the equality of men and women is obviously and clearly mentioned in the Qur’an. Unfortunately, some of the verses have really been abused or misunderstood up till now, mostly those about beating up wives, and the Commandment of God concerning four wives. The verse below is a good example.
4:34 “Men being supporters/maintainers of women, for what All’h Advantaged some over some other, and for what they pay (the expenses) out of their possessions, therefore, the righteous women, are obedient (to Lord’s Commandments), they guard in the absence, what All’h Would Have them guard, and as to those women from whom you fear ill-conduct, then (first) advise them, and then refuse to share their beds, (as final recourse) beat them. So if they obeyed you, then don’t take up a way (of legal action/divorce) against them, in fact All’h Being High above all, Great.”
This verse is about the discordances between married couple in their conduct, during the absence of the breadwinner and supporter of the family. Although the case of the man is indicated in this verse for being the breadwinner, nevertheless the verse is clearly conditioned by two factors: a) Having the qualifications for it, b) being the breadwinner of the family. Therefore, this verse could very well be the case of both spouses (or partners), the one with the qualification of paying for the household and being the breadwinner for the family. The point abused in this verse is about two words:
- “Supporter/maintainer”: that usually has been wrongly translated or interpreted as: “superior”
- “The qualification”: that has been wrongly attributed to men only
Or, if the qualification was attributed to men only, then the verse definitely and simply would be: because God has Given the necessary qualifications to men, for being the supporter/breadwinner. But it is not so. The word mentioned in the verse is: “some over some other,” without mentioning which is which, man or woman.
In this verse, the example of man having the necessary qualifications of bread-winning is brought up, because at the time of Muhammad, and the first Opening of the Qur’an, (as women did not work to support their families and only men used to be the breadwinner) it would not make sense to them otherwise. But today, by the second Opening, as women also could be either the breadwinner or share the expenses of the household, this verse is quite open for both situations through the words: “the qualification of supporters/maintainers, some over some other.” The condition in the verse could apply to the spouse, one or the other, as breadwinner. In the absence of the breadwinner, the righteous women/the righteous men, who are obedient to God’s Commandments, guard the good reputation of their spouse and do not sully their name by ill conduct. But if they suspect ill conduct on their part, they should have recourse to different ways of remedy before pursuing the final way, which would be legal action for divorce.
And these different ways, are up to what they are accustomed usually, the type of characters and habitude of behavior in their marriage life. Not all people are alike or brought up alike. The Lord Admonishes us all through the Qur’an that we should reflect. Why? Evidently to see the different sides of His Word, precisely because of our differences in time, place, habit and customs in life, character and taste.
This verse tells you: “Show your discordance by your most efficient, suitable, habitual ways, before … the final way of divorce.” And in case of their redemption, then let them be, and trust God who Is Great High above all, to know if they keep their promise and behave in each other’s absence.
4:32 “And you should not covet what All’h Excelled you to one another, to men is allotted of what they earn, and to women is allotted of what they earn, rather ask All’h for His Bounty, certainly All’h Has full Knowledge over everything.”
Moreover, for those who reflect and read in between the lines, surah 4 indicates clearly the equality of men and women, because, although it is named the Women, right from the start it is addressed as: “O, mankind …” and they are Warned that they should both fear their Lord and know that they have been Created from the same single cell, then out of the same cell, its mate, have been scattered on Earth many men and women (a knowledge found by our contemporary science long, long after the verse below).
4:1 “O mankind, fear your Lord who Created you from the same single cell, and from which Created its mate, and from them twain, scattered multitude of men and women, fear All’h through whom you demand your mutual (rights), and ‘the wombs’ (that bore you), for All’h Is Watching over you.”
This verse shows that this surah although called Women, does not belong only to women, as if women have different rights in the Qur’an to have a separate surah for their kind. This surah, indicating the importance of the wombs out of which men and women have been born, warns us about the importance of respecting the family relationships. So, the surah is all about the rights and duties in family relationships, be it through blood, adoption or relationship through belief, as the believers are considered to be members of the same family. At first, it states the rights of the orphans in case of administering their property or adopting them and forming a family life for them, then the rights and duties for marriage, concubinage, dowry, divorce, heritage and the importance of leaving a testament/will. The fact of indicating “those who have not equal rights at God’s,” in verse (95) of this surah is very vindictive. Meaning: Men and Women’s right are equal, but what is not equal is:
4:95 “Not equal are those men and women who make no effort in the path of God, staying behind, fearing harm of any sort, with those men and woman who go forth, spending out of their lives, and money for Him…”
As for having four wives
This case was dealt with in surah 4, as it concerns the family life. It is another matter that has been greatly misunderstood in the Qur’an. Having four wives in Islam as a Rule is absolutely absurd. God will never Command His Prophet to act against a Law of the Book out of which he is preaching for people. If it were a law of Islam to have four wives, Prophet Muhammad having nine wives when he died, then would have been an outlaw acting against the Rule. God has Indicated that his case for marriage is an exception, and other believers cannot have the “same condition,” (33:50). This exception is only for Prophet Muhammad (being an exception as a head and example for political reasons and relationship between the tribes, had to have many wives).
The Rule in Islam for polygamy
The condition for polygamy is the ability to keep the equity and justice between the wives, and the approval of the wife. As one can never be equitable in a polygamous relationship, no matter how hard he tries (4:129), only one is enough.
4:129 “You cannot be equitable in a polygamous relationship, no matter how hard you try.”
By studying the Qur’an today, we realize that two very important factors must be taken into consideration:
- Polygamy was their way of life before the Qur’an’s Revelation.
- The wars for the Religion, that separated many people and families of the same community at the time of Muhammad
Polygamy being a common way of life at the time, the Qur’an actually discouraged the believers clearly by imposing an impossible condition of a total equity between the wives, condition that one can never overcome, as per God’s Statement above in (4:129). Polygamy, thus, is only permitted under strictly observed circumstance, that is the case of adopting the orphans (of their war), and in case of wishing to bring their women, mothers and sisters to take care of them, and for this, there is no limitation indicated. The fact of mentioning in the concerned verse below, “two, three, four” does not necessarily mean a limitation fixed at four wives.
4:3 “And if you fear not appointing what is just concerning the orphans, then marry of the women (of the orphans) of your favor, two, three, four, but if you fear not to keep equilibrium, then only one or of ‘what your right hands have possessed’, this way you are more likely to avoid inequity.”
These were the wives, women, daughters who had run away from their husbands and families for joining Muhammad’s side, by their own free will, for the sake of the Religion. They needed shelter, feeding and protection. The Order concerning them, came in the Qur’an that whoever became their guardian and shelter provider, had to pay the equivalent of their dowry to their ancient husbands and families, and this is how they would come into the possession of those who had paid their dowry. As to the meaning of “right hand possession”: the “right hand”/the “right side,” in the Qur’an is the symbol of the side of faith, side of Religion, side of God, this being one of the greatest Miracles of the Qur’an, as today science has found out, through scanners, that the right side of the brain is specified for “faith, God and religion.”