What do the scholars and muftis of the mighty Shari’ah say regarding the following matter, why can a man have four wives in Islam but a woman can only have one husband?

Questioner: A sister from UK


Allāh, to Him belongs all praise, the Creator Most Sublime Who is Uncreated. There is no better law-giver and judge for a people seeking certainty except Him. Peace and blessings of Allāh be upon the final Prophet, Our Master, Muhammad Mustafa ﷺ, upon his purified family, his esteemed companions, and whomsoever follows in his blessed footsteps until the last day. Whatever the Messenger has given you – take; and what he has forbidden you – refrain from. And fear Allāh; indeed, Allāh is severe in penalty.

Allāh ﷻ has said in the Qūr’ān, Surat Al-‘A`rāf, Verse 54

أَلَا لَهُ الْخَلْقُ وَالْأَمْرُ

“Unquestionably, His is the creation and the command.” [7:54]

The aforementioned verse highlights that Allāh ﷻ is the Legislator and we know from the Qūr’ān He has restricted man to a maximum of four marriages:-

فَانكِحُوا مَا طَابَ لَكُم مِّنَ النِّسَاءِ مَثْنَىٰ وَثُلَاثَ وَرُبَاعَ

“So marry those that please you of women, two [at a time] or three or four.” [4:3]

And He has further forbidden a man from marrying a married woman:-

وَالْمُحْصَنَاتُ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ

“And [also prohibited to you are all] married women.” [4:24]

Contextually, the above two verses are directed towards men; however, their ruling extends to women. The prohibition of a man marrying a married woman is also in essence the impermissibility of a married woman having a second husband.

Forbidden to you are wedded women those with spouses that you should marry them before they have left their spouses be they Muslim free women or not. The wisdom behind the latter verse is extensive and the scholars have presented different opinions. What one must understand is this verse was revealed during a period within which the pagan Arab men would bury their new-born daughters alive in the sand out of shame for a girl being born instead of a son.

وَإِذَا بُشِّرَ أَحَدُهُم بِالْأُنثَىٰ ظَلَّ وَجْهُهُ مُسْوَدًّا وَهُوَ كَظِيمٌ

“And when one of them is informed of [the birth of] a female, his face becomes dark, and he suppresses grief.” [16:58]

In the pre-Islamic days of ignorance the family system was corrupted and decadent. Women were treated with utter repulsion and used like cattle. There existed no law to protect the women. Through the revelation of the Qūr’ān and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, decisive reformations were initiated which annihilated all existent malpractice.

Islām protects the honour, chastity, purity and lineage of the family. Without the aid of DNA testing, if one woman has multiple husbands and is impregnated, which man is she to ascribe the paternity of the child to? This will result in discord with regards to the child’s maintenance and subsequent inheritance. Although science has made significant progress, this verse was revealed in an absolute context and there exist no conditions that can be lifted whereby making the command obsolete.

Other scholars have also presented the argument that a woman is more tolerant and has less jealousy than a man. Irrespective of the various opinions reasoning the prohibition, the revelation suffices for the believer as the perfect justice, wisdom and mercy of Allaah. Islām is a religion of justice, the equality card which is pushed forward is misconstrued with the understanding that men and women are equal in every essence of the word equal. For more information please refer to – is Islām a religion that “treats its women unfairly and without equal rights”?

And Allaah knows best.

Answered by Ustadh Asid Shafait

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